Clay pot cookery has been practised the world over ever since humans began cooking over open fires and sharing communal meals together. That seminal idea of shared one pot meals is still widely practised over much of the globe, even in our own modern 21st century home kitchens. In Asia particularly, clay pot cookery is still widely used at home as well as in restaurants. Japanese clay pot Shabu shabu and Sukiyaki restaurants are popular the world over, as are Cantonese clay pot chicken restaurants, and Korean Tubaegi Bulgogi shops.
Clay pot cookery in Asia has endured as a traditional way to prepare simple yet warming full bodied one pot meals during the fall and winter months. The donabe is one of Japan’s earliest traditional clay pot cooking vessels that is still used in most Japanese kitchens to this day. Likewise there are traditional clay pots used throughout South and Southeast Asia, China, Taiwan, and Korea. The flexibility of clay pot cookery is its appeal. The clay pot can be used directly over an open flame, on the stove top, in the oven, or set atop a portable gas burner placed on the dinning table which is a great way to involve everyone in cooking at the table during the meal, Asian style.
I acquired my first Japanese donabe nearly 40 years ago and I am still using it today as pictured. If you do not have a clay pot I urge you to go out and find one. Unlike the endless array of quirky unnecessary kitchen gadgets or the latest trending cooking equipment or appliances that you may use a couple of times and then shove to the back of a kitchen cabinet, a clay pot is a kitchen treasure you will use regularly. Clay pots are available in shops in Asian communities and online.
A few tips when purchasing a clay pot. As mentioned I prefer the Japanese donabe above all others. Donabes are heavy, durable, and they retain heat well. They are lightly glazed both inside and out. Some cooks prefer a more rustic unglazed clay pots, claiming they add flavor to what you are cooking. That claim is debatable. Unglazed pots are porous and require pre-soaking in water before each use to avoid cracking. Staining and durability is also continuing issue with unglazed clay pots.
If you are unable to find a retailer where you live you might check out Toiro Kitchen’s selection of Japanese donabes (click here) They are as beautiful as they are utilitarian.
When cooking with all clay pots, always begin cooking over a low flame at first with a little liquid, or oil if frying, in the bottom of the pot. Once the pot is heated you can then raise the flame gradually to the required temperature for cooking and simmering. To avoid cracking, always cool the pot after cooking and before submerging it in water for cleaning. Best to clean with warm water only, or at least avoid using soap in the interior of the pot.
The recipe that follows is one of my easy interpretations of a simple Chinese clay pot meal that includes cabbage, carrots, daikon radish, and lop cheong (Chinese hard sausage.) This is a basic combination of Asian vegetables infused with a beguiling slightly sweet smoky flavor of the sausage. Rice or noodles are often included in clay pot cooked meals as well. So throw caution to the wind and don’t worry too much about authenticity. There are endless possibilities at the discretion of the creative cook in all of us!
Asian Clay Pot Vegetables with Lop Cheong serves 4
- 4 to 6 lop cheong (dry Chinese sausage), casing removed,thinly sliced on the diagonal
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 1 large onion, peeled, quartered, and thinly sliced
- 1 large head Chinese or green cabbage, outer leaves removed, quartered, core removed, and very thinly sliced
- 1 large daikon radish, peeled, quartered, and cut into bite size pieces
- 2 carrots, peeled, thinly sliced and cut into thin batons
- 2 inch knob fresh ginger, peeled, thinly sliced, and finely diced
- hot stock to just cover ingredients
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 3 tablespoons light soy sauce + more to taste
- 1 to 2 teaspoons Szechuan pepper corns, lightly toasted and ground
- ¼ teaspoon five spice powder
- 1 teaspoon pure red chile powder or more to taste
As the lop cheong sausage is quite fatty I like to simmer the sliced sausage in a skillet with water for about 15 minutes to release some of the fat which you can spoon off the surface of the water and discard. Reserve the cooking liquid to add to the simmering pot later.
Preheat the oven to 350F/180c (if using the oven)
Place the clay pot on the stove top over low heat. Add the oil and after five minutes raise the heat to medium low and add the onions. Cook the onions until softened. Then add the cabbage and cook while tossing until the cabbage is wilted. Then add the daikon , carrots, and ginger. Cook while tossing the ingredients until slightly wilted. Then fold in the precooked sliced sausage until well combined.
Add the honey, 3 tablespoons light soy sauce, ground Szechuan pepper, five spice powder, and red chile powder. Toss until all the ingredients are well combined.
Add enough hot stock, including the reserved broth from the precooked sausage, to the pot to just reach the top of the ingredients. Cover the pot with the lid and simmer on the stove top, or transfer the pot to the oven, and cook for 30 minutes.
Check the level of the stock which should be just visible when a spoon is inserted into the vegetables. Add a little more stock if it is looking dry. Cover and continue to cook on the stove top, or return the pot to the oven, for another 30 minutes
Remove the lid and check the contents. The liquid should be reduced by about two thirds and the vegetables around the edges of the pot may just be beginning to color. If there is still excess liquid cook another 15 to 20 minutes. Taste and season with additional light soy sauce and red chile to taste and cover and set aside until you are ready to serve.
Transfer the clay pot to the table and serve with steamed rice.
Another lop Cheong recipe you might like to try (click here for recipe)