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Clay Bakeware and Beggar Chicken history
If you own several clay bakeware pans, pots or casserole you may have heard of the Chinese folklore of Beggar's Chicken. It's a fabulous tale with different versions, one of which is the story that a beggar squeezes into a local farm and stole one of the chickens. While sneaking away with this chicken, the beggar had to be a bit creative as to how he could cook his food. Ingeniously, he wraps the chicken in lotus leaves and buries it in the ground covered in clay mud on top of burning embers.
Yet another story is that the beggar stole the chicken from the Emperor himself and cooked it in this manner so the royal guards could not detect the smell. Regardless, and possibly to his surprise, when he uncovered the chicken and broke through the clay shell, one of the most aromatic and tender cuts of poultry he had ever eaten was discovered. Obviously, this culinary creator must have passed down this secret because in several restaurants today, the dish called Beggar's Chicken is still being made in the traditional manner of coating in a muddy clay wrap. For those clay bakeware newbies cookers that asked themselves, NO, you do not need to bury these in your backyard fire pit!
For the rest of us, however, that want to achieve the same flavor and tenderness in our food, we have to resort to a more attainable cookware and you can find several brands of bakeware on the market today.
Do the modern version of clay bakeware pans work? How do they hold the claims of being a healthier method of cooking? Well the answer is in the preparation of the baking pan itself. Clay, and in particular unglazed clay that is widely used in today's cookware, is very porous and absorbs water quite easily. Cooking any meal and in advance, you must soak the lid and base of your bakeware baker in water for at least 15 minutes. The absorption of this water into your clay bakeware is released as steam as it cooks in your oven at a moderately high temperature. The steam moisturizes and tenderizes your meal as well as amplifies any spices you have added to the dish.
Benefits of cooking with clay bakeware
This is considered healthier due to the fact that you no longer have to add any additional oils or fats to keep your baked food moist. By all means, feel free to fatten up your recipes all you want, but the benefit is that it's no longer a necessity to keep flavor in your meal when using this cooking method.
Another great benefit of cooking with this type of bakeware is for a somewhat careless cooker is that there is a very slim chance of burning the pot or the meal. Unless you take a nap for hours after putting dinner in the oven, you're fairly safe.
Last but not least is how to clean bakeware, well the clean up is simple. Fill the bakeware with water and vinegar or baking soda and let sit for a few hours and wipe clean with a non-abrasive sponge. I know all of you dedicated dishwasher junkies just groaned but it's important not to clean your bake ware with anything that is a chemical due to the porous nature of the pot itself.
So give this cooking method a try. Get the recipes here. It's cheaper and healthier than take out and makes cooking even for the novice a piece of cake...so to speak.