Clay pots have been used in cooking since at least as early as 6000 years ago. They were used traditionally by every ancient culture and are still used all over the world today. More recently clay has been replaced with metal but there are still several advantages to using clay that make it relevant today.
Clay does not conduct heat well which gives it an advantage over metal because it means a clay pot will not lose heat as quickly, so it will keep an even temperature heat for longer. This makes it more efficient for cooking and gives an even temperature over long cooking periods, especially when using an open fire, where residual heat is all that is cooking the food. My previous post used this technique.
The second advantage of a clay pot is that it locks in moisture so you can cook over long periods without drying foods out. This is a particular advantage when cooking lean meats like chicken because you can keep the meat juicy without adding any fat at all.
The clay pot I like to use is a chicken brick. It is a hollow clay brick that snugly fits a chicken inside. I placed some stock vegetables underneath the chicken and then added some red wine and water to cover them. The chicken went on top seasoned with salt and pepper, and a lemon in its neck, but no oil or butter. Then the all important clay lid on top that keeps all the goodness inside.
The chicken brick went into a cold oven which was then set to 160℃. Its important not to put the clay straight into a hot oven as it may crack. The relatively low temperature will cook the chicken in four hours leaving even the lean breast meat juicy and pulling away from the bones.
One thing this method won’t achieve is a desirable crispy skin on the chicken. Because the meat has been steaming inside the clay pot, the skin comes out soggy and pale. There is a simple solution though. A kitchen blowtorch will dry out and crisp up the skin and leave it a lovely golden brown. If you don’t have a blowtorch you can finish the chicken off under a very hot grill for a few minutes. Blowtorch is more fun though…
You can serve the chicken with the vegetables that were cooked underneath, and make a gravy from the liquid. Worth the four hour wait in my opinion for tender but still juicy chicken with crispy golden skin.