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)
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.
Here is a twist on Thailand’s very favorite sweet treat!
Borrowing from the traditional Thai pairing of sliced fresh mango eaten with sticky rice drizzled with coconut cream, I have instead made a tart with a coconut jasmine rice pastry cream scented with kaffir lime leaves that is topped with freshly picked sliced mango. This tart makes a tantalizingly colorful presentation that is sure to make a stellar tropical finale for a summer meal and well worth the little extra effort. For more information about Thailand’s mango and sticky rice (click here)
Of course choosing your mangoes is paramount. Ideally they should be freshly picked, plump, blemish free, and firm with an ever so slight give when very gently pressed. Their aroma should be flowery without a hint acidity. There are of course many varieties to choose from ranging from deep green, yellow, pastel yellow, orange, and various shades of red. Best to buy them not more than a day before you intend to use them and refrigerate them to slow down the ripening process. Peel, slice, and arrange the mango over the pastry cream just before serving for maximum flavor and freshness.
The rest of the preparations can be made in advance and refrigerated until you are ready to serve.
Fresh Mango Tart with Coconut Jasmine Rice Pastry Cream
Sweet Pastry (pate sablee) Tart Shell 10 or 11 inches, fully baked
As making the tart shell requires several steps including chilling the dough at several stages, as well as baking it, it is best to get this out of the way in advance. A fully baked tart shell cooled to room temperature and sealed n a large freezer bag will keep well in the refrigerator for several days.
Everyone who bakes has there own favorite tart pastry dough recipe so the choice is yours. Like many cooks I am always trying different recipes in a search of that perfect pastry dough that is easy to handle, sturdy when baked, and has at sweet crumbly sand like texture that classic tart shells should embody.
Likewise you can cook the rice and make the pastry cream in advance as well. Both will be combined and refrigerated until you are ready to assemble the tart.
For the Coconut Jasmine Rice
- ½ cup Thai jasmine rice
- 2 cups coconut milk
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt
- 3 kaffr lime leaves
Preheat the oven to 325f/170c
After briefly boiling the rice finishing off the rice in the oven avoids the inevitable scorching of the rice in the bottom of the pan when cooked on the stove top.
Place all the ingredients in a heavy bottomed oven proof sauce pan set over medium heat on the stove top. Stir occasionally as the liquid heats up to a boil. Once boiling reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook for 5 minutes while stirring so the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.
Cover the pan with a lid and place it in the preheated oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring once about half way through the baking time. Remove from the oven, remove the kaffir lime leaves and discard, and set the rice aside to cool.
For the Coconut Pastry Cream
- 2 cups coconut milk
- ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 2 large organic eggs
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
Have ready a mixing bowl with a fine mesh strainer set over the bowl.
Place the coconut milk in a heavy bottomed sauce pan over medium low heat. Stir in the vanilla extract and drop in the kaffir lime leaves. Stir now and again while the coconut milk is heating.
Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl whisk together the corn starch and sugar. Then add the eggs and whisk until smooth.
Once the coconut milk is just under a boil ladle about a third of the hot coconut milk slowly into the egg cornstarch mixture while whisking continuously until incorporated.
Then pour the egg mixture back into the hot coconut milk and whisk continuously. The mixture will thicken after about 2 minutes with a custard like consistency. Continue to heat while continuously whisking until the custard is just about to break into a simmer with just a few little bubbles appearing on the surface. You do not want the custard to boil as the eggs in the mixture will begin to curdle! Promptly remove the pan from the stove and pour the pastry cream through a fine mesh strainer into the bowl. This will stop the cooking and remove any curdling that may have occurred. Discard the kaffir lime leaaves.
Let cool a few minutes and then stir in the butter, a tablespoon full at a time, while whisking until the pastry cream is very smooth.
Place the bowl of pastry cream on a cooling rack and press cling film directly onto the surface to avoid a skin forming on the surface as it cools.. Cool to room temperature and refrigerate if not using immediately.
When both the coconut rice and the pastry cream have cooled to room temperature add the rice to the pasty cream and fold it in until evenly distributed. Then cover with cling film and refrigerate for about an hour or more before assembling the tart.
- 2-4 mangoes depending on size
Peel the mangoes with a vegetable peeler and slice the mango into thin pieces lengthwise with the knife slicing parallel to the center stone/seed. Cover and refrigerate.
Assembling the Tart
Remove the fully baked tart shell from the refrigerator. Spoon the coconut rice pastry cream into the tart shell to about three quarters full and smooth the surface evenly. Cover the tart with cling film and refrigerate until well chilled.
Arranging the freshly sliced mango over of the pastry cream should be done as close to serving time as possible for maximum freshness!
Arrange the sliced mango over the surface of the pastry cream to your liking, trimming the mango slices as needed. Serve promptly, or cover the tart and refrigerate for an hour or so before serving.
As you know I’m mad for anything Sichuan and this time around it’s Sichuan Pork Tenderloin.
A recent post on Sichuan Chicken Wings (see here) was a big hit. All due to the fiery spiced Sichuan marinade my friend from Shanghai passed on to me which I now consider a building block of Sichuan cookery. It not only works beautifully with chicken, but with pork, beef, and fish as well.
Rather than resorting to the usual wok stir frying that tends to turn even the tenderest of meats into rubbery strips I opted for the western approach of high temperature roasting that produces a succulent tender juicy flesh. The pork Tenderloin is roasted along with cabbage and apples and sauced with a marinade reduction that delivers an easy Sichuan meal with all the refinement of a Michelin starred restaurant in China coming right out of your own kitchen.
A friend of mine who had tasted the Sichuan chicken wings at a dinner party at my house was all ready to try making the wings at home until he read the recipe and decided “it was just too complicated.” Actually it is not at all complicated and I urge you not to be discouraged by the list of perhaps unfamiliar ingredients. With the ingredients on hand the marinade can be made in five minutes. All the ingredients are available in your nearest Asian market and in some cases supermarkets. Once the ingredients are stored in your pantry you are ready for an extended adventure with Sichuan cookery.
Sichuan Pork Tenderloin – East meets West serves 4 to 6
- 2 pork tenderloins approximately 16 0z/450 g each
- 2 tablespoons Sichuan peppercorns, lightly toasted
- 2 teaspoons cumin seeds, lightly toasted
- 5 tablespoons light soy sauce
- 5 tablespoons Shaoxing cooking wine
- 4 tablespoons Chinkiang black vinegar
- 1 tablespoon red chile oil (see note)
- 1 tablespoon finely minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon finely minced fresh ginger
- ¾ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
- ½ teaspoon dried red chile flakes
- ½ teaspoon five spice powder
- cabbage and apples (recipe below)
- Sichuan pepper sauce (recipe below)
Lightly toast the Sichuan peppercorns and cumin seeds together in a small pan over low heat. Once aromatic remove from the heat and promptly transfer to a mortar and set aside to cool. When cool coarsely grind and set aside.
In a bowl combine the ground Sichuan pepper and cumin seed mix, soy sauce, Shaoxing cooking wine, Chinkiang black vinegar, red chile oil, garlic, ginger, white pepper, and chile flakes. Whisk the ingredients together and stir in the 5 spice powder.
Set aside half of the marinade to use later to make the sauce.
Select a bowl large enough to hold the pork tenderloins snugly. Pour the remaining half of the marinade into the bowl and add the pork tenderloins. Press the tenderloins into the marinade while massaging the marinade into the flesh. Turn the tenderloins over and press them firmly into the marinade until they are completely covered, stirring in a little water if needed. Cover the bowl with cling film and refrigerate for several hours.
Remove the marinated tenderloins from the fridge and bring to room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 475 f/245 c with the rack set to the second level from the bottom of the oven.
Select a roasting pan large enough to hold both the pork tenderloins and the cabbage and apples.
Place tenderloins in the center of the roasting pan lengthwise without touching. Place the cabbage and apple mixture around the tenderloins and spoon marinade over and around the tenderloins. Place the tray in the oven and roast for about 25 minutes or until the internal temperature of the tenderloins reaches 140 f/60 c. Do not over roast! Promptly remove the tray from the oven, loosely tent with foil and rest for 5 minutes before serving.
Cabbage and Apples:
- 1 large head of green cabbage
- 4 firm apples
- 3 tablespoon olive oil
- sea salt to taste
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Remove the outer leaves of the cabbage and cut the head into quarters lengthwise. Remove the cores and thinly slice the cabbage and place in a large mixing bowl.
Peel the apples and quarter lengthwise. Remove the cores and slice each quarter into very thin slices then divide the slices in half and add to the bowl of cabbage. Toss together until the apples are evenly mixed into the cabbage. Drizzle the olive oil over the mixture and season with salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle the lemon juice over all and toss until well combined. Set aside until you are ready to place it around the pork tenderloins for roasting.
Sichuan Pepper Sauce:
- reserved marinade
- 1 ½ cups stock
- 2-3 small dried red chilies
- 1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons corn starch
- 1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons cold water
Place the reserved marinade in a saucepan and add the stock. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to a rolling simmer. Add the dried chilies and simmer until reduced by about a third.
Place the cornstarch in a small bowl and stir into the cold water until the cornstarch is completely dissolved.
While stirring the sauce slowly start adding the cornstarch mixture and continuing to stir. The sauce will begin to thicken within a minute or so. When the sauce has the consistency of thin glaze you can stop adding the cornstarch mixture. Continue to stir another minute.Then remove from the sauce from the heat and set aside until you are ready to serve.
Reheat over low heat jut before serving.
Transfer the roasted tenderloins to a cutting board and using a very sharp knife thinly slice each tenderloin diagonally across the grain of the meat.
Spoon portions of the cabbage and apples onto individual plates and lay 4 to 5 slices of tenderloin overlapping atop the cabbage.Spoon the warm Sichuan sauce over the tenderloin slices and garnish with the red chilies if you like for visual effect. These chilies are very very HOT and should only be eaten by those are fearless chile fiends.
Recommended: serve with Thai Jasmine rice scented with kaffir lime leaves.
Note: Red Chile Oil:(hong you) which means red oil in Mandarin is sometimes available in Asian markets, but if not you can easily make your own.
Place ¼ cup of coarsely ground dried red chile flakes or small whole dried red chilies in a small stainless bowl. Heat 1 cup olive, peanut or corn oil over medium heat until nearly smoking. Turn off the heat and let the oil cool for a couple of minutes and then pour the oil over the chilies, which will sizzle at first. Stir and set aside to cool. Once cool transfer the mixture to a bottle or jar and seal with the lid. Store in a dark place for a week or so to infuse the oil with the essence of the chile. Refrigerate for long term storage.