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Sunday, July 7, 2013

The simple art of Clay Baking: Fast, easy & delicious (with a basic recipe for clay baked drumsticks)

Many people are intimidated by cooking. I was for many years, and this led me to spend much of my twenties eating a handful of very basic foods (sardines with toast was a classic example) and getting a lot of take out or pre-fab, stick in the oven for an hour and "cook", pizzas, lasagnas, etc., the vast bulk of which were, to be honest, not terribly good.

Many of us are also very busy, and, especially if we have kids, on fairly strict food budgets. I have three kids, aged from six to eleven, who eat more-and-more as each year passes. Sometimes the crappy No Name Family Size lasagna seems like an easy and cheap alternative to cooking, and sometimes I suppose it is.

But there are other alternatives, many in fact, that are also easy and cheap, taste far better and use better ingredients and that not only do not need any particular cooking skills but also are a great gateway to more complex dishes once the basics are mastered. In the case of Clay Baking, the basics are easily mastered indeed.

A standard size Clay Baker. This one has a great design!
Clay baking is an ancient form of cooking and can be found in many cultures around the world. Today, Clay Bakers, or Romertopfs as they are also known, can be purchased new in a standard size for as little as $20-30 and can often be found at yard sales for a few bucks. In fact it is at yard sales that I found all of the several I have owned over the years. These have the virtue that they are already "seasoned" as well, though one should ask if they used it for fish (more on why later). Small bakers for cooking garlic or onions can also be purchased. 

Clay baking, among other things, is a truly excellent way to cook seemingly "inferior" cuts of meat, such as beef shank, a great way to prepare fish and other meats, is eminently adaptable (I love cooking curried goat in a Clay Baker)  and one of the best ways to cook truly moist chicken. I have countless clay baking recipes, some more complex than others, many of which I will be sharing. 

Today, however, I will share one that could not be simpler, that uses very inexpensive ingredients, and that can be made in around the same time and at around the same price as that Family Size No Name lasagna.

Just before going through the recipe there are a few basic things that one needs to know about clay baking in general. Before cooking you need to soak  the clay baker by filling both halves with cold water and leaving it there for fifteen minutes. No matter the dish you must ALWAYS start cooking in a cold oven. Never preheat. It will cause the clay baker to break.  Also, if you want to cook both fish and other dishes in your clay baker, you should buy two, one for fish and one for chicken and other meats or vegetables. Clay bakers become seasoned with repeated uses and absorb flavour, so you want to keep them separate. Finally never wash a clay baker with soap. Put hot water in it to soak and scrub it to clean it. 

So, without further ado, here is a busy weeknight beginner recipe of Clay Baked Chicken Drumsticks in BBQ Sauce. 

First, soak your clay baker in cold water for 15 minutes. 
Take 8-15 chicken drumsticks and season (to taste) with salt and pepper, BBQ seasoning, jerk seasoning or any other seasoning of your choice.
Place the drumsticks in the bottom of the clay baker.
Pour in a 796 ml. can of diced tomatoes (I like to use the Herb & Spice variety) 
Pour in a bottle of BBQ sauce of your choosing.
Place in a COLD oven and turn to 425 degrees
Cook for 1 1/4 hours.
Remove from oven, gently stir chicken and sauce and let sit for 10 minutes.
Serve with its sauce, on rice or pasta!

That is all there is to it. Literally. And the chicken will be fall-off-the-bone moist and in a sauce. It is a big hit with my kids and family. There are any number of ways to change it up. Add a can of corn. Add mushrooms. Use Salsa instead of BBQ sauce. Make your own BBQ sauce (and yes I will share some BBQ sauce recipes). And on-and-on!

Next week I will share the recipe for Roman Chicken, an amazing and simple way to prepare a whole chicken that will be perfectly cooked every time.

And, you can look forward to some more complicated clay baker recipes in the near future, including that one for a perfect Curried Goat.

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