Shopping for a New Casserole Dish? Chefs Share Their Expert Tips on What to Look For
During the cold winter months, we're all about making and eating warming comfort foods. To that end, a casserole dish (or two!) is an essential in every kitchen. In addition to housing your favorite casseroles, it can also be used for baking delicious, shareable dishes baked pastas and gratins. But with all of the different options on the market in terms of materials, shapes, and sizes, it can be difficult to work out what is the best casserole dish to suit your needs. We talked to chefs to get pro insight on what they think works best.
Executive chef and co-owner of Festivál Café in New York City, Andrew Maturana is a big fan of cast-iron casserole dishes. "At the restaurant, we use quality cast-iron Dutch ovens and casserole vessels for fresh boules of sourdough, slow braising short ribs, coq au vin, and other dishes cooked slow and low like bone stock and fresh beans," he says. Adam Raksin, executive chef of The Grid at Great Jones Distilling Co. in New York City, is also a cast-iron fan. He likes to use cast-iron casserole dishes because they give him maximum crispiness on the bottom and sides of whatever he's making. "I love baking pastas in a casserole dish," he says. "It's the best of both worlds when you get that crispy exterior and creamy saucy interior." In his experience, he's found that cast-iron is the best material for casserole pans because of the way it holds and conducts heat. "I also like the look of the classic all black presentation," he says.
While it's prized among chefs, cast-iron is heavy and not the right choice for every home cook. As far as other materials go, Maturana recommends glass or ceramic casserole dishes. A three- to five-quart dish is great for simple bakes like cobblers, stuffing, and scalloped potatoes. Some recipes call for a 9- x 13-inch dish, which has a three and three quarters-quart capacity. "Glass and ceramic casserole dishes are lighter than cast-iron, much easier to store in the fridge, and can be easily transported," he adds.
To determine the best casserole dish size for your cooking needs, start by looking at the recipes you make now (or those you want to make) and see what sizes of casserole dish the recipes call for; this should help inform which sizes will make the most sense for your kitchen. "You definitely want to make sure that the size and depth is appropriate for the amount of casserole you are trying to prepare and the number of people," Raksin says. He recommends a 32-ounce (one-quart) casserole dish for a family of four, as this size gives you plenty of surface area to enjoy that crispy exterior plus enough food for leftovers.
For the shape, Raksin is partial to round or oval casserole dishes. "I personally avoid rectangle or square casserole dishes because I feel like the sharp corners tend to get a little too dry," he says. We also know from experience that bits of food can get stuck in sharp corners and be difficult (or even impossible) to clean.