Clay pots or "palayok" is made of clay which is a porous material. When the pot is saturated with water and put into the
oven, there is a slow evaporation of steam from within the pores of the clay itself.
During the cooking process, the food forms its own juices. These juices cannot escape
until the pot is completely dry. Fortunately, when the pot becomes dry, the food is
cooked! Because wet clay does not become as hot as metal, it is necessary to cook at a
higher temperature than is usual, (450ºF rather than the customary 350ºF). However, in
spite of this high temperature, the danger of burning is minimal and can only take place
if the food is cooked for too long a period of time.
As a general rule, if you add 100ºF and 30 minutes to the cooking time of any
recipe, it can be adapted for use in a clay pot. For instance, if you normally cook a 3
pound chicken at 350ºF for 1 hour, you will need to cook it in a clay pot at
450ºF for 1 1/2 hours.
The manufacturers of clay pots recommend that they always be placed in a cold oven.
It is also possible to reheat food in a clay pot. Soak the lid in cold water for 10 minutes, cover the pot and pop it back into
a 350ºF oven for 30 minutes.
Cleaning the clay pot.
As you discover the almost miraculous results of cooking in clay, you will be using
your pot with greater and greater frequency and it will quickly lose its brand new
appearance. Though the pot goes through a short period of adolescence when it looks
slightly mottled, it eventually acquires a character of its own and you begin to find
yourself less concerned about the odd blemishes which refuse to budge in spite of the
most desperate scrubbing. The pot is, in fact, very easy to clean because food will not
stick to the surface (unless, of course, you burn it on). Simply let the pot cool after it has
been taken from the oven and soak it in warm water for a few minutes. Sprinkle the pot
with salt and scour it with a stiff brush. Rinse the pot and let it drain until it is dry. (As
clay is porous, it is not wise to clean it with detergents or scouring powder.)
It is said that you need a separate clay pot for cooking fish, but this have
been found to be untrue. In fact, you will be unable to detect any lingering
flavors or odors on clay pots even after it has been used for the spiciest of recipes. However, if you do feel any concern over the
matter, you can soak the pot in hot water adding three tablespoons of baking soda to
each quart of water. This will clean it very thoroughly and even small black scorch dots
can be coaxed from the clay with the minimum of effort. Store the pot as you would any
other utensil. It is considerably less fragile than it appears, and unless you drop it on the
floor, it will survive many accidental knocks and bumps without complaint. Do take the
precaution of storing the lid alongside, rather than on top of the pot. This eliminates the
risk of the development of mold inside the pot in case it was not completely dry.