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Clay pot cooking is a process of cooking food in a pot made from unglazed & natural clay. After the introduction of metals into everyday living, clay cooking quickly found a replacement and clay pots were soon being replaced by metal everywhere. More recently however, clay cooking is coming back as a cooking technique in kitchens around the world because of the distinct flavor and nutritional value of food cooked in them.
Different cultures have different techniques of cooking food in clay. Some design pots that are fully finished by burnishing and therefore don’t require the pot to be soaked each time before use. Some are unfinished and work well when soaked for about 30–45 minutes in water, each time before use. The design and shape of the pot have been slightly modified from one culture to another to suit their style of cooking. Seasoning is an essential part of cooking in clay. Seasoning the pot helps bring the clay molecules together and prepare it for use as a cooking utensil. Seasoning is done by making a broth with flour (rice or wheat) and vegetable cooking oil. These ingredients are mixed to the water in the pot and brought to a boil. Consider a clay pot to be fully seasoned only after using it a couple of times cooking wet dishes like soups and stews etc. It’s best to gauge cooking time for a recipe after using the pot for a few times – during first few uses it takes longer. A fully seasoned pot is very versatile and durable. Increase heat gradually (within a span of 5 minutes) and only go up to medium heat. All foods fully get cooked at this temperature. The temperature may go to between 450°F and 500°F when cooking in the oven, but again increase heat gradually and start by placing the pot in a cold oven or just slightly pre-heated (100-200°F)
The food inside the clay pot loses little to no moisture because it is surrounded by steam, creating a tender, flavorful dish. The evaporation of the water prevents burning so long as the pot is not allowed to heat until it is completely dry. Because no oil needs to be added with this cooking technique, food cooked in clay many times is lower in fat compared with food prepared by other utensils. Clay pots also seal all the nutrients inside the pot by locking steam in. The unglazed clay utensil made from all natural clay is inert or non-reactive and does not leach into food.
Earthenware cooking pots are made from special clay that can withstand heat in an oven or on the stovetop. Most commercial earthenware clay cannot be used to make pots for cooking. Although there are some clays which can be used to make cooking pots for use in the oven, there are only a few types of clay that can be made into cookware for use on both oven and stove tops.
In ancient Ethiopia, all cooking was done with hand-made clay pots made for different types of food. And is still a method of cooking some special recipes whose taste can’t be replicated in metal pots.
The tajine is a North African, two-piece clay pot used in Moroccan cuisine. The bottom part is a broad, shallow bowl, while the top is tall and conical, or sometimes domed. The tall lid acts to condense rising steam and allow the moisture to roll back down into the dish. The tajine lends its name to the dish made in it, which in Morocco is a meat stew.
Clay cooking is believed to have a major comeback in the USA, especially among health conscious cooks.
In different parts of the subcontinent of India different shapes of clay utensils have been used. In the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala in India, the traditional clay pot used for cooking is called a chatti. There are many different types of clay pots used in the different cultures of North India, Pakistan, Bangladesh.
People in Sri Lanka use a clay pot to make many different and special foods especially one called pahi (“little jackfruit”) fish curry, called abul thiyal and some meat and specially rice and some chutney called accharu. Usually clay pots are used for making freshwater fish called Lula, Hunga, Magura and Kawaiya. For more than 2000 years, Sri Lankans used clay pots and now both urban and village people use the clay pot.
In Chinese, the pot used for such cooking is generally known as 砂鍋 (pinyin: shāguo) or 煲仔 (pinyin: bàozai), a Cantonese word for “little pot”. Clay pot dishes are sometimes labeled as “hot pot” or “hotpot” dishes on the menus of Chinese restaurants in English-speaking areas of the world., but they should not be confused with hot pot dishes that are served in a large metal bowl and cooked at the table. In Taiwan, the chicken dish sanbeiji is prepared in a clay pot.
In Vietnam, the stew-like dish called kho is cooked in a clay pot. The pot is most often called nồi đất in Vietnamese, although, depending on its size and use, it may also be called nồi kho cá, nồi kho thịt, nồi kho tiêu, or nồi kho tộ.
In Germany, the clay roaster used to cook with is called a Römertopf (“Roman pot”). Since its introduction in 1967, it has influenced cooking traditions in Germany and neighbouring European countries. The pot is mainly used to cook meat, like pork roast, chicken or stew, in an oven.
In Spanish cooking a ceramic roaster known as "olla de barro" is used.
Clay pots are used in different South American and Mexican recipes.
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