Beat The Freeze:Clay Pot Dishes Warm You Up

Clay pots have been used for cooking since ancient times by many cultures. Here the article specifically means the Chinese clay pot, which is also called “sand pot”, due to its sandy coating which helps retain heat. Sand pot in China is commonly used to make soups, stews, porridge and other Chinese slow-cooked dishes.

Sand pot is made from exceptional clay found only in China that withstands a direct flame or direct contact with an electric burner. These pots represent a quite ancient and authentic part of Chinese cuisine. Many of the pots also come with a removable wire "cage" covering the exterior that serve both to protect the fragile earthenware and distribute heat evenly. 

The fragile exterior requires a very careful using of sand pots. Firstly, before your first use your clay pot should be soaked in warm water, then allowed to air dry.  Secondly, and the most importantly, do not preheat your oven!  Place the pot with its contents in a cold oven and set the temperature.  This will allow the pot to warm gradually. Avoid rapid temperature changes which can crack the pot. 

Traditionally the clay pot is served right from the oven onto the dinner table. The most significant characteristic of sand pot cooking is that the pot will retain heat and keep the contents warm. To warm the body in a wintry day, a sand pot dish is the choice for many Chinese.

Besides, since wet clay does not become as hot as metal; and that it takes much longer time to be heated, flavors of different ingredients integrate with each other thoroughly, bringing out a unique mixed tastes that you can never get by cooking with other vessels.

For today’s health-minded advocates, sand pot could produce deliciously moist foods with little fat, salt and little fuss. Besides, most of the essence and nutrition of ingredients are retained in the pot, which is important for cooking Chinese herbal formula and slow-cooked soup. 

The most popular sand pot dishes for Cantonese are sand pot rice: Clay pots cook slowly and gently, allowing liquids to gradually evaporate and infuse into the rice. Since clay is a porous material, there is a gradual evaporation of steam from within the pores of the clay itself. During the cooking process, these juices cannot escape the pot until the pot is dry, a sign that the food is cooked.

Typical models of Chinese clay pots with glazed tops and wire “cage”.

Clay pot dishes warm the body in wintry day.

Clay pot rice with various ingredients on top: A typical winter dish for Cantonese.

Braised fish-head with soy sauce in clay pot.