Penang Insights

Clay pot cooking

I still remember the time when I’ve renovated an entire kitchen of a 1880s weatherboard house in Tasmania and installed an induction cooktop. My decision was swayed by a friend who vowed for the induction over gas, based on experience and style of cooking. As a consequence of installing the induction top, I spent a fair bit of money with new kitchen appliances to work on the induction tops, including a “Kylie Kwong” stainless steel flat bottom wok with a lid, costing me dearly in excess of AUD$450! That was back in 2005. It was expensive then.

Several years later and having moved a few times, I am back to gas cooking and gave my induction wok to a friend. I told myself not to give in to temptation when there is “Sale” on cooking appliances, especially those marked down with “40% – 50%”! Because I will end up spending unnecessarily. So! Whenever I see a “sale”, I will tell myself that I’ve got everything I need in my kitchen. I will think back to when my mother used to cook in my first home when I was a child. Traditional clay stove using charcoal flameShe had a carbon steel wok, a couple of small to medium size steel pots and to me, the most priceless items in her kitchen – portable clay stoves and unglazed clay pots cooked using charcoal flames. She would made medicinal herbal soups and stews using the clay pot. The picture image on the right was copied from another website. It is similar to the charcoal stove my mother used to have.

Clay pot is an ancient way of cooking to seal the food inside, preventing any loss of moisture because it is surrounded by steam; thus, creating a tender, flavorful dish. Different cultures have different methods of cooking using a clay pot. There are glazed or unglazed clay pots and they come in different shapes, sizes and designs. This is one of the “must-have” essential kitchen appliances for a Chinese style cooking and it doesn’t cost much to own one.  I used my clay pot to slow-cooked in the oven or on top of a gas stove.  The clay pot gets better over time and each time before I cooked with it, I would soak with warm tap water to prevent it from cracking. This process is especially important if the clay pot is unglazed. Depending on what I cook in the clay pot, I would use little or no cooking oil, which means it is a healthier form of cooking.Claypot cooking, Penang Insights

Last night, I craved for a Malaysian style clay pot chicken rice to relive my college days when I was studying in Kuala Lumpur.  It was one of my favourite evening meal at a local street vendor sitting by the roadside. The food vendor with his moveable cart was purpose-built with 6 clay stoves filled with charcoal flames. The rice was flavoursome with tender and juicy chicken meats and aromatic Chinese sausage “lap cheong”. The best bit was the crisp, crunchy burnt rice at the bottom. It was a cheap way of filling my stomach as a student.

I have recreated this food memory using the below ingredients:

  • chicken thigh fillets – 2
  • shiitake dried mushrooms – 4
  • salted fish – a tiny piece
  • chinese sausage “lap cheong” – 1
  • jasmine rice – 1 cup
  • spring onions – 2
  • ginger – 2 inches

First, we need to marinate the chicken. Cut the chicken into small bite pieces. Then marinate the chicken pieces with the below ingredients and refrigerate for 3 hours or longer.

  • 1 tablespoon light soy
  • 2/3 tablespoon dark soy
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese cooking wine
  • 1/2 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon white pepper
  • 1/2 tablespoon oyster sauce
  • 1/2 tablespoon tapioca starch
  • 1/2 tablespoon minced ginger
  • Pinch of sea salt

Next, soak the shiitake dried mushrooms until softened. Then slice them thinly and set aside.

Cut the salted fish into small dices and lightly browned them in a bit of oil in a skillet. Remove and let the oil drained on a kitchen paper towel.

Chop the spring onions and set aside.

Slice the “lap cheong” thinly and then lightly fry in a hot skillet. Remove and let the oil drained on a kitchen paper towel.

Next, cook the rice. First, wash the rice 2-3 times. After washing, place the rice in the clay pot with 1.5 cups of water. Bring the water gently to a boil (without the lid) – start with warm then high heat. Once it is boiling and water is evaporated by half, turn the heat down to low-medium. The rice should be half cooked by then.

Claypot cooking, Penang Insights

Add the marinated chicken pieces on top of the rice. Cover the clay pot with its lid. Once the chicken is cooked, add the rest of the ingredients – shiitake mushrooms, salted fish and lap cheong. Add some greens if you like. Drizzle all over the ingredients with the pre-mixed sauce. Cover with the lid and cook for another 10 minutes. Check to make sure the rice and chicken are cooked before serving.

Note: I have used an English version sausage instead of “lap cheong” just to try it out. But I still prefer the Chinese lap cheong. The flavour is not the same with a normal English sausage. I have also added some broccolini for a balanced diet.

To make the pre-mixed sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 1 tablespoon light soy
  • 1 tablespoon dark soy
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese cooking wine
  • 1 tablespoon water

Claypot cooking, Penang Insights

Food, Recipe

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