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Section 4: Cooking basics for your MEC clay pot

Clay pot properties (far infrared heat, alkalizing, oxygenating, steam retention) and clay pot cooking advise

Properties of a clay pot

Far infrared heat of clay vs. near infrared heat of metals

Far infrared heat of clayNear infrared heat of metals
Cooks food from the inside out. The heat penetrates deeper into the food than near infrared heat.Cooks food from the outside in.
At first, it appears like nothing much is happening, but the food is cooking at the inner level and you don’t notice it yet. Just give it some time, never turn up the heat past medium. Ultimately, the food cooks in just about the same time as metal cookware.The food appears to be cooking right away.
The heat produces a gradual transition for the food – kind of like going from winter, gradually to spring, then gradually to summer.The heat is harsh, and produces a sudden change in temperature in the cooking pot – kind of like going from winter immediately into summer.
The cooking time in a clay pot is usually about the same as the cooking time in a metal pot. Smaller pot sizes heat and cook noticeably faster. Initially, until the clay pot is well seasoned, it will cook a bit slower. This is explained below. The cooking time in a metal pot is usually about the same of the cooking time in a clay pot.
If liquid is covering the food in a clay pot, a rolling boil means the food is cooked or almost cooked. If you are cooking ingredients with different cook times, the rolling boil will not occur until each ingredients is cooked or almost cooked. If you have a small amount of water in the pot, the water will boil before the contents are done.If liquid is covering the food in a metal pot, a rolling boil means the food is cooked or almost cooked.If you see a rolling boil in a metal pot and the water covers the food in the pot, the food is only starting to cook. The boil is independent of cooking.
If you see steam coming from your MEC clay pot the food is usually cooked – or just past cooked.If you see steam coming from your metal pot, the food is usually still cooking. Steam (like the boil) is independent of cooking.
When the food smells aromatic, it is usually done or almost done.When the food smells aromatic, it is usually done or almost done.
Keeps delicate nutrients intact. In general, the more delicate the nutrient, the more potent the nutrient.
Examples of delicate nutrients that benefit from far infrared heat:
*Grains – complex carbohydrates. MEC explains How grains are different when cooked in 100% pure-clay, and what does this mean to you?
*Vegetables – phytonutrients such as flavonoids.
*Beans & lentils – complex proteins.
*Meats – simple and complex proteins, vitamins & minerals.
Destroys many delicate nutrients. Delicate nutrients are more susceptible to the harsh effects of near infrared heat. Near infrared frequencies of heat are higher and damaging.
Cooking steps can be simplified in a clay pot with good results. See Section 8: Cooking techniques you can do with MEC.You must follow the recipe in the correct order and with the correct timings.
Many foods are simpler to cook in clay. You can use some of the tips in Section 9: Tips on preparing specific foods or continue cooking the way you are use to.You can continue cooking the way you are use to.
Few foods required presoaking. See Which foods need presoaking? below.Many foods required presoaking.
Thawing foods before cooking usually not necessary. The gentle deep penetrating far infrared heat allows food to be perfectly cooked more easily.
*Frozen food must be added at the beginning of cooking time – adding it in the middle of cooking time constitutes a sudden temperature change.
*If adding frozen food, be sure there is adequate water in the pot – perhaps 1/2″.
*If it’s a full frozen chicken, let it sit out on the counter to partially thaw for at least 30 minutes.
Thawing foods before cooking usually necessary. With metal cookware, the heat is harsher and if food is frozen, it often gets overcooked on the outside and undercooked on the inside.
The outside of the pot gets warm. You can carefully place your hands on the outside of the pot and feel the deep penetrating heat. People with Raynaud’s syndrome usually find more relieve placing their hands on the outside of a warm clay pot than placing their hands under running hot water. Be careful, occasionally the outside of the pot gets hot.The outside of the pot gets very hot. You can not touch it with bare hands.
The lid remains cooler than the pot. The knob on the lid remains cooler than the lid – and is easy to handle.The lid of the pot gets very hot.
The outside of a clay pot warms up more slowly than a metal pot. A clay pot is able to retain it’s heat much better than a metal pot. This means food stays warmer for a longer time. The pot heats up and cools off quickly. Cooked food will quickly cool off in a metal pot.
Clay can get damp from a previous use (the pot can get waterlogged). This usually happens if you cook broth or soup for long hours or you soak items when the pot is not fully seasoned. Dry out an empty pot by heating it uncovered on a very low heat for 5-10 minutes while you prepare ingredients. This will avoid possible cracks.Pot does not get waterlogged.

Chart comments

Why is the cooking time in a new clay pot initially a bit longer?

The more a clay pot is used, the faster it will cook. This is because clay “holds memory”

  • The pot needs to “learn” the food.

    Ex: If you cook beans in a clay pot, then the next time you cook
    beans in the same clay pot they will cook a bit faster.
  • The pot needs to “learn” the stove.

    Ex: If you cook on an electric stove, then the next time you cook on it, it will cook faster.
Which foods need presoaking?
Metal cookware (near infared heat)Clay cookware (far infared heat)
oatmeal yes – helps the starches break down and reduces the natural phytic acid.no – heat can break down starches and clay cooks the grain so phytic acid is not as problematic.
chia, ground flax, dried fruityes – usually presoak to get them better hydrated before cooking.no – heat will penetrate deep, making soaking unnecessary.
small dried fishyes – to soften.no – they will soften during wet cooking.
riceyes – cooking rice is a process of hydration, and soaking helps to do this without the aggression of heat; makes for fluffy, coherent, cooked grains. no – not necessary; heats food by penetrating deeper without damaging the outside.
most beans & lentils (red lentils, bengal gram, etc.) yes – faster to cook; breaks down some of the complex sugars that can make beans hard to digest.no – not necessary; heats food by penetrating deeper without damaging the outside. See MEC Cooking Healthy Beans & Lentils: Different Types, Cooking time, Nutritional Value & Taste.
some beans (red kidney beans, black-eyed bean)yesyes
nuts (almonds, cashews)yes – breaking down the phytic acid so it can be absorbed properly; releasing enzymes inhibitors.Personal preference – if you want the nuts to have a softer texture.

Alkalizes food

  • Helps to neutralize the pH balance of food which makes it more digestible.

Oxygenates food

Benefits

  • Vibrant color
  • Preserves freshness
  • Add life force – prana, chi, etc.

How it works

  • While food is cooking, nutritional bonds are changing and oxygen is breaking down and escaping as steam.
  • As the temperature inside the pot increases, the pressure inside the pot increases. This draws in air through the semi-porous walls which then fortifies the food with much needed oxygen (that the food lost to steam).

Notes

  • The pores of the clay will slowly shrink and become closer together as the pot is used. Over a few years of everyday use, the food will become less fortified with oxygen.

Retains steam much better than metal cookware

  • Water soluble minerals don’t escape
  • More flavorful

Maintains freshness longer than other types of metal cookware or glass storage containers

  • I’ll hold vegetarian leftovers on the counter for a few hours in the cooking pot. I’ll usually add some water to the pot if reheating.
  • Sometimes I’ll use clay for refrigerator storage.

Clay pot cooking advise

Use less cooking oil (or sprinkle water) before cooking

If you add oil at the beginning of cooking, add 1 teaspoon – that’s it. Instead of adding oil, you can simply sprinkle water.

Oil

If you use too much oil, it can eventually get pushed out the bottom of the pot and onto the stove during cooking [this happened to me, but I was initially using way too much oil]

Water

Miriam says oil is to metal pots as water is to clay pots – just sprinkle water in your clay pot before adding food.

Instead of sprinkling water, I swished water (like I do before heating milk for yogurt), and I had some sticking. I thought swishing and sprinkling the water would accomplish the same thing, but Miriam explained why this is not the case.

Swishing water has a different effect to sprinkling. When sprinkling, some water stays inside, and lifts food off the pot. With swishing the water in the walls acts as a non-stick barrier between the heating milk and the pot’s walls.

MEC

Both

In some of Miriam’s recipes I have noticed that she initially adds 1 teaspoon of oil and 1 tablespoon of water to the pot.

Use less salt and spices

You don’t need as much salt and spices. The far infrared heat, inert pot, etc. cause your food to be richer.

In addition, with far infrared heat, salt (and most spices) will still get incorporated into the food if added the last 10 minutes of cooking. If you want to minimize your salt usage, you can get away with adding less salt if the salt is added towards the end of cooking. If you add salt at the beginning of the cooking time, you will have to add a bit more.

Use enough liquid in the pot

How much water should you add?

It depends on cooking time, moisture content of ingredients and desired final product. Some foods required just a sprinkle of water (sauteing), others require 1-2 tablespoons of water, others require 1 cup or more.

The amount of water used in clay cookware is less than that of metal cookware because clay cookware retains more steam inside the pot.

Some foods give off water

  • Onions, eggplants, tomatoes, celery, zucchini, bok choy, peas, string beans, etc.
  • Apples

Some foods take in water

  • Starchy vegetables – potatoes, yams, sweet potatoes, acorn squash
  • Grains – rolled oats
  • Lentils, beans
  • Dried fruit
  • Frozen meat initially takes in water – add at least 1 cup of water to the pot.

Keep covered except for browning

Always cover everything – sauteing onions, baking cakes, etc.

When cooking a turkey, it’s possible the turkey will be so big that the lid doesn’t fit. In that case, don’t cover, the turkey will still come out delicious!

Cooking and adding ingredients

When you cook in metal cookwareWhen you cook in MEC (no need to wait for each ingredient
to be cooked before adding the next ingredient)
Turn stove onTurn stove on
Add oilAdd oil (less than metal cookware) – Aside from the initial teaspoon of oil, it’s best to add oil at the end of cooking – so that it is better utilized by the body. If oil is exposed to heat for too long, it breaks down into trans fats – even in a clay pot!
When oil is hot, add cuminYou can immediately add cumin. No need to wait for the oil to get hot – the spices still get cooked and taste the same or even better
When cumin is brown add onionsChop onions and add
When onions are translucent, add ginger and garlicGrate ginger and garlic and add
When ginger and garlic are fragrant, add tomatoesChop tomatoes and add
When tomatoes are cooked add remaining ingredientsAdd remaining ingredients as they are ready

Metal cookware notes

  • There are repercussions if ingredients are added too soon.
    • Onions will get soggy if tomatoes are added too soon.
    • Onions will not blend in well with the rest of the recipe if not thoroughly cooked.
  • The pot remains uncovered and steam and nutrients are lost.

Clay cookware notes

  • It is best to keep the pot covered, except for when you are adding ingredients. Since the lid is almost always on the pot, clean-up of your stove area will be easier.
  • All ingredients will be properly cooked in the end – even the cumin that you didn’t brown.
  • If you add ingredients in a different order, that is fine as well. The flavor of the end product will be awesome.
  • MEC is more forgiving of different cook times of ingredients than metal cookware. However, sometimes you will have to add some ingredients mid-way through cooking – e.g. more tender vegetables, spices, etc. (just like metal cookware).
  • With noiseless cooking, that is a unique attribute to clay pots, you will not experience loud “sizzling”, “popping” noises.

Stir less often

Clay cookware needs less stirring than metal cookware.

You usually stir twice during cooking

  1. After adding content (to help incorporate in).
  2. Before the last 10 minutes of cooking time.

Selecting a spoon

  • An all natural wood spoon is best – ideally avoid wood with plastics, petrochemicals and varnishes.
  • Metal spoons can be used – especially if the contact time is short.

Set a timer if you leave the kitchen

You’ll be tempted to go about other work since your pot is so hands-off. However, it’s easy to forget you’re cooking and it’s possible for food to burn or overcook.

I find it’s harder to burn and/or overcook food in clay pots than metal pots.

Finish cooking process with low heat

Especially broth, stews, lentils, etc. Low heat helps to conclude the cooking process.

Let food rest in the pot after cooking

All cooking dishes benefit from a “resting” time – it helps settling of the nutrients. If at all possible, give your dishes about 5-10 minutes of resting time. The longer the cook time, the longer the rest time should be. For bone broth which cooks for a few hours, ideally the rest time could be 45-60 minutes.

Browning

Some browning occurs during cooking with the lid on.

If you want more browning, crack the lid 1″-2″ during the resting stage.

If you want even more browning, remove the lid (or crack the lid 1″-2″) during the last 10 minutes of cooking.

Puree in the pot

When using other cookware, the ingredients acquire a harder texture and thus require pureeing separately to mash them down.

Technique:

  • Cook the ingredients until well done.
  • Gently smash the ingredients against the inside wall of the pot with a wooden spoon.

Energy saving

The pot retains a lot of far infrared heat. You can stop the cooking process early and simply let the food sit in the pot and continue to cook.

I’ll add quick cooking vegetables such as peas or spinach after turning the heat off – they get cooked perfectly.

I would love to hear from you.
Scroll down to share your experiences & Wisdom.

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