Even in my tiny Brooklyn kitchen, where the oven barely accommodates a 9-by-13-inch sheet pan and the entire counter is less than a foot wide, my 1.5-quart Staub French oven looks comically small. It’s seemingly too tiny to be actually useful — dwarfed by the dish rack, the 10-inch Le Creuset frying pan, even the tea kettle. In fact, when I first unboxed the grey pot, — which, full disclosure, Staub sent me as a gift last year — I wasn’t even sure I wanted to keep it. I already owned a tiny stainless-steel saucepan that worked just fine, thank you very much, and that piece of cookware didn’t need seasoning or special care like most cast iron does.
But over the last year, this mini-Dutch oven from Staub has become one of the most-used tools in my kitchen. It’s my go-to gadget for making foolproof rice that never sticks or crisps up, so reliable that I even tossed my electric rice cooker. (I simply dump a cup of dry rice and a cup of water in the pot and boil it uncovered. Once it’s roiling, I turn the heat off and cover, then wait 15 minutes for perfectly fluffed rice.) It works its magic when I’m making quinoa, oatmeal, and even lentils. The even cooking is likely due to the “Chistera drop-structure lid,” Staub’s proprietary ridged lid that seals in evaporating liquids — or it could be the quality cast iron that heats up slowly but evenly to minimize hot spots. Unlike my cast-iron skillet, which needs constant care and the occasional scrub with salt and grape seed oil, somehow, the interior of this enameled cast-iron French oven has never needed seasoning. Cleaning is a breeze (though I do try to limit the amount of dish soap I use).
It’s not just for cooking grains, either. I find myself reaching for this little pot when I want to whip up an easy dinner for me and my boyfriend, especially on weeknights when I’m more apt to make simplified versions of my favorite dishes rather than bust out the big Dutch oven. It’s the right size and weight to make an extra-large serving of Korean kimchi stew, or kimchi jjigae, and I’ve used it to braise just a couple of chicken thighs in vinegar and soy sauce, a sort of makeshift adobo.
Note that unlike that larger Dutch oven, or even Staub’s smaller cocotte, this French oven is hard to sear meat in it (the surface area of the bottom isn’t quite large enough, and the sides are too high), but if you do your browning in a separate pan, the pot is pretty much all you need for two people. Between all the rice I make and the single servings of meat I braise, I bust this out at least three times a week. And because even the most well-equipped home cooks probably don’t have one, it makes a great gift, too.
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