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 also porous and requires 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 this 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 heated you can then raise the heat 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. 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 lop chcheong (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 iwhich should be just visible when a spoon is inserted into the vegetables. Add a little stock if it is looking dry. Cover and continue to cook on the stove top, or return the pot to the oven, and cook 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)
Cashew Chicken is an American take on, or is it a take out of, not dissimilar regional chicken dishes found throughout China. There certainly are like dishes in Cantonese and Szechuan cooking (see recipe for Szechuan Gong Bao Chicken here). Whatever the version, cashew chicken has found popularity the world over. Always considered a reliably safe bet for the unadventurous when faced with iffy Chinese food choices. Even here in Thailand cashew chicken is more often than not a numbed down version that is mild and palatable for farang (foreign) visitors. For Thais however it’s got to be a fiery cashew chicken spiked generously with chopped small green sky pointing chilies. Keep in mind the smaller the chilies the more intense their heat. Locally grown cashews are added to the dish to somewhat tame the heat of the chilies.
Of course the great popularity of Thai food rests on the extraordinary artistry of balancing opposing fiery, sweet, sour, savory, and salty flavors that literally tease the senses and ignite the taste buds in completely unexpected experiential ways. Not Unlike the Thai language, Thai cookery has its own unfamiliar and quirky flavor vocabulary, but once you have grasped the essentials the rest is an adventure in Thai cookery just waiting at your kitchen door.
Making the fiery Thai cashew chicken recipe that follows is relatively easy to prepare and uses many of the basic flavor combinations that reappear again and again in Thai cookery. Caution not required. Fire up those chilies for a lusty meal that will not disappoint.
Fiery Thai Cashew Chicken serves 4
For the chicken:
- 1 kilo/2.2 pounds chicken thighs with skin on, deboned
- 3 tablespoons coconut or peanut oil
- 1 yellow onion, quartered and thinly sliced
- 2 large red shallots, quartered and thinly sliced
- a 2 inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled and finely julienned
- 4 large fresh Thai red chilies, halved, seeds removed, and thinly sliced on the diagonal
- 8 fresh kaffir lime leaves, central vein removed and very finely minced
- 1 cup lightly roasted cashew nuts
- fresh Thai basil leaves (garnish)
- fresh coriander leaves (garnish)
For the sauce:
- 2 ½ oz palm sugar (hard or soft) or light brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons water
- 5 tablespoons fish sauce (nam pla)
- 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
- 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
- 6-8 fiery small fresh Thai sky pointing chilies, finely sliced on the diagonal
- 3-4 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 1 to 1 ½ cups chicken broth
- 1 tablespoon corn or tapioca starch mixed with 1 tablespoon cold water
Remove the bones from the chicken thighs and cut each thigh into 3 equal pieces and set aside.
Rather than discarding the bones place them in a large sauce pan. Add 1 small peeled and diced yellow onion and 4 whole fresh kaffir lime leaves. Fill the pan with water and bring to a low boil. Cook for about 30 minutes while you prepare the other ingredients for the recipe. The liquid should be reduced by about a half. Pass the broth through a fine mesh strainer, discard the bones and lime leaves, and set the broth aside to use later.
Slice the onion and shallots and set them aside in a bowl. Likewise, julienne the ginger, mince the kaffir lime leaves, and slice the red chilies, setting each aside in separate bowls.
To prepare the sauce place the palm sugar in a small sauce pan with 2 tablespoons water. Place the pan over low heat and slowly melt the palm sugar until it is completely dissolved, caramel colored, and bubbling up. Take the pan off the heat and add the fish sauce, oyster sauce, and light soy sauce. Swirl the pan to combine the ingredients and put the pan back onto the heat. Add the sliced fiery chillies and swirl the pan. Once bubbling set aside to use later. Reheat the sauce to a boil and stir in the lime juice just before adding it to the chicken.
Heat the coconut or peanut oil in a large skillet set over medium high heat. When nearly smoking add the chicken pieces skin side down and cook until the skin is nicely browned. Promptly turn the chicken and cook another couple of minutes. Transfer the chicken to a platter lined with paper towels and set aside to drain off excess fat.
Drain off all but a couple tablespoons of fat from the skillet and return it to the heat. When the fat is hot add the onions and shallots and saute them until they are soft, about 3 minutes. Promptly add the ginger and the sliced red chillies and saute about 2 minute. Then add the minced kaffir lime leaves and stir to combine.
Promptly reheat the sauce and stir in the lime juice. Return the browned chicken to the skillet and toss with the other ingredients. Then pour the bubbling sauce over the chicken mixture in the skillet and toss the ingredients to evenly coat them with the sauce. Cook for about 2 minutes until the sauce is quite thick and sticky. Then add just enough chicken broth to reach the top of the chicken. Stir to combine and cook at a boil for about 8 to 10 minutes.
Stir in the cashew nuts. Mix the corn or tapioca starch with water and add to the bubbling chicken. Gently sir for a couple of minutes until the sauce thickens and glosses the chicken and cashews.
Transfer the Chicken with Cashews to a large platter. Garnish with fresh Thai Basil leaves and bunches of fresh coriander leaves. Serve with Thai Jasmine white or brown Rice scented with kaffir lime leaves.
I am still surprised when I offhandedly mention ham loaf to friends, even American friends, who more often than not look puzzled and ask “what is ham loaf?” I always just assumed ham loaf was standard American fare, but I have been duly enlightened.
In actuality ham loaf’s roots reach back to various German speaking religious groups, including Amish and Mennonite farmers, who emigrated to America in the 17th century to escape religious persecution in Europe. They, as farmers, chose to settle in Southeastern Pennsylvania with its rich fertile soil that was ideal for their old world farming methods. The area became known as Pennsylvania (Deitsch) Dutch country which is where I grew up. These pristine family farms have been passed down for generations so a good bit of the rural countryside has remained, thankfully, mostly untouched by modernization.
Pennsylvania Dutch cooks have probably been making versions of ham loaf for a couple of centuries. The recipes have been passed down and have remained pretty much unchanged over the years judging from recipes I have looked at. The recipe here I found in one of my mother’s handwritten recipe notebooks to which I have added a couple of optional seasonings. The resulting ham loaf is every bit as comforting and scrumptious today as it was when we were kids back in Lancaster county.
Typically in Pennsylvania farm communities the big meal of the day is still served family style around noon during the busy summer months. Ham loaf would most likely be served along with several homegrown vegetables and potatoes freshly plucked out of the garden. Nothing fancy mind you, just a beautifully fresh and hearty meal that mirrors the balance of a considered way of life.
As pictured, the ham loaf is served with steamed young Brussels’s sprouts, including the outer leaves, spritzed with olive oil and lemon juice. Boiled potatoes are tossed with butter, olive oil, salt and pepper. The horseradish cream is my own choice for an accompaniment as horseradish is also locally grown in Lancaster county and adds a refreshing flavor note.
Ham Loaf serves 6
Equipment: 1 loaf pan: approximately 10” x 6” x 3”
- 1 ¼ pounds ground ham
- 1 ¾ pounds ground pork
- 1 cup finely diced onions
- 2 finely minced garlic cloves
- 1 cup tomato sauce ( pureed tomatoes)
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme or sage leaves
- ½ teaspoon dried marjoram leaves
- ¼ teaspoon ground clove
- 1 teaspoon sea salt plus more as needed
- freshly ground pepper to taste
- ½ teaspoon pure ground red chile powder (optional)
- 1 cup breadcrumbs
- milk to soak bread crumbs
- 2 large organic eggs
- 3 bay leaves (optional
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon dried mustard powder
- ½ cup cider vinegar
- ¼ cup water
It is best to marinate the seasoned ham and pork mixture overnight to develop flavor.
In a large bowl combine the ham, pork, onions, garlic, 1/3 cup tomato sauce, thyme or sage, marjoram, ground clove, 1 teaspoon salt or more to your own taste, pepper, and chile powder if using. Knead the mixture with you hands until the ingredients are well combined. Cover the bowl with cling film and refrigerate overnight or for up to 24 hours.
The following day remove the ham pork mixture from the fridge. Briefly soak the breadcrumbs in milk. Squeeze out the excess milk from the breadcrumbs and add them to the ham pork mixture.
Whisk the eggs in a small bowl and add to the ham pork mixture. Using your hands kneed the mixture to completely incorporate the breadcrumbs and eggs into the ham pork mixture.
Lightly oil the loaf pan and fill it with the ham loaf mixture evenly without overly compressing the meat into the pan. If the meat is too firmly packed the meat will tend to be dense and rubbery rather than soft and tender when cooked. Press bay leaves into the top surface and set aside for baking.
Preheat the oven to 350f/180c
While the oven is heating you can prepare the glaze for the ham loaf
Combine the brown sugar, mustard powder, cider vinegar, and water in a small stainless saucepan. Set the pan over medium low heat and bring the mixture to a boil while stirring. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook a couple of minutes until the glaze thickens slightly. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool.
Brush the top of the ham loaf with the glaze and transfer the pan to the oven. Bake for 20 minutes.
Open the oven door and glaze the top of the loaf again and bake for another 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes remove the loaf from the oven and once again glaze the top of the loaf. You will notice the loaf has separated from the sides of the loaf pan leaving a small gap. Spoon tomato sauce (puree) into the gaps around the loaf until nearly filled. Return the pan to the oven and bake for another 20 to 25 minutes.Remove the ham loaf from the oven and place on a cooling rack. Keep in mind you do not want to over bake the loaf as it will tend to dry out!
Once the loaf is cool enough to handle, pour out excess liquid in the loaf pan into a small bowl and set aside. Run a knife around the edges of the loaf. Place a sheet of parchment over the loaf and invert the pan onto a cutting board. If the loaf is sticking a bit, grip both the cutting board and the pan together and give the pan a firm downward thrust. This should release the loaf.
Once the loaf is released, place a serving platter over the loaf. While gripping both the cutting board and the platter together, turn the loaf upright. Remove the parchment and discard.
Slice the ham loaf into generous portions crosswise. Spoon reserved pan juices over the slices of ham loaf and serve along with horseradish cream at the table.
- ½ cup sour cream
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise (Hellmann’s)
- 2 tablespoons prepared mustard (Dijon)
- 2 tablespoons fresh prepared horseradish
Combine all the ingredients in a stainless bowl and whip until combined and smooth.. Chill until serving time.
Lemon and chicken have got to be my very favorite pairing. It all started long ago with Marcella Hazan’s classic Lemon Garlic Chicken (see recipe here). That recipe inspired a Lemon Garlic Chicken Panino (see recipe here). Later while living in LA, I fell in love with the Lemon Garlic Chicken…Cuban style fromVersailles restaurant (see recipe here). Then yet another recipe for Lemon Roasted Chicken (see here). My affection for the pairing is obvious enough and yet I somehow overlooked the most obvious pairing of all, Limoncello and Chicken.
Limoncello has been a favorite apertivo for years. Intensely lemony though just sweet enough to tame the sharp bite of lemon juice. Limoncello is synonymous with the sun drenched coasts of Southern Italy that are dotted with lemon orchards from Sardinia to Naples, Capri, the Amalfi Coast, and southward to Sicily. Homemade Limoncello is how it all began more than a century ago and easy enough to make with very little effort. There are various recipes available online. Fortunately Limoncello became so popular it is produced commercially and available world wide. Most often served chilled after a meal, although try it for a late afternoon refresher with a splash of sparkling water. And not to be overlooked, bringing Limoncello into the kitchen opens up whole new ways of seasoning with lemon for savory dishes as well as sweets. The slight sweetness is ideal for poultry, pork, or fish.
The recipe that follows is adaptable. Braise the chicken in the oven, on the stove top, or marinate the chicken for grilling and serve with reduced marinade/sauce. For the sake of ease I have used skin on legs, thighs, and breasts, but by all means cut up a whole chicken if you like.
Keep in mind the chicken should be marinated for at least 8 hours or up to 24 hours so plan ahead!
Braised Limoncello Chicken Serves 4
- 4 each; skin on chicken legs, boneless thighs, and boneless breasts
- 1/3 cup minced shallots
- 3 plump garlic cloves, peeled and microplaned
- ½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 ½ teaspoons flaked sea salt + more to taste
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ¾ cup Limoncello
- 3 to 4 ½ tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cups chicken stock, heated
- 2 lemons, very thinly sliced across
- ½ cup sliced fresh basil leaves
Equipment: A non-reactive bowl and a large oven proof skillet or wide braising pan
Rinse the chicken and pat dry. Cut the breasts in half across.
In a large non-reactive bowl combine the shallots, garlic, lemon juice, 1 ½ teaspoons flaked sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, and ½ cup Limoncello, Stir until the salt has has dissolved into the liquid.
Add the chicken and massage the marinade into the chicken flesh. Press the chicken into the marinade until covered. Seal the bowl with clingfilm and refrigerate for 8 to 24 hours.
Preheat oven to 425f/220c if oven braising.
Remove the marinated chicken from the refrigerator. Pick the chicken pieces out of the marinade and slide the chicken pieces between your fingers to remove any bits of shallots and excess marinade clinging to the flesh and place on a plate. Then pat the chicken pieces dry with a paper towel and set aside on another clean plate.
Place the skillet or braising pan over medium high heat and add the 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil. When the oil is nearly smoking add chicken pieces into the pan, skin side down, without crowding, and cook until the skin releases from the bottom of the pan easily and is nicely browned. Turn the chicken over and again cook until nicely browned. Transfer the chicken to a plate. Repeat the process with the remaining chicken.
When you have finished browning the chicken, using paper towels, remove any excess oil and burned bits from the pan.
Place the pan back on the stove top over medium heat and add another 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil. When hot add the marinade, bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes.
Then arrange the browned chicken snugly into the pan in a single layer. Add 1 cup of heated stock and jiggle the pan to distribute the stock evenly. Layer lemon slices over the entire surface of the chicken. When the liquid comes back to a full simmer transfer the pan to the preheated oven and braise for 25 to 30 minutes.
If you want to braise the chicken on the stove top simply continue cooking. Be sure to keep an eye on the pan juices and add more stock as needed. Keep in mind the lemon slices will not brown, but otherwise the dish will taste nearly the same as the chicken braised in the oven.
After 25 to 30 minutes, if oven braising, open the oven door, slide the oven rack forward, and add the remaining 1/3 cup Limoncello over the chicken. Add more stock only if the pan juices have reduced and are no longer visible. Taste the pan juice and stir in more salt if needed. Then scatter the basil over all and slide the chicken back into the oven and cook another 15 minutes or until the pan juices are bubbling vigorously and the lemon slices are browned around the edges.
Otherwise, if you are stove top braising, add the Limoncello, basil, and salt if needed and continue braising another 15 minutes, or until the pan juices have reduced slightly.
Remove from the oven, or turn off the heat on the stove top, and set aside for a couple of minutes before serving.
As pictured, I like to serve Limoncello Chicken with plenty of its lemony pan juices along with tender braised cabbage with anise and fluffy couscous with currants.
This is a winning meal that is sure to please again and again!