The Unexpected Piece of Cast Iron Cookware I Can’t Live Without
Outside of Boston, Massachusetts (in Somerville, for those familiar with the area), there’s a Le Creuset outlet store. My husband and I used to visit it with frequency, popping in whenever we were going to the adjacent movie theater. And I would look at the cookware I hoped to one day own. At the time, I was a couple of years out of college and didn’t have many nice pieces of cookware — or, well, anything — to my name (Boston rent is the opposite of cheap!). And so even the discounted Le Creuset pieces were out of my price range.
Still, it was fun to look. Then, during one visit, I spied a beautiful tangerine-colored pan with a deeply discounted price tag. The sales person told me the color was being discontinued, so this particular piece of cookware was about 60 percent off. It was still pricey and I was a little anxious about spending the money, but ended up buying it. It was my first kitchen investment.
Years later, I still love and use my Le Creuset find multiple times a week. But it’s not a Dutch oven, like you’d probably expect. Nope. It’s a braiser — and I think everyone should have one.
What’s a braiser, you ask? Made from enameled cast iron (which makes it great at browning), a braiser has a wider surface area than a Dutch oven and sloped, shorter sides. Braising requires browning food on the stovetop — typically tougher cuts of meat — before adding liquid, placing a lid on the pot, and transferring it to the oven to cook low and slow. While most braising recipes call for a Dutch oven, a braiser is actually perfect for the task: It can brown more food at once than a Dutch oven and its wide surface area encourages liquid to evaporate at a steady rate.
But, besides braising, a braiser is good for so much more. Its cast-iron construction makes it excellent for browning meatballs and then simmering them in tomato sauce, searing steak, making pan-roasted chicken thighs … you get the idea. Because of its low sides, it’s perfect for shallow-frying foods (but not deep-frying!), including donuts, fritters, and chicken cutlets. And, its wide, looped handles make it a cinch to transfer into and take out of the oven, for things like, yes, braises, but also roasting a whole chicken.
While I adore my Le Creuset braiser — and the fact that it’s on sale at QVC right now — I did recently splurge on a second braiser from Staub. (I had been saving up and I’m at a point in my life where I can invest more in my kitchen gear!) It has a darker interior, so it’s a little tougher to monitor browning, but I love its handles, which are upturned, providing leverage that makes the pan very easy to lift. Really, I don’t think you can go wrong with a braiser from either Le Creuset or Staub. And, if you’re wondering what size to get, I have 3.5-quart braisers, but if you frequently cook for more than four people, I suggest going with one that’s 5 quarts.
Buy: Le Creuset Braiser, $249.98 (normally $291)