Clay pot cooking

Mazano Chiles Steamed Like a Tamal: Diana Kennedy's Chile Canario en Pilte

Manzano chiles are also known as Peron and apparently in Oaxaca, Canario

They look like habeneros but they have much more flesh and a less tropical, but no less delicious, flavor. They are powerful but not quite as humbling as a habanero. The seeds are black and shouldn't be eaten. I've fermented the chiles and they were incredible. 

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Every time I look at Diana Kennedy's Oaxaca al Gusto: An Infinite Gastronomy I find something different. Her recipe for Chile Canario en Pilte is simple and completely new to me. From the Sierra Mazateca of Oaxaca, it's easy to like, especially if you have access to yierbasanta. 

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I've had banana leaves in my freezer for months, waiting for something to be done with them. A quick rinse under warm water made them pliable enough to cut and fold. A longer soak might have been better but I was impatient. 

Six manzano chiles were cut in quarters with the seeds removed. Diana calles for thinly sliced scallions but I had to do with onions cut into half moons. All is tossed with sea salt. 

On each banana leaf went several yierbasanta leaves (also known as hoja santa or acuyo, depending on where you are in Mexico) topped with the chile/onion mixture. 

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The banana leaves are folded up into a nice rectangular package and then tied. 

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This is a beautiful clay steamer from Los Reyes Metzontle. We import them as part of the Rancho Gordo-Xoxoc Prjoect. I about plotzed when I first saw it. We now carry two sizes. The larger is better for a big tamal party and while at first I thought the smaller version would be kind of silly, it's the one I use more often, for steaming things like this and everyday vegetables as well. 

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A banana leaf is placed on the bottom and then the packages are stacked up, ready for their sauna treatment. 

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After about 35 or 40 minutes (probably less in a metal steamer), the aroma is heady. The chiles are soft and onions are infused with both the chile and the yierbasanta. There's nothing quite like it. 

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I had made some blue corn tortillas and even stuffed some of them with refried black beans. This chile relish was perfect for them. 

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Later at dinner, I made a simple pork tenderloin and thought to bring out the Chiles en pilte. All was fine until I hit a very hot one. The heat was unbelievable and I had to excuse myself for a moment. When I returned, I went back for more. 

 


Breakfast with Eggs Poached in Heirloom Tomatoes

The more I read about breakfast cereal, the more I question its value as a breakfast food. Processed grains with sugar floating in milk. I have the habit but like a lot of things these days, I'm re-examining it. Why do I need sugar to wake up? Why does this thing need to float in milk? Do I really love the taste? 

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If I think about it, I'd much prefer something savory. And of course any excuse to cook in a clay pot is a good one. 

I've had too many tomatoes from my CSA this year but not enough to can. I ended up cooking them a bit and running them through the food mill to catch the skins and seeds. Now it's ready to use and more importantly, easy to use. I sauteed some onion, garlic, Mexican oregano and olive oil and when soft, added some of the tomato puree. 

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Once it reached a gentle simmer, I poached two eggs in the liquid until they just set. Then using a slotted spoon, I took them out and gently added some of the cooking liquid to the bowl. Served with buttered whole wheat bread, it easily beat a bowl of Kix and cold milk. My youngest was licking the bowl. Something I act like I discourage but when it's real food, I'm happy inside, despite my protests. Shhhh. Don't tell him. 

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Xoconostle Chicken

Sunday night means family meal and as our weather has been mild, almost cool, it seemed time to pull out the old chicken coffin, as I call it, and make one of the most delicious chicken preparations I know. 

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The clay piece has a lid and it's really called a Diable. I prefer coffin. The results are great. You plop a whole chicken in and aromatics and go to town. I tossed some chopped potatoes, onions, garlic and carrots in olive oil. I stuffed the bird with some leftover cilantro, parsely and hoja santa.  I dropped a hand full of chopped, dried xoconostle in. Finally a glass of white wine is added.  

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The pot has a lid and you place it in a 400F oven for two hours. I've found 1 and a half hours, then removing the lid for 20 minutes, does the best job. 

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The chicken was perfection and I was happy to use my new serving platter from my friend Geraldine, who found it at an estate sale.  Not that I'm a snob or a name dropper, but I was very happy to see that it was a vintage piece from Uriarte in Puebla.  

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This is the third time I've used the pot and it's almost the best chicken I've ever had. The potatoes that are saturated with wine and chicken juices make me a little weak in the knees. 

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I did try this with xoconostle before but didn't chop them up and they ended up looking like worms. The chopping did the trick and they are much more appealing and the sourness is so perfect with the white wine and heavy chicken goodness. It's going to be a great dinner. 

I would love if someone out there tried this with a Romertopf. I've never used one but I think this would be terrific. 


Cooking with Clay: Chamba

Chamba was my first unglazed clay that I fell in love with. It's from Colombia and I first saw it in Half Moon Bay at a great shop that has since morphed into Toque Blanche. They've become leaders in supplying the fanciful cookware, in their store and over the internet. The website even has information about how the unique pots are made

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I loved the oddball-shaped pots and food looks great against black. It's very thick and I've yet to break a piece, even though it's seen a lot of action. 

The parts that meet the flame become red with use. This is the bottom of a well-loved pot and it reminds me of a whale's skin. It almost tells a story. 

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It just dawns on me I also have a clay comal somewhere. 


Cooking with Clay No.15: A Tamalera

I love all my clay pieces but now having used them for years, the unglazed, burnished thick and hearty pieces from Los Reyes Metzontla in Pueble are my favorites. I love my bean pot, I love my cazuelas and now I have a very large tamalera, for making tamales, and even though it's not something I do often, I love it. 

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As much as I love tamales, I wasn't going to make them this weekend so on the advice of my friend Yunuen, I steamed some brocolli. 

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It took forever but once it was done, it was very good. But was it better than steaming with an insert and a metal pan? It's hard to say but I think so. Was I imagining the flavor of the earth added? For sure, it was a gentler steam and if I'm really busy, it's easy for me to overcook the vegetables. 

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I'd do it again in a heartbeat, mostly because I love cooking with clay. I'll do it a few more times to see if cooking vegetables this way is really worth it. My hunch is that it is. 

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Cooking With Clay No.14 : Micaceous Clay Bean Pot

I'd almost forgotton to write about this pot! I love it and use it probably once a week. It's a southwestern-style micaceous bean pot by Jan Cameron. 

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I love that its mouth is wide enough to really clean and the clay feels very strong. I've had people assume it was metal but it's not! It's unglazed micaceous clay and Jan has some great designs. 

Micaceous pots are not cheap in any sense. I have the feeling they're heirloom pieces that you may pass on but I hope you use it regularly. 

Jan has several pots already made or she can make one to order for you. As of this writing, we have two of her pots for sale in our San Francisco store. 

Visit Jan's website. 


Kale with White Beans

I came across the ever lovely Heidi Swanson's post about a kale and rice bowl and thought it sounded very smart. And inspiring. So I made up my own. 

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While the rice cooked (brown, natch!), I sauteed some onion and garlic in a clay cazuela and when they were translucent, I threw in a cleaned, trimmed, wet bunch of dinosaur kale. Then I added about a cup of white bean leftovers, which were almost a puree as they were the very bottom of the batch. This cooked down and proved to be a fine match for the rice. A great weeknight meal. 


Chicken Marinade with Banana Vinegar, Garlic and Oregano Indio: One of The Best

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A lot of people seem to like our banana vinegar but almost more than anything, we get requests for recipes. So here you go! I had a whole chicken that I cut up that got bathed in the marinade and sat to rest in an airtight container for a day. I have one of those vacuum sealers, which I like fine, but I love the marinade box. You put a tube into the machine and the container and it zaps all the air out. 

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You easily could use a plastic bag or bowl. I chopped the garlic very roughly and in my fancy Spanish mortar and then pounded it with our oregano Indio, banana vinegar, salt and olive oil. You could easily do this in a blender as well but the mortar and pestle are much more fun. 

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I'm not naming names but someone was in a grumpy mood while we waited for dinner to cook. Maybe it was the homework. Maybe he was hungry or maybe he was tired of me taking so many photos of him to test out my new soft flash. Whatever the reason, he came around when dinner came and pretty much flipped out with joy. This chicken was incredible and I don't say that lightly! The flavor was vaguely tropical but there was no one flavor in particular that popped out. When I told a certain someone that I'd used the banana vinegar, he was very much surprised. 

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Here's an official recipe. I'm naming it Chicken Stivalet, after the wonderful family that produces the vinegar. 

Chicken Stivalet
One chicken, cut up into serving pieces
1 large onion, peeled and sliced thinly
4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons Oregano Indio 
1/2 cup Banana Vinegar
1/2 cup Olive Oil

Combine all ingredients except the chicken and onions and mix, either in a mortar and pestle or blender. If using a mortar and pestle, start with the garlic and salt and work into a paste, then add the oregano and finally the liquids. Work into the chicken pieces and allow to marinate, at least six hours, preferably overnight in the refrigerator.  

When you're ready to cook, bring the chicken to room temperature and preheat oven to 400F for at least 10 minutes. In a large cazuela or baking pan, arrange onions and the top with chicken pieces. Cook for 30 minutes and then lower the heat to 350. Check breasts and if they're done, remove them and cook the rest of the chicken for another 20 minutes or so, until done. 

Serve from the cazuela and be sure each guest gets plenty of the onions.

Serves four 


Red Recado Chicken with Banana Vinegar

My friends at Semilla de Dioses in Merida make the most beautiful recados. You dilute them with various things like lime juice or stock and rub them over other things like chicken or pork and you get some great meals. If you're in Merida, they have a little tiendita where you can taste and buy things. In Mexico City, you can get some of their things at the famous La Nicolas store, after your comida at Nicos. Stateside, you'll need to wait but in the meantime you can use a brick of the recado you see in many grocery stores and in every Mexican bodega. In desperation, there's always the Internet. 

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As head chef this weekend, I decided to take some of the paste and thin it with our banana vinegar. I added some garlic for good measure and mixed it to a thick liquid and marinated a cut up chicken for about 6 hours. 

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I cooked the chicken in a pre-heated oven of 400F for about 20 minutes and then turned the temperature down to 375F. You can check and see if the breasts are done and remove them if they are, otherwise, cook for another 30-40 minutes. 

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The kids loved it. I decided to serve plain buttered boiled potatoes and simple peas to make sure there were plenty of  bland things to balance out the intense recado. It worked! 

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I think there's room for experimentation here.