Clay Pot Rice

Clay pot rice is a classic street food in Southern China. It’s a food traditionally prepared and sold in small restaurants that aren’t the most eye-catching, especially because of all the other vibrant colours on an Asian street that make these storefronts hard to spot. But you’ll definitely know it when you walk by and smell the aromas from the savoury toppings that waft through the air. The rice is cooked directly in the clay pot and the raw toppings are placed in when the rice begins to boil. Flavours permeate through the rice layer as the toppings are cooked by the heat from the rice below. At the bottom of the clay pot is a crispy layer of rice. Often eaten in the winter, the delicious toppings over piping hot rice make this irresistible to any passerby.

Almost anything can be used as a topping in clay pot rice, and what some people may claim to be authentic or not authentic may be a pointless argument as these days, even toppings like cheese sausage are offered in clay pot rice restaurants in Hong Kong that have been in business for decades. However, there are some principles: the rice must be cooked from raw in the clay pot and some of the toppings must also be cooked with the rice in the clay pot. Despite what some people tell you – and I don’t argue that their recipes can still taste good – cooking the rice and all the toppings separately, and then putting it into a clay pot at the end is not considered clay pot rice. That’s just a fancy rice bowl…

In this recipe, we use jasmine rice with grilled eel, Chinese sausage, salted duck egg yolk, shiitake mushroom, and bok choy as toppings.

Ingredients (makes 1 serving)

  • 2 baby bok choy
  • 1 green onion
  • 2 shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 Chinese sausage
  • 2 pieces grilled eel
  • 1/2 cup white rice (short grain or jasmine are ok)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 salted duck egg yolk

Directions

  1. Prepare all the toppings first. Cut the bok choy into halves. Dice the green onion, slice the shiitake mushrooms and chinese sausage into thin pieces, and cut the eel into whatever formfactor you desire. As mentioned earlier, you can put anything you like for toppings, but there is a caveat: if you use toppings that shed water as they cook, such as raw meat, you need to reduce the amount of water used to cook the rice. Otherwise, it’ll end up too soggy. How much to compensate? That’s really hard to tell because different meats shed differing amounts of water. Even the same meat from different sources shed different amounts of water. So, if you use spare ribs for example, you’ll need to experiment with how much water to remove from the rice.
  2. Wash the rice under cold water twice and drain all excess water.
  3. Put the clay pot over a stove and turn on to medium heat. Despite what you may have heard, it’s possible to make this dish successfully on a gas or electric stove. I’ve succeeded many times on both. If you only have an induction stove though, you’re out of luck…
  4. When the inside of the clay pot gets hot, add ~1tsp oil and swirl it around to coat the bottom.
  5. Add the rice into the hot clay pot, and then add in 1 cup of cold water. Cover and continue cooking on medium high heat.
  6. As soon as the water boils, open the lid and place in all the toppings EXCEPT the bok choy or any other leafy vegetables you choose. Cover and turn the heat to low and let cook for 12-14 minutes. Now comes the secret to the crispy rice at the bottom. If you want a thinner layer, bias the heat a bit lower and if you want a thicker layer, bias the heat higher. My low heat is not going to be the same as your low heat, so you’ll likely have to experiment a bit. For a typical electric stove that has dial indicators from 1 to 8, I’d use a 2. When in doubt, always bias a little lower so that you don’t end up with a burnt mess.
  7. While the rice is cooking, in a separate pot, boil some water, add in ~1 tsp oil, and parboil the bok choy for about 1 minute. Then, drain the hot water and shock the bok choy in cold water until its cool to touch. Drain the cold water. The process is the same if you choose to use other leafy greens.
  8. Once the 12-14 minutes is up for the rice, remove the lid and check that the rice looks soft but not soggy.
  9. Place in the bok choy and put the lid back on. Turn off the flame and let rest for 10 minutes.
  10. At the end of the 10 minutes, optionally garnish with green onion. Add in a bit of soy sauce, mix the contents, and enjoy a piping hot clay pot rice.

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