A la rondeau

A wide and shallow pot you should consider

By
January 4, 2010

Besides the skillet, the piece of cookware I use most is the rondeau. A rondeau is a wide, heavy-bottomed pot with straight sides and two loop handles. Restaurant cooks use rondeaus constantly, not only for their volume (which ranges from three to an industrial 18 quarts) but for their incredible versatility.

A rondeau is kind of like the wok of the Western kitchen. With it, you can use almost any cooking technique favored by the great chefs of France and the humbler (but equally opinionated) nonnas of Italy: searing, simmering, poaching, shallow-frying, pan-roasting, oven-braising, and more. This flexibility is due to the rondeau’s proportions, which allow for both dry and wet cooking methods.

Braising

I prefer the rondeau to the Dutch oven for braising. A rondeau is wider and slightly shallower than a Dutch oven, with which it is sometimes confused. The Dutch oven is narrower, with less surface area available for browning. So I end up using a skillet for browning meat, then transferring the meat to a Dutch oven for braising. This means more dirty dishes.

A rondeau is a wide, heavy-bottomed pot with straight sides and two loop handles.

The rondeau’s wide, heavy base means you can fit more food into it in a single layer, and brown that food (instead of steaming or burning it) more evenly. And the rondeau’s sides are shallow enough to allow evaporation — essential for the browning step of a braise — but also high enough to contain braising liquid.

In a rondeau, for example, you can fit eight chicken thighs in a single layer. The skins on those thighs will crisp up and color richly, and caramelized bits of meat will remain on the bottom of the pan, to flavor the braising liquid to come.

The rondeau and its lid are oven-safe, so your braise can finish on the stove or in a low oven. Finally, you can take it to the table for serving.

Pan-roasting and shallow-braising

Rondeaus also allow for two underrated but related cooking methods: pan-roasting and shallow-braising.

When you roast a piece of meat in a covered pan on the stovetop over medium-low heat, rather than in the oven, then you’re pan-roasting. A very small amount of liquid is added, to prevent burning and to create savory, concentrated juices to serve with the roast. Pan-roasting probably originated when cooks did not have ovens in their homes.

In shallow-braising, you use more liquid than in pan-roasting, but not as much as in regular braising; instead, the liquid only rises one-quarter to one-third of the way up the item being cooked. The result is more concentrations of flavors. The muscles in meat relax slowly over very low heat, and give up less of their meaty flavor to the surrounding liquid.

Other techniques

Poaching is easy in a rondeau, especially for elongated foods such as asparagus, sausages, and fish.

A rondeau is also excellent at cooking whole grains. Over low heat, for example, whole-grain farro and barley will become completely tender without bursting open. Start grains on the stove, bring them to a boil, then cover them and put them in a 325-degree oven for a gentle-yet-thorough cooking.

Slow cooking isn’t the only use of a rondeau; you can also use one for efficiently reducing and simmering sauces, such as tomato sauce. Due to its wide surface, a rondeau evaporates liquids quickly.

Shopping

A rondeau is expensive, but it’s a single piece of do-everything cookware likely to last a lifetime. Most rondeaus are well-built, with a sandwich bottom consisting of an aluminum core encased in stainless steel. High-end pots feature a copper exterior. Enamel-coated, cast-iron rondeaus are also available.

Do you want luxury or utility? Fancy cookware stores sell gorgeous rondeaus for $200, $300, $400, and more. Try a restaurant-supply store for something more affordable; just don’t expect a shiny copper exterior.

Be sure not to buy a pot with a diameter so big that your burner can’t heat it. Look for a rondeau that doesn’t extend beyond your largest burner by more than two inches per side.

With even heat set at the right temperature, you and your rondeau can go on to tackle the entire Western culinary canon.

Kelly Myers is a chef and writer in Portland, Oregon. She is also the co-director of Market Chefs, an organization dedicated to inspiring and teaching consumers to cook local foods.

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1. by Bavaria on Jan 4, 2010 at 9:30 AM PST

Thanks for the great information. I like to hear what the restaurant chefs are using; since they are the pros, they know what produces the best results in the most efficient manner.

2. by Caroline Cummins on Jan 4, 2010 at 1:40 PM PST

I totally want one of these babies. Because I love my wok and use it for everything (braising bulky greens, popping popcorn, etc.), but it’s a huge pain to clean and care for.

3. by kelly on Jan 4, 2010 at 5:02 PM PST

Caroline, you should have one! It sounds like you cook quite a bit, and you deserve this handy, efficient pot.

4. by Susan Sanderson on Jan 5, 2010 at 11:24 AM PST

Kelly--great article and helpful info! Silly question, but I just have to ask: When you say not to buy a rondeau any larger than 2 inches on either side of your burner, do you mean the actual round burner (where the gas flames come out) or the metal grate on which the pot rests?

5. by kelly on Jan 5, 2010 at 3:20 PM PST

Hi Susan,
Ideally pots sit over a heat source—whether gas flame or burner—that is of equal diameter to the cooking vessel. The two should match up. But because rondeaus are typically made with heavy bottoms they do a good job conducting heat. That allows you to get away with a burner that is one or two inches smaller in diameter.

6. by Kris Etze on Jan 6, 2010 at 12:05 PM PST

I agree - I am a personal chef and the rondeau shape works for mostly evrything I do either at home or in clients’ kitchens. That and a 12-inch skillet are my takealong equipment!

7. by Matt J in Dallas on Jan 13, 2013 at 5:15 PM PST

My rondeau is 12” wide, and my gas burners flame about 5-6” wide.
When the pot is on the stove, the flame spreads to about 8”, when on medium high to high. I am getting great results and very even heating from this combination. It has been so useful, it is a game changer!

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Chef Kelly Myers shares her expertise in the professional kitchen with the home cook, focusing on ingredients, equipment, and techniques.

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