Your foodie friend has All-Clad. He has a Le Creuset dutch oven. He’s got a cast-iron skillet, an enameled omelet pan, and an electric slow-cooker. Is there any kitchen cookware he doesn’t have?
Probably not a Chinese sand pot. But he should.
Cheap, easy to clean, and versatile, these ceramic vessels have a way of sneaking into regular stovetop rotation. Glazed on the inside and unglazed on the outside, they distribute heat evenly over the flame, and can go in the oven too. They’re great for soups and beans, dry-cooked potatoes and other root vegetables that can steam in their own moisture under the clay lid, and caramelizing onions without having too pay hardly any attention at all. I also use mine to reheat leftover soups and sauces that, for some reason, are a pain to do in the microwave.
And did I mention cheap? You can score a decent sized sand pot for about $15 at any of the Asian supermarkets on Washington Avenue (the ones at 11th and 16th streets are where I generally have the best luck).
Bonus gift: Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking, by Paula Wolfert. This compendium of recipes for cazuelas, tagines, Romertopf bakers, and other clay cooking vessels is one of my favorite cookbooks of the last five years. I use it all the time. And it’ll have plenty of ideas for bringing that Chinese sand pot into play.