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.
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.
Read my favourite way to use my Tanyu claypot here.
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.