Clay pots may come in many shapes and sizes, but they all share one common trait: they are among the oldest and best vessels to create earthy and hearty dishes.

For generations, people around the world have been using clay pots, such as cazuelas, tagines, Römertopfs, or mattones, to make immensely satisfying one-pot dishes that nourish the body and soul.

In China, clay pots are called “sha guo” (砂锅), which is translated as “sand pot”, because the exterior of the clay pots has a sandy-grainy texture.  Chinese sha guo is believed to be one of the oldest earthen cooking vessels in the world.  Almost every Chinese household has at least one clay pot, which is a workhorse in the kitchen to make stews, braises, soups, or simple rice and noodle dishes.  When the dish is done, the clay pot is brought straight to the table to meet eagerly anticipating mouths and eyes.

Because clay pots hold heat extremely well, they can keep the dishes hot throughout the meal.  That makes them particularly desirable during old weather.

One of my favorite clay pot dishes is the Cantonese-style clay pot rice (煲仔饭).  I find myself making it often when the temperature drops.  Who won’t love a pot of steaming fragrant rice covered with delicious toppings?

And the best part of the dish?  The brown and crispy crust formed at the side and bottom of the pot during the cooking process.  When you dig up the crust, mix it with the rice, toppings, and the sauce, the aromas will be intoxicating.

This is a great one-pot dish you can easily make at home, if you have a Chinese sha guo, any other clay pot with a lid, or a Dutch oven.  Two useful tips:

  • Rice.  Use long-grain rice which retains their shape and texture better than medium or short-grain rice.  Jasmine rice is the best choice for this dish in my option.  Using the right amount of water is also key, as you want the rice cooked perfectly, without being too dry or too mushy.  I find a ratio of 1 cup jasmine rice to 1.75 cups water works very well.  Depending on the type of clay pot you use, you may need to adjust the ratio slightly.
  • Toppings.  You can choose anything you desire, from pork, beef, chicken, duck, to fish, mushrooms, and vegetables.  I like to include toppings with rich aromas that can imbue the rice during cooking, such as Chinese sausage, soy cured pork, roasted pork, cured duck, or salted duck eggs.

 

Clay pot rice with Chinese sausage, ground pork, and hen-of-the-woods mushrooms

Ingredients

1 cup long-grain rice, preferably jasmine rice
1 3/4 cups water
2 Chinese sausages, thinly sliced
7 oz (200 g) ground pork
2 oz (60 g) hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, or other mushrooms of your choice
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon vegetable oil

Sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon water

Marinade
1 teaspoon finely grated ginger
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon Shaoxing wine

Procedure

  1. In a bowl, mix the ground pork with the ingredients for the marinade.  Marinate for 15 minutes.
  2. Wash and drain the rice.  Add the rice and water to a clay pot.  Bring the water to a boil over medium heat.  Cook the rice, covered, over low heat until the liquid has been absorbed, about 10 minutes.
  3. Shape the ground pork into a patty and arrange it on top of the rice, together with the sausage pieces and mushrooms in a single layer.  Slightly turn up the heat, and cook the rice and toppings, covered, for anther 10 to 15 minutes, or until the toppings are fully cooked.  Let your nose guide you, as your kitchen will be filled with beautiful aromas when that happens.
  4. While the rice is cooking, make the sauce: add all the ingredients to a small sauce pan.  Stir and bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat.  Remove from the heat and set aside.
  5. To finish off the dish: drizzle the oil around the edge of the pot, so it trickles down to the bottom.  This helps crispen the crust.  Turn up the heat to medium-high and cook, covered, for 2 minutes.
  6. Remove the pot from the heat.  Garnish with the scallions and serve immediately with the sauce.
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