Friday, January 16, 2009

Clay Cooking for Healthier Meals

By Jana Banks

We recently ate at a friend's home and enjoyed a juicy roast along with fresh steamed broccoli with cheese followed with a surprisingly delicious baked apple with caramel topping for dessert. I was helping her clean up after dinner and saw that she had prepared everything in her clay cookware. This was new to me since I'm used to the standard pots and pans I grew up with - namely made of aluminum, stainless steel, ceramic bakeware, or copper. But it turns out that clay cooking is quite popular around the world, including here in the U.S. My friend raves about her clay pots and thinks everyone should own at least a piece or two in their kitchenware collection.

Clay pot cooking can trace its roots back thousands of years to a time when prepared meats were swaddled in mud and tossed into the hot embers of a fire. Then, as the clay dried in the heat, the food began cooking inside. Once the cooking was finished, the "pot" was broken open and the cooked and juicy meat was removed for eating.

Clay cooking is generally thought to be quite a healthy way to cook food because the food does not need any additional oils and fats added to create moist and tender results. Before cooking, the cookware should be soaked in water before placing the ingredients inside. This is done to allow the clay to absorb the moisture, which is a factor that helps to deliver such juicy results. If a pot is placed in a pre-heated oven it is likely to crack, so always be sure to set the filled clay pot inside a cold oven prior to setting the temperature at approximately 450 degrees. Check your recipe for the exact temperature recommended.

You'll find an array of recipes available that have been adapted for cooking in clay. One example of a tasty dish is Beggar's Chicken. You simply combine chicken legs with a few spices such as ginger, pepper, and garlic plus some flavoring sauces such as sherry and soy. After baking in your clay cooker, serve with a side of rice pilaf, pasta and a fresh salad or vegetable.

Clay pots also serve perfectly as slow cookers and stockpots too. You can make any number of your favorite soups, stocks, and casseroles in these versatile cookers. Whether you're in the mood for a rich pea soup, a creamy potato soup, a layered vegetarian casserole, or beef stew, the clay cookware cooks evenly and slowly producing perfectly flavorful foods your family is sure to enjoy.

This unique cookware is quite beautiful and comes in a variety of styles and sizes. One well-known manufacturer of quality clay cookware is Romertopf. They offer everything from bread pans to garlic bakers, fish roasters to apple bakers, and much more. So when you're ready to treat yourself to some new cookware, consider adding a special clay piece to the top of your list. Though once you buy one, you'll likely be hooked.

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