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A potful of flavours

india Updated: Jul 29, 2011 00:53 IST

Succulent meat that holds on to its natural flavour, veggies that retain their shape and colour, no mucky traces on your plate, and a lingering aroma of damp earth — food cooked in a clay pot is just how nature intended it to be — undisturbed, fresh and natural. Unglazed clay pots have been used all across the world in traditional cooking.

You’d find people cooking in a clay pot in homes in Southeast Asia, Africa, and Europe. It is one of the healthiest way to cook without any loss of nutrients, vouch chefs. Cooking in a clay pot is also fuss free. Once you put your veggies and meat in a pot along with seasonings, you don’t have to tend to the dish too much. Curries

From prunes infused Moroccon lamb to tribal inspired Junglee Murg, cooked buried under sand, chefs are reviving the old tradition of clay pot cooking with the most exquisite fare. Here’s what’s simmering in their pots:

Moroccan magic
Incredibly fragrant, Lamb Tagine is a Moroccan delicacy cooked in a glazed clay pot called tagine, from which the dish gets its name. Chef Neeraj Tyagi soaks lamb racks in a garlic and zattar (a Middle eastern spice mix) marinade, and cooks it with lamb stock, saffron strand and cinnamon sticks. Once the meat turns tender, he throws in some prunes. Have it with khobez, a Mediterranean flat bread.

Murg me hai dum
For Dum ka Murg, chef Karan Suri of Leela Palace takes thinly sliced chicken and leaves them smothered in a cashew, brown onion, chillies and spices paste for six hours. A few drops of kewra and saffron strands make the dish fragrant. It’s cooked in a glazed clay pot, with its lid sealed with atta. A dollop of cream perks up the dish, that’s best enjoyed with bakarkhani, a layered Mughlai bread.

A Thai treat
Pla Neung Khing is a simple yet fab Thai fish dish that whets your appetite with its earthy aroma. Chef Veena Arora of Imperial cooks it in an unglazed clay handi that’s put on a ‘mitti ka chulha’. The chef places two sole fillets in the pot, tops them with ginger slices, pours some chicken stock, and sprinkles some white pepper on top. A little nam pla (fish sauce) peps up the fish that takes just ten minutes to cook. It’s best had with a bowl of steaming hot congee (rice porridge).

Cooking the tribal way

Sun cooked food
Clay pots are also used in Khad cuisine — the cuisine of the nomadic tribes of the Rann of Kutch, Gujarat. The nomads make their meat and vegetables tender without the use of fire. The food is put in a clay pot and buried under the sand that gets heated up under the sun. Chef Devraj Halder of Suryaa cooks Junglee Murg — chicken legs covered in a curd, onion and grounded ker sangri (desert berries and beans) — in a clay pot that he buries in preheated sand for several hours. Another Khad dish, Sondhi Subzi is a mix of veggies cooked in a pot covered with hot sand. It has a lingering aroma of damp earth, hence the name.

Tribal cuisine of Uttarakhand
Bhutwa, a lamb intestine delicacy is cooked in a large clay pot, immersed in heated sand. Lingude Ki Subzi is also a hilly dish made with linguda, a wild vegetable. The leaves are seasoned with mustard oil and garam masala and left to tender in a pot inside sand. The dish is served with madua ki roti, a millet flour bread.

Pots around the world
The Japanese call their pot donabe. A donabe can be put on a table on a gas burner. In Vietnamese, noi dat is the name given to clay pot that’s used to makes stews. The Philippines call their clay pot palayok. In Germany, the clay pot used for cooking meat is called a Römertopf (that means a “Roman pot”).
The Spanish use a ceramic pot for cooking, and call it olla de barro. It’s ideal for simmering broths and stews. Indian cuisine too uses clay pot for cooking. In southern Indian states such as Tamil Nadu and Kerala, fish curry is made in a traditional clay pot that called chatti.