How To Choose Clay Pots And Maintain It

By Sheere Ng - Thursday, May 02, 2013

We love clay pots because rice and stews simply look and taste more sensuous when served in one of them as compared to the cold, hard melamine plates. But it has more than just looks to offer. Since clay pots are porous, they absorb water. During the cooking, moisture is release, hence producing a steaming effect that helpskeep food moist. A clay pot also retains heat well, so it cooks food in a quicker, more effective way. For the same reason, food kept in a clay pot stays warm for at least half an hour after the fire is switched off.
Unlike pots and pans which many people will choose by brand (it gives some guarantee of sort), the manufacturers of clay pots are hardly known to the laymen. How then do you and I then choose the perfect clay pot? And how should we maintain it? We asked a kitchen supplier and hawker for tips:
How to choose a claypot…
Some clay pot manufacturers are known to produce better clay pots than the others but these are knowledge known only to kitchenware suppliers like Lau Choy Seng. Some clay pots can last only a couple of cooking sessions before they start to crack while others may last up to a year, so it best to make your intent known to the seller so that he or she can choose one that best suits your need. Generally speaking, the longer lasting ones come from Japan but they cost twice or thrice of the lower-end ones, says Mrs Lau, lady boss of Lau Choy Seng.

Japanese claypots generally last longer than others, says kitchenware supplier

If you prefer to get more hands on with your shopping, lightly knock on the pot. If you hear a clear, bright sound, head straight to the cashier. Avoid those that produce a low and dull gong.
These days, more will also prefer those with glazed inner surface as they are easier to maintain (see below).
Most claypots these days come with glazed interior wall.

How to prep a new claypot…
It depends whether you bought one with glazed interior walls. Say you didn’t, then you’ll have to boil some porridge in it to remove impurities and dirt. If the interior is glazed, boiling clear water will do. After that, soak the clay pot in a bucket of water overnight. This will help prevent the clay pots from cracking.
How to maintain…
Mrs Lau says it not advisable to subject a clay pot to high heat in the first few usages as it will crack. For low-end clay pots, never put them over big flame at all. This is confirmed by Ms Lina Lin, co-owner of Lian He Ben Ji, a popular clay pot rice stall in Chinatown Complex. Ms Lin, who cooks the rice over high heat on a gas stove before transferring the pot to a charcoal stove to slow cook the ingredients, says her clay pots crack within two or three usages. On weekends, the stall throws about 20 clay pots a day. “What we do now already takes at least 25 minutes to cook a clay pot rice. We can’t afford to use small heat at all,” she explains.
But Ms Lin makes sure she soaks her clay pots overnight before every business day so that they last a little longer. The stall also wraps them with metal wires to extend their lifespan, but not for too long.
When it comes to washing, unglazed clay pots have to be scrubbed with salt, as the pots will absorb soap or detergent. It is fine to apply the usual washing technique on glazed clay pots though. Claypot still hot from the heat are best left to cool before washing, warns Mrs Lau, as the change in temperature will cause the pot to crack too. To remove burnt bits on the base, Ms Lin says pouring hot (not boiling) water into it and leaving it for about 10 minutes will help scrapping it off easily.
Images by Sheere Ng @ Makansutra