Over the Christmas break my Mom and I cleaned out her cabinets and found a gently used clay pot that she was willing to re-gift to me 🙂 Thanks Mom! I have never cooked anything in one of these babies… So the first thing I did was head to Google to read all about how I could master clay port cooking. I found several sites with some great information including The Essential Kitchen: Clay Pot Cooking, Cooking with Shirley and Cooking in Clay Pots, and the kitchn Two Unique and Unexpected Benefits of Cooking in Clay.
So after reading all about cooking in clay pots, it was time to give it a try. I wasn’t sure if a chicken would fit into my pot, so I decided to start with Cornish Game Hens. I also had a bunch of veggies in the fridge. But first things first, I had to soak the pot. My dang sink wasn’t big enough to accommodate both the top and bottom on the same side. So I had to soak them on separate sides, which to me was a waste of water. Normally I would water my plants with this water, but I gave all of my plants away when we moved (and I digress…). Next time I am going to try soaking them together in a 5-gallon bucket filled in the tub, stay tuned on how that works for me.
From my background reading it said to put the seasoned meat which had been rubbed with butter into the pot. I literally rubbed soft butter over the Hens, it didn’t go quite as smoothly as I hoped it would, and got pretty messy. There were seasoned clumps of butter all over the Hens. Next time I will melt the butter first, use a brush to apply it, and then season the meat. It was at this stage that I also added my veggies (garlic, onion, carrot, potato, and jalapeno) to the pot.
One of the sources I read said to add the juice of 1/2 lemon over the top, so I did that and put the lid on. In everything I read they made it clear that no additional juices or liquids should be added, as the steam and juices from the meat and veggies would be plenty. It is important to note that the pot should be put into a cold oven, once the oven is turned on, the oven and the pot can heat together. Putting the pot into a hot oven may cause it to crack. Also, when you take the lid off to brown the bird(s) in the final stage, the lid should be placed on a fabric potholder or towel, as setting it on a cool surface may crack it.
I couldn’t find any guidelines for how long to cook Cornish Game Hens with veggies, so I just went with the amount of time that was suggested to cook a chicken. At about 50 minutes I checked on the Hens and saw that the juices coming from them were bloody, so I let it cook for an additional 10-15 minutes with the lid on. I think adding so many veggies to the pot increased the cook time, which was not a big deal, I will just keep that in mind next time.
When I removed the lid the second time, the juices ran clear and the internal temp was taken. As recommended, I let it cook an additional 10 minutes with the lid off to brown the top of the Hens. After I pulled it out of the oven I let it rest for about 10 minutes. I am not sure if that step was necessary, as everything keeps cooking since the pot is so hot. Be cautious when removing and replacing the lid, they are very hot and there is steam!
The end product looked delicious. We were anxious to try it. The meat was so moist and tender, it was great. The veggies were tasty too, especially the garlic, which had great flavor. There was a slight flavor of clay with everything, it was a little strong to me, but The Hubs didn’t notice it as much. I think as the pot becomes more seasoned this flavor may dissipate. It added a very earthy flavor.
Clean up of the pot wasn’t bad. There was a lot of liquid in the bottom, so nothing stuck there. As you can see in the picture, there were a few veggies stuck to the side. I just let the pot soak in plain water for about 20 minutes and those scrubbed off. The information I read said not to use a detergent/soap to clean the pot as the pores will soak up the detergent and give your food an off flavor. A baking soda paste for the real stuck on stuff was suggested. It was also not recommended to put the pot in the dishwasher because of temperature fluctuations. I let the pot dry on the counter for several days before putting it away as I read it could get moldy if put away wet/damp. If that happens it was suggested to use a baking soda paste on those areas.
Next in clay pot cooking I am going to try a chicken with 40 cloves of garlic! Now that I know a chicken will fit, and I know that garlic is excellent in the pot, it seems like a logical next dish in my culinary experimentation. I want to also try meatloaf and a stew. I have also read that if you plan to bake sweets in a clay pot, a second one should be purchased, as cooking sweet foods in the savory seasoned pot may make bad/weird flavor combinations – remember the pores in the clay soak up the flavors.
Have you cooked in a clay pot? What is your favorite thing to make? What advice do you have for me? I would love to hear from you.
I have been experimenting, and have tried this clay pot dishes too:
Dr. Lindsay can also be found on: