Chinese Clay Pot Rice Bowl or Bao Zai Fan (煲仔飯) is a staple in Chinese cuisine. It is one of the oldest form of cooking. This dish originated from the Guangdong region of China. Where rice is cooked in the bowl with meats and vegetables. If done right, the flavor will permeate throughout the bowl bringing in a aroma that tingle the sense. You can often find these all throughout asia but its rare in the states. Even finding the Chinese Clay Pot Cookware can be pretty difficult. Sometimes amazon might carry it but you might have more luck in your local Chinese Market.
Basic Component of a Chinese Clay Pot Rice
At its core, there needs to be a few basic ingredient. The most important of course is Jasmine rice. Jasmine rice is one of the few rice that has a floral jasmine flavor to it. Its texture is slightly firm with each grain separated from each other. Do not use Japanese Short Grain rice. The texture and aroma is very different. You will end up with sticky rice.
The second important component is the meat. The most common being a cured meat such as Chinese Sausage. However, you can use a variety of meat such as chicken, pork or even swordfish. These meats will typically be stir fried, deep fried or pan fried before it stews in the clay pot.
Finally, vegetables are generally added later to give the dish some balance. You can use anything but Gai Lan are a popular choice to use. To finish the dish off, chefs generally top it off with a drizzle of soy sauce.
Chinese Clay Pot Rice Cookware
The cookware used for Chinese Clay Pot Rice is either glazed or unglazed and porous. They take in the flavor of food and its safe for use over a charcoal fire. They typically have a wire around it to improve the integrity of the bowl. At the end, there will be a small handle for ease of maneuverability.
The other type of Clay Pot will resembles that of a Donabe. These pots will have two small loop handle. Both type of pots will usually have a tight fitting lid. One is not necesarily better than the other. However, I typically prefer the handle one for single portion. The larger dual loop handle is better for a family.
The exterior of these pots will usually have a brown glaze to improve its overall strength and durability.
One thing you should be aware of is that Clay is a poor conductor of heat. It will not heat up as fast as metal, so just prepare for that. Some say that it improves the flavor, but I really think its just hearsay. I will agree that the porous pot can take on some flavor.
Unfortunately, its a bit hard to find. You can use alternative though. The Japanese Donabe is a great alternative if you cant find the traditional bowl. They are glazed so its a bit easier to clean. Although they are more geared toward making things with soups.
Chinese Clay Pot Cracks and Issues
Things you should look for are cracks. Some can develop it due to mishandling or other issue. If you have a water basin nearby, then fill it with water and see if it leaks. If you cant do that, then eyeball it for any possible cracks. Online purchase should be tested right when you receive. This way you can file a claim right away.
These clay pots with regular use can develop cracks due to misuse. You should never heat the pot empty without any liquid. It should always have at least a 1/4 full of liquid in it before heating. Thermal shock can also cause your pot to crack. This is when it is exposed to two different extreme temperature. For example, putting a hot pot in a cold metal surface.
When you cook in it, always start with low heat then raise it gradually. This will reduce the overall chance of it cracking. If your clay pot does crack after a while, then cross your finger. Sometimes the starch from rice or other food will help seal the cracks.
Depending on where you go, the method of cooking clay pot rice might differ. In the streets you can see them cooked on charcoal or gas. At home and restaurant, they will most like use gas those thanks to modernization. However, clay pot rice cooking usually starts with the meat. Usually you want to sear and develop the flavor in a separate pot or pan. Be sure to develop a nice crispy exterior on it. The oil that develops from this will permeate throughout the rice and develop flavor.
In the wood fire or charcoal method, the steps are as follow. Wash the rice and put 1.5 times the amount. Heat the bowl up with the rice and after 10 minute, add some oil or lard on the side of the bowl. Then place in the meat and cover. Lower the fire by half and after another 5 minute lower it again. It should be done after another 5-10 minutes.
With gas, the method is as follow. Put rice in the bowl with hot water. Set the heat to low and cook for around 10 minute. Then put in the meat and raise the temperature to medium. Once you start to see steam escaping, lower the heat and cook as needed. Add topping as necessary and baste with your choice of sauce.
Health and Nutrition
Generally these are no more healthy or worse than a traditional Chinese dish. If anything, there is less oil used due to the steaming of the food. The pot itself are chemical and toxic free so there is no fear or any sickness or cancer. In regards to lead and cadmium, these day they usually dont have that, but you can buy testing to check for it. Chinese people have been eating in these pots for generations.
Best Chinese Clay Pot Rice Thoughts
Chinese Clay Pot Rice is a very popular dish in China. If you never tried it before, its a great dish to eat. These are usually cooked for each individual to order, so you get your own personal bowl. You can find these dish in certain parts of Chinatown. It is starting to gain popularity but so far its relatively unknown. If you get a chance, maybe try making it on your own.