Le Creuset "Doufeu"
- Tom Meg
Has anyone had any experience with this sort of cooking vessel? I saw it in the recent Williams Sonoma catalogue, and I can't tell if I'm intrigued or if it's just silly.
It's basically their usual enameled cast iron pot, but the lid is designed to hold a few handfuls of ice cubes on top. According to the catalogue copy, keeping the lid cool increases condensation within the pot. The dripping condensation continually 'bastes' whatever you're cooking.
I just got the catalog this afternoon and checked out that to which you refer. I can't be absolutely certain about this, but I suspect there are a lot of chefs out there who are laughing up their sleeves (I am).
I don't think this makes sense. Why would there be more from-the-top basting from a cold lid, vs. a hot lid ... give that the lid is on the pot. Ask the question, where is the vapor going to go? I suppose it is possible that more of the vapor in the vessel could be turned into liquid, but this is a one-time thing and a very small effect. I'm not buying it.
I'm reminded of Jim H's response to a question about Dutch Ovens a few threads down. He notes that a true Dutch Oven has a ridge of about one inch on the lid, so that when the pot is placed into an open hearth, hot ashes can be placed on top to contribute to the heating and cooking.
Although I find it hard to believe the W-S, or even LC, could mis-interpret this item, it does seem to be a more logical use.
The Boy Scouts in my house use a plain old cast iron (not enamelled) Dutch oven when camping. They pile hot coals on the lid so the heat comes from the top and bottom when they use it like an oven for making biscuits and cobblers, etc. They don't use the coals on top when not using it as an oven.
Here's how the doufeu probably works: The chilled lid causes the rising broth-steam to condense and run down the fins or drip from the nubbins (depending on design) and back into the broth, where another cycle begins. In a regular cast iron pot, the broth-steam will just stay up under the lid and only some of it will condense--then when you lift the lid to stir or check, a lot of the broth is lost in the form of steam, and adding water to replenish the broth level dilutes the broth instead of intensifying it. I believe the doufeu effect necessitates NOT filling the pot more than about two thirds full, because there must be a big space for a big head of steam to make any difference. Then a lot of the steam will immediately condense and only some portion of it will remain up at the lid, which will be lost when you lift the lid. If you fill the pot most of the way up, the proportion of condensate to lost steam may be the same, but the absolute difference will be negligible.
I am not a physicist, but I have used a doufeu for 15 years, and if the cooking time is long enough and the solids are not overfilled, then you do get a very intense broth. Note that you have to dump the ice or cold water periodically as it melts or heats up, otherwise the effect is too weak. My doufeu, by Cousances, has a moat for cold water, not a trough for ice, thus less temperature differential and less potential for crackling the enamel. But since in my pot there is no sign of crackling, I bet the LC designers tested the newer ice-trough model to make sure it doesn't crackle the enamel, either.
I just (last evening) got a replacement one, 7 liters or so.
My first was bought en Suisse nearly 40 years ago and was TREASURED !!!
Yes indeed they DO work very well.
The wine in the lid ? Hmmm, other than making the kitchen smell somewhat different I don't "get it" - I suppose that could be a translation error.
The key is that the condensation ("rain", if you wish) is sprinkled fairly evenly from the little nubs over the center and middle area.
Very little runs down the sides (away from the main dish) as it does with a more conventional domed lid.
It IS mostly water and other liquids that are volatile below 100C, but moistness at the very top of the dish is the BIG benefit.
You can get similar results with a plate over a round pot, though it is likely to be a drip circle.
I am VERY pleased to have a replacement doufeu pot, REALLY looking forward to using it - a LOT !!!
BTW, the reverse trick of placing a towel under the lid to keep the dish DRY just came to mind (-:
The following makes me think that the premise behind the doufeu is somewhat less silly:
According to Richard Olney's "Lulu's Provencal Table", a traditional Provencal daube is prepared in a heavy pot with a plate set on top into which wine is poured, and periodically refilled as the wine evaporates. This supposedly promotes condensation within the daubiere, keeping the contents moist.
re: Tom Meg
Wait a minute. Putting ice on the top to keep the lid cool, and hence promote condensation/circulation, may have some validity. I'm no scientist, so I can't really say.
Put pouring wine in the top (on a plate or on the lid), where neither the wine nor it's evaporation EVER comes into contact with the interior contents of the pot, seems like a waste of wine to me.
Maybe I'm missing something.
This is BS. As a couple of other posters have noted, a sealed pot (assuming the lid is reasonably tight-fitting) is a closed system, so the vapor isn't going anywhere.
The W-S online catalog notes that the original purpose of the lid was to hold hot coals, which is fine--it's a French version of a dutch oven.
But putting ice on the lid? Bad idea. Cast iron is brittle, and dumping ice onto a hot oven lid is gonna lead to cracking.