26 February, 2021
Lucky are those households where they have a variety of cooking vessels handed down over the generations. As we know, steel and non-stick vessels have mostly taken over the modern kitchen. And yet, we see that ‘coming full circle’ churn happening in our society every couple of decades. It is no different with the olden day granny’s cooking vessels. While many households have brass and copper vessels, many, especially down south, also have the kalchatttis or the manchattis. These are the traditional soapstone cooking vessels or mud cooking vessels.
It is said that the food cooked in these vessels has a special flavour and taste, and also the minerals in the material blend with the food. Besides, they don’t spoil fast, even when not refrigerated, and perhaps that is why these vessels were used in the olden days. Most of what our ancestors used comes back to us as a fad, and hence, you find these cooking utensils available in online retail stores like Amazon and Flipkart now.
These cooking vessels are carved out of soapstone and are thick and heavy; mostly come in grey colour and turns black after long use and is available in different sizes and shapes. They need to be seasoned before use, and then the surface becomes smooth after years of use and scrubbing. They also need periodic maintenance other than regular washing as they are made of stone. The grannies used to have a kalchatti for curd and buttermilk and even for storing pickles.
While our grannies may have used them on wood fires, these work well on the modern gas stoves as well. The best part is that these stone vessels are porous and circulate the heat well across the vessel. This process enhances the flavours of the food being cooked in it and can never match what we cook in the modern vessels.
Also, incredibly, they help maintain the food's pH balance and improve the nutritional value as the essential minerals in the stone mix with the food being cooked. One may relate to the iron, copper and brass vessels used in cooking earlier, and perhaps that is why nutritional deficiencies weren’t an issue back then. Also, the food continues to cook slowly even when you switch the flame off and hence you can put it off slightly before that and cover and keep.
How to use it?
All sorts of dry and wet dishes can be cooked in it easily, just as we do in other cooking utensils. Heat is retained for a longer time in these vessels, and you may not have to reheat the food before serving. However, there is a knack for cooking in these; you need to cook on a low flame and not allow the gravy's water to dry and keep a watch fully. It should be oiled periodically and left overnight for maintenance purposes. The next day morning, they should be washed and dried before using it again. Ideally, even if you do not want to use it for all cooking, certain traditional dishes cook well in these vessels.
Pre-seasoned kalchattis is available for sale, in which case you may directly start using these vessels. This is better unless you want to follow the tedious process of seasoning it yourself. It takes about ten to fifteen days of applying a mixture of castor oil and turmeric, sun drying, then washing with water, immersing in starch water, washing with soap water etc.
Once you start using, it should not be washed hot, or it will develop cracks. Soak using liquid soap and water and then scrub lightly using natural or organic scrubbers, if possible. You could also apply ‘besan’ to scrub it clean lightly and then dry it before next use. It is best to sundry this after every wash. Please make sure that no soap residue is hiding in any small pores of the kalchatti.
Cooking with kalchattis needs patience, and the high flame should not be used to create cracks in the vessel. Also, one needs to keep a constant watch to ensure that either water or oil is in the food, and it does not dry out completely on the flame. It does not work on the induction stove, and also, the flame should be put off at least five to ten minutes before full cooking. Food is supposed to be cooked with love and patience, and that is when it becomes tasty and healthy. Perhaps, it’s time to go back to basics and try cooking with kalchattis once in a while.
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