Spring-like weather made a brief tantalizing appearance last weekend here in the Midwest. We all breathed a sigh of relief that only a cruel February mistress would teasingly allow. Winter bitch slapped us right back to seasonal reality with an rain/sleet/ice mix of a storm followed by more snow. The sun apparently has taken up residence elsewhere, leaving only rainbow of dirty whites and muddy grays, all made soft and fuzzy by a heavy dense fog. Something was needed to push back at that heavy depressing fog. Trying something new, by cooking with a method that's really old. Clay pot cooking.
My weekend wanderings can often find me poking around any number of non-English speaking Asian grocery stores, playing a never ending game of "what the heck do you do with this?". My favorite store has numerous shelves filled with all manner and size of clay pots. They were beautiful in their simplicity. I bought a small one and went on a quest on how best to put this to use for me. It was one of my other purchases that led to this Sunday Supper.
Sweet Chinese Sausage. Worlds apart in flavor from our normal tubular meats, this sausage has a mild sweetness I enjoy. A quick google search turned up a good recipe to start with, Clay Pot Rice with Chinese Sausage over at Serious Eats. But before we even get to the recipe, a couple of things to keep in mind when you're cooking in clay pots. No extremes. If you take your pot from a hot environment immediately to a cold environment, you're going to end up with pot shards and a mess on your floor. Your pot has to heat up slowly so only put it in a cold oven and let it preheat along with your oven. A heat diffuser wouldn't be out of the question if your pot is going to sit on the stove for a while. And never take a hot clay pot and put it in the refrigerator or cold water. The other thing you need to do is soak your clay pot. The clay pot retains the water and when it reacts with the heat of an oven or flame, it steams whatever you have contained in the pot. Now that we have the basics down, time to cook. Sauteed the sliced sausage in the pot, removed the slices and toasted the rice in the small amount of fat the sausage released. Added the slices back, along with some pre-cooked tofu, vegetables and small amount of ginger.
Added some chicken stock, brought it to a boil, turned down the heat to a gentle simmer, popped the lid on and let the steam do all the work.
Forty minutes later you get a fragrant rice dish that gut checks winter right back the north where it belongs. The sweetness of the sausage has fused into the rice with an exquisite flavor. Not much else is needed except maybe the pungent counterbalance of some fresh green onions. Now there's one more bonus to clay pot cooking, especially when you cook rice. That's the crust. You see when you cook rice with this method if your timing is good your rice will develop a golden crunchy crust on the bottom of the pot. That is....if your timing is right. Mine was not. It developed a crust all right but not something anyone would want to eat. It didn't affect the rest of the dish but it's certainly something to keep in mind because cleaning your clay pot also takes some delicacy. No soap or metal scrubbers. Still if you have patience and persistence (hard headed) clay pot cooking is a lot of fun and delicious.