My new kitchen utensil: claypot

I’m a non-foodie, obsessed by food. To me, foodies love eating and obsess over particular details of their food; whereas I’m not driven by a love of eating and I’m quite happy to settle for imperfectly prepared foods as long as it meets my personal standards.

However, because of my wide-ranging food sensitivities, I spend a lot of time thinking of dishes I can eat, or how to creatively adapt dishes to something I can tolerate. And because I’m also hypoglycemic, I also worry a lot about bringing enough food with me when I leave the house so that I don’t go hungry. Trying to think of a variety of foods that are within my tolerance-range, which can be cooked at home, and deciding which ones are easily portable can be quite an all-consuming task (no pun intended ^.^) ! Incidentally, I don’t actually think very much about foods I can’t have … except tea :).

The result of all this is that I’m always finding new kitchen products to add to my collection, with the aim of extending my range of cooking methods, and hence dishes that I can produce to add variety to my diet.

My latest purchase is a Tanyu claypot. Numerous testimonials on the internet say what good results this produces. I’ve never cooked with any kind of claypot, and this brand is supposed to be superior to old-fashioned Chinese claypots (with correspondingly magnified prices!). I’d seen it many times in the department stores but never paid attention until now, when in my food-obsessed frame of mind I walked past the Tanyu counter in Takashimaya offering 20% discount.

I didn’t find the Tanyu promoters particularly helpful with product information, but from what I gather from the Tanyu cookbook no. 4 (lousy cooking instructions, don’t bother buying it from the Tanyu counter), Tanyu is a Singapore brand, made from Japanese clay. No information where the pots are actually made. I hope there’s no lead in the glaze!!

Anyway, I chose a 1.3l shallow dish in the traditional shape for claypot rice and promptly made claypot rice for dinner :). The heat conduction and retention seemed very good, the pot is certainly easy to clean with its smooth, glazed surface, and the rice had that burnt, chao da smell and the brown crust of rice which is characteristic of claypot rice sar po fan.

The interesting thing about claypot cooking is that it also has a culturally-diverse and long historical lineage, ranging from ancient Rome to East Asia. In China, claypot rice, braised dishes and slowly-simmered soups are all commonly made in claypots. In Japan, we often see sukiyaki and nabe being made in donabe ceramic pots. All of these cooking methods involve putting the pots over a heat source on a stove. Thai and Vietnamese cooking use claypots too.

In contrast, other cultures put clay cooking vessels into an oven. (Incidentally, there are some Chinese claypot rice recipes from Malaysia that use a combination of stovetop and oven.) For example, Indian tandoor clay ovens and the Moroccan tagine that has become oh-so-fashionable in recent years. European clay cooking vessels usually come in a long, rectangular shape. Unglazed clay is used, and before cooking the clay pot is soaked in water for fifteen minutes. So when the food is put in and the whole thing put in the oven, a wonderful steaming effect is created inside the enclosed clay pot to produce flavourful casseroles, moist and tender roast meats as well as crispier crusts when baking breads. Read more here, here, here and here and check out some quick recipes here.

Because clay cooking vessels retain natural flavours and juices well, less added seasoning is needed. This is wonderful for those who wish to cut down on unhealthy seasonings such as salt and MSG, and for people like me to are sensitive to prepared sauces as well as dried herbs and spices. However, for amine-sensitive individuals, I’m not sure if claypot cooking method produces amines.

I’d love to use my new Tanyu claypot for a one-person hotpot/ steamboat/ sukiyaki one day, as soon as I decide on the most appropriate heat source for the dining table. Unfortunately, induction cookers require cookware that can hold a magnetic charge in order to work.

23/11/07 update:
The Tanyu claypot didn’t work with my steamboat/grill machine, there just wasn’t enough heat on the grill surface to penetrate the thick claypot. So I’ve given up the idea of cooking hotpot at the table. Instead, I’ve discovered that cooking hotpot on the stove and then serving it in the claypot at the table makes an equally satisfying alternative. Somehow it’s really special to open the claypot lid and discover the steaming, fragrant soup inside still bubbling away with a lovely half-cooked egg in the soup (but the claypot retains heat a long time so eat the egg soon or it will become fully cooked!).

I think any dish that needs to be simmered slowly is suitable for claypot cooking, as the clay retains heat for a long time. A crockpot is basically a claypot, after all. So aside from Chinese rice porridge, claypot rice and braised dishes, or the roasted meats from other cuisines, any kind of stew or even bolognaise sauce would be just the thing for cooking in your claypot instead of a metal pot.

13/12/07 update:
Read my favourite way to use my Tanyu claypot here.

30/12/07 update:
I’ve been told that compared to cooking on the stove or using an electric crockpot, the advantage of putting a claypot in the oven (or cast iron pot for that matter, which also has excellent heat retention properties) is that in the oven, heat surrounds the entire cooking vessel rather than only coming from the bottom and this produces a superior result for stews and roasts.

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6 Responses

  1. […] onions, shallots, ground beef, salt and pepper (frozen leftover heated up in the microwave). 5) Claypot chicken rice seasoned lightly with organic shoyu, topped with small bits of avocado, placed in silicone baking […]

  2. […] Claypot chicken rice made with chopped garlic, cubes of yam and mixed mushrooms. (Unlike traditional Chinese claypot […]

  3. […] Chinese , Singapore , food culture , food intolerances , kitchen tips , recipes , wholemeal I wrote about claypots generally when I first purchased my Tanyu claypot. At that time I dreamed of enjoying sukiyaki or […]

  4. “I’m also hypoglycemic”

    I found your site after searching for salted eggs, and clicked around until I found this post. My mother was diagnosed with hypoglycemia, and also my paternal grandmother. They “diagnosed” me after having headaches during band practice in junior high, and my mother insisted I had to have a snack after school, before band practice, which solved the headaches. I learned at a fairly young age that I needed to eat at least a little something every 3-4 hours, but sometimes I could go longer if the last meal was really big.

    Quite a few decades later, after my grandfather’s angio and my father’s bypass a few years later, I started worrying I might follow in their footsteps, and searched online for healthier diet and lifestyle choices in the hopes of preventing, or at least delaying heart disease. Meanwhile, I had an elevated H1Ac (3 month blood sugar average), but since my fasting blood sugar was normal, my OB advised to tell the GP on my next appointment, so GP could follow up on it.

    I found a cardiologist’s blog that seemed progressive in not only preventing, but also reversing heart disease with changes in diet, and certain supplements. I subscribed to his feed, and over time he posted more about grains, specifically wheat, causing increased levels of small particle low density lipoproteins (LDL).

    He soapboxed against wheat on and off for quite some time, occasionally including how people going off wheat lost considerable amounts of weight while their bad cholesterol levels decreased, and the diabetics had more stable blood sugars.

    One post was about how people with high levels of bad cholesterol had marked improvements after fasting, even short fasts. I commented that I wasn’t able to fast because of my family-diagnosed hypoglycemia. He replied to my comment that his belief on hypoglycemia is because many of our diets include so much sugar, starch, and high-glycemic foods like wheat that our bodies get accustomed to having a quickly released fuel source. He advised to stop eating the starches and sugars and grin and bear it. A little too macho for me LOL

    But, I did stop eating sugars and processed grains (I thought I had celiac about that time, so it was easier to stop wheat at least). And I didn’t eat until I showed signs of hypoglycemia — for me, it was either the shakes, or a headache. I wrote down the time I ate, and how long it took to get the signs. I just kept them written down on a scratch paper, so I don’t recall exactly how long it took, but after about a week, I found I could go 12 hours without eating anything!

    Apparently many of his readers decided they could follow a celiac diet to avoid the evil wheat while still having their bread, pasta, and baked yummies. So he posted that he mainly picked on wheat because that was the grain of choice of most of his US patients, but even though he was still against wheat, it was all highly processed grains that caused the problems.

    Since then, I’ve figured out I don’t have celiac, but IBS instead (intolerance to insoluble fibers, unless a soluble fiber is eaten first, and then only a small amount of insoluble fiber can be tolerate, and it’s better if it’s diced finely or pureed). Well since I used to eat whole wheat products, that would explain why I thought I had a gluten problem, since whole wheat products have a lot of insoluble fibers.

    I tested that by eating some pasta made from highly processed wheat, and no gut attacks. Over time, I’ve included a bit more processed wheat products without gut problems, BUT, now I’m starting to get the shakes again! At least I’m not getting them every 4 hours like I used to. But it’s proved to me that his theory on hypoglycemia is correct, at least with me — and probably my family too, since we were big bread and biscuit eaters, cakes and pies too. Luckily we also ate lots of non-starch vegetables, or it could have been worse.

    Best of luck if you can go longer between hypoglycemic spells with this; I’m not sure if it will work with everyone though, but it couldn’t hurt to try (as long as you don’t over do it all at once 8^)

  5. Oh, I forgot to include my follow up H1AC with the GP: four months later, after being off wheat, and only occasionally eating celiac approved muffin mix and pasta (because they’re SO expensive), my recent H1AC was well below pre-diabetic range. Yet another reason to watch how much processed grains I consume.

  6. Thanks for sharing your experiences, Shreela. I’m sure other readers here will find it useful too.

    I think there’s no one set answer for everyone’s food sensitivities, we each have to keep trying till we find the right diet for ourselves, and even then our condition doesn’t stay the same forever. Over the last six years I’ve found many ways to manage but still have to constantly watch my food reactions and deal with the occasional slip-up (which could mean days, weeks or months of repercussions!).

    All the best to you too.

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