A handsome, heavy-duty piece of enameled cast iron with even heat distribution and a tightfitting lid.
The black interior makes it hard to monitor what you’re doing when searing or deep-frying. The self-basting bumps on the lid don’t seem to make any difference.
This is an expensive piece of cookware that looks good and performs well—we only wish the interior weren’t black.
As any cook who’s made beef bourguignon in a Dutch oven by Le Creuset knows, enameled cast iron is a particularly fantastic material in which to braise meats. It retains heat like an old-fashioned wood stove, is heavy enough to resist scorching, and, frankly, looks great when you haul it to the table for serving. It has a few flaws, though, beyond the fact that you do have to haul it, owing to its heaviness. One of them is the enameled surface itself, which isn’t ideal for searing the meat you're going to be braising; some cooks sear in a spun-steel pan, then transfer to enameled cast iron along with the deglazed pan bits. The French company Staub implies that its cocottes (i.e., braising pans) perform better than Le Creuset’s. We thought we’d see if that’s true.
Staub’s round cocottes are made in France: cast iron, with multiple coats of enamel. The 5-1/2-quart pan we tested is 10 inches in diameter, and it’s superheavy (with the lid, it weighs 12 pounds when empty). Staub says its particular enamel coating (free of cadmium and lead) creates better heat resistance. The bottom is enameled, too, so it’s smooth enough to go on all cooktops, including induction. This baby certainly looks nice (the color shown here is Sapphire Blue, also sometimes labeled Dark Blue—Staub calls the finish “majolique,” i.e., majolica, like certain earthenware glazes). The knob, made of nickel steel, looks classy, too. The matte black interior contains trace fragments of quartz: Staub says they give extra heat resistance and a rougher surface, which makes for better browning than a smooth surface would. Also, the underside of the lid is covered with bumps designed to direct evaporated steam straight back down onto the food.
To take our Staub cocotte through its paces, we did four tests: a water evaporation test,
beef stew, deep-fried chicken wings, and a pork loin braised in milk.
Water evaporation: The Staub booklet claims that after 55 minutes of cook time, the company's cocottes retain 10 percent more moisture than other (unnamed) enameled cast-iron pots do. And that the self-basting lid is 9 times more effective than other lids. To test these claims, we boiled 2 quarts of water (32 ounces by weight) in a Le Creuset 5-1/2-quart braising pan and our Staub, side by side. We let both come to a boil, put the lids on, and simmered on low for 55 minutes. Result: Both pots lost precisely 8 ounces of water to evaporation—we didn’t detect any difference between them. Claims debunked!
Beef stew: We started by browning floured and seasoned beef chunks directly in the Staub. The black interior, however, made it hard to see the color of the fond (deposits on the bottom of the pan). The dark color means you can’t really tell if those bits are burning. Otherwise the cocotte did a great job with our recipe, yielding a tender, well-cooked stew.
Deep-fried wings: We heated 2 quarts of vegetable oil to 375 degrees Fahrenheit in our cocotte, and deep-fried a half pound of chicken wings until crispy, about 18 minutes. The Staub maintained the heat well, but again, we didn’t like the black interior because it was hard to see any browned or burned bits at the bottom, or how dark the oil was to know if we wanted to use it again.
Milk-braised pork: The recipe we used calls for braising a pork loin in milk with herbs, without browning the meat. After the pork was cooked, we had to use a wooden spoon to scrape the bits of browned milk from the bottom of the pan—the rough interior texture made it hard to scrub away the residue without soaking. When we tried the same recipe in our Le Creuset, with its smooth interior, we didn’t have to soak.
General stuff: Overall, we found the Staub cocotte to be a great heat conductor that provided nice, even cooking and a beautiful shiny exterior. The lid is very nicely fitted to the base, but the basting bumps underneath (which don’t seem to make a difference in how moist things turn out) are hard to clean, especially dried-on food. And that handsome knob gets hot! Is it better than Le Creuset? Marginally perhaps, thanks to that tightfitting lid and better browning—even if the dark interior means you can’t quite see what’s going on.
Photos by Chris Rochelle