One-Pot Cooking Is Nothing New—Tagines and Other Clay Pots Have Long Been Used Around the World

Clay pot cooking in Moroccan cuisine, for example, is believed to date back to the 8th century.

terracotta tagine cooking pot
Photo: BarrySeward / Getty Images

Sometimes you're up for cooking a meal that requires multiple pots and pans. Other times (we're looking at you, Monday night) you want your entire meal to come together in one pot. One-pot recipes—usually made in a Dutch oven or maybe a sheet pan or skillet—have been trendy for awhile, but the history of one-pot cooking dates back thousands of years across many different cuisines and was traditionally done in tangines or another type of clay pot.

"Clay pot cooking in Moroccan cuisine probably dates back to when Romans ruled parts of North Africa, but it's hard to pinpoint when the tagine itself appeared," explains Christine Benlafquih, editor and founder of Taste of Maroc. Some say it was in the 8th century when Harun al Rashid ruled the Islamic Empire. In any event, the tagine is deeply connected to the Berbers, who predated the Arabs in North Africa."

Tagines, traditionally made of unglazed clay or glazed ceramic, have a rounded cone-like top with a wide, shallow circular bottom. "Earthenware tagines are designed to be used over low, slow heat with relatively little liquid," says Benlafquih, who was introduced to tagines when she married a Moroccan native and eventually relocated to Morocco. "The braising and steaming process (the cone-shaped lid returns condensed steam to the base) helps tenderize even low-end cuts of meat. Aside from the delicious flavor of the final dish, I love this cooking method because it feels like an instant connection to deeply-rooted food, family, and cultural traditions."

Tagines are one of several pots traditionally used for one-pot cooking. Here's a look at a few others.

Donabe: This versatile Japanese ceramic pot (its name means clay pot) is made from coarse, porous clay that holds heat well. The donabe is used for cooking everything from soups and stews to rice bowls.

Cazuela: These round, shallow pots with straight sides originated in Spain; today cazuela variations are found worldwide. They continue to be popular in Spain and many South American countries. (There is even a dish called cazuela, made with meats, vegetables, stock, and rice.) The pot can be used for everything from cooking vegetable gratins to roasting chicken.

Shakla Dist: The shakla dist is just one of many clay pots used in East African cooking. In Ethiopian and Eritrean cuisine, shakla dist are round clay pots with lids that are often used for simmering stews.

Dolsot or gopdolsot: This Korean stone hot pot typically is used to make one to two servings of a rice-based dish such as bibimbap.

Sha Guo: Like all the pots mentioned here, volumes could be written about the sha guo, a type of clay pot used in China that comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, sometimes with handles. You can cook everything from meatballs to braised chicken to stews in a sha guo.

For many, including Benlafquih, the beauty of these traditional clay pots is their connection to the past. "I love that a single tagine, when used and cared for properly, can last decades, therefore taking on a history of its own," she says.

Benlafquih likes to prepare Moroccan meatballs in tomato sauce, chicken tagine with preserved lemon and olives, and a fish tagine with chermoula in tagines. "Like cast iron, a clay tagine will age and season over time, retaining and imparting flavors from and to future dishes cooked in it," she explains. "Tagines were my first introduction to clay pot cooking, and I love introducing this cooking vessel and method to tourists when I run cooking classes for them."

Clay pots can be a bit fragile and require specific care based on the type of pot, so if you purchase one be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions. Still, they're a lovely way to cook, a souvenir to look for when traveling, and even a way to cure some wanderlust when you can't get away.

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