Collecting Le Creuset: pieces
Le Creuset cast iron cookware is wonderful stuff. It’s pretty much the best in the world, and if you haven’t had the opportunity to use something of this quality, then you are missing out.
Unfortunately, many of us just can’t afford to buy the best. We buy what we can afford, and deal with lower quality items. Sometimes, however, we are able to save our pennies for a very special occasion, and the opportunity to acquire one piece of very high quality is within our grasp.
A lot of people find themselves in this situation when it comes to Le Creuset cookware, so the second most-asked question by first-time Le Creuset buyers (after ‘What color should I get? They’re all so beautiful, I can’t decide!’) is ‘Which piece should I purchase first?’
Versatility is the most important feature, since most of us can’t outfit our entire kitchen in this stuff. If we’re going to pay that kind of money, we want to be able to use it as often as possible. Fortunately, by it’s very nature, enameled cast iron is versatile: it is flameproof (i.e. safe for stovetop use) and ovenproof. It can handle high temperatures, and, once heated, will stay that way for a long time. Because the iron is covered in a coat of enamel, it is rust-proof, and food doesn’t pick up excess iron taste.
The best size to get depends on how many people we usually cook for. Everything from small saucepans to gigantic pots are available, so everyone should be able to find something that fits their needs.
A lot of people start out with a French oven. They come in a huge variety of sizes and colors, and they’ll do pretty much anything you could need in a kitchen. You can use them as saucepans and make soup or pasta or ramen noodles or frozen vegetables or anything. Anything you can do in a large saucepan, you can do in one of these. It can also be a skillet: a large one will give you enough room to fry bacon or even make pancakes in the bottom, in a pinch. You can throw them in the oven and roast chicken, pork loins, beef roasts, and even breads and desserts. I have an oval French Oven in the 6 3/4-quart size. This size will hold a whole chicken or a recipe of no-knead bread, and has the added benefit of being long enough to cook long spaghetti noodles all at once! This was my first piece, and I loved that I could do pretty much everything with it.
My second piece was a 5-quart braiser. It seemed huge when I brought it home, but it turned out to be the perfect size. The braisers are very wide and short, so they’re less useful for liquid-heavy dishes like soups and pasta, but they’re better for things like sautéing, frying, baking biscuits and roasting potatoes and vegetables. One of my favorite dishes to do in the braiser is browned onions and slices of kielbasa with half a shredded cabbage. You cook them all together with butter, salt and pepper, then throw in some cooked egg noodles at the end. It barely fits in the braiser, and is SO GOOD with all the sausage drippings and butter cooked together. It’s also great for things like cobblers. The sloping sides make stirring everything very easy, and nothing gets stuck in the corners.
After those two pieces, I considered small saucepans, for everyday cooking of smaller amounts. There are also sauciers and soup pots, whose shape facilitate making sauces, stews and soups. Grill pans and griddles are great for searing meats and vegetables, and leave awesome grill marks on everything.
Once you have a couple pieces, you’ll have a better idea for what would be most useful to you in the future. For me, the best option was a soup pot for homemade pasta sauce, soups, and other sauces. I have a large one, and a smaller one is high on my list for cooking smaller amounts.
Right now most of my skillets and sauce pans are tri-ply stainless steel, which works very well for my needs. And when I need to sear something at very, very high heat, I use relatively inexpensive seasoned cast iron skillet and grills. As always, price is the most significant factor. But I have never regretted investing in the best, knowing that these cast iron pieces will long outlive me, and probably my children.