It’s hard to get enough ramekins in the kitchen. No matter how extensive their collection, the well-seasoned ramekin user will often turn around, after it seems they’ve just washed the whole batch, to find them stacked right back up in the sink or dishwasher. This is, you see, because you can use them for darn near anything.
Perhaps you have no idea what I’m talking about. “Rameh-what?!” you may be thinking. It’s a funny word, I know. Ramekins are small, usually round dishes with high edges. They’re mostly made of glazed stoneware or glass and are often ridged or fluted. But there are plenty that defy that description, as the ramekin fleet is a diverse one. Think of them as miniature, all-purpose bowls.
The word “ramekin” has European roots (Dutch/German, or French if spelled ramequin). A friend of mine says it sounds like it should (or has, or eventually will be) the main lyric of some heavy metal track, like a gruffly screaming mantra (“RAMMA-KIN RAMMA-KIN RAMMA-KIN!!!”). Other folks I’ve cooked with avoid it altogether and just call the things “custard cups.”
They are indeed very handy for making custard, but they’re just as useful for baking anything at a small scale or in individual servings, from cakes and cobblers to shepherd’s pie and casseroles.
The many uses of ramekins
Before you even get to the oven, though, try using them for prep. At anywhere from a couple of ounces to about a cup in volume, they’re the perfect size for your minced garlic, fresh herbs, spice mixes, salad dressings, garnishes, softening butter, beating eggs—well, you get the picture. Cover them with a bit of plastic wrap (or go for a set with lids), and you can store prepped goods away in the fridge or freezer until you’re ready to cook.
They’re also fantastic for presentation. Ramekins make great serving dishes for single-serving sides, desserts, or tastings. You can also use them to shape anything semi-solid, like flan, rice, mashed potatoes, etc. Fill one (or grease and bake in it), run a knife along the edges, rest a plate over top, and invert the whole thing. Your dish will come out in the neat domed or cylindrical shape of these dandy little containers.
Or—how about offering your guests hors d‘oeuvres like cheese cubes, olives, hummus, or salsa in them? Then, when dinnertime comes around, you can serve condiments like sauces or dips in a ramekin on each plate.
The many types of ramekins
Some companies make plastic or silicone ramekins, but be weary of these unless you have a specific use in mind for them. The traditional stoneware kind’s non-porous makeup and tolerance for all kitchen environments—ovens, freezers, microwaves, dishwashers, high heats, deep freezes, wet, dry, oily, sticky, and everything in between—are what gives it this wide versatility and dynamism.
The ramekins pictured are classic and white, which I picked for my own kitchen because they go well with just about everything. I recommend equipping yourself with at least six standard stoneware ones before you branch out.
But, once you do, there are endless variations and specialty sets to choose from, which come in all manner of shapes and materials. Pyrex makes these “vintage” rounded square ramekins in funky colors; $40 will get you this set of four personalized, heart-shaped ones.
I dig this set by Le Creuset, which stacks up nice and neat for compact service or storage. Rachael Ray makes a 10-ounce square set, coined the appropriately cutesy “Bubble and Brown Singles,” which would be great for making mini-lasagnas or scalloped potatoes.
On that note, I think I’ll grab my set and go back to gettin’ busy. I’ve got a tasty recipe and a hot new heavy metal track to work on.