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A clay pot is a cooking pot made from clay. These pots can be used on the stovetop, but more commonly they are used in the oven to make specialized dishes, and they may also be used in fires and buried pits for various regional foods. A tradition of clay pot cooking exists in many cultures, including Asia, North Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Latin America, and a huge assortment of dishes can be prepared in these pots.
Many cooking stores carry clay pots, sometimes with several different designs on offer. A typical pot is left unglazed, which is critical to the cooking process, and it usually comes with a snug matching lid which is used to cover the food during cooking. Small amounts of decorative glaze or carving may be used on the outside of the pot, and the handles are also made from clay.
To use a clay pot in cooking, cooks soak the pot in water for at least half an hour before cooking. Because the pot is not glazed, it soaks up the water, and then releases it in the form of steam during cooking. The porous texture also promotes gas exchange, ensuring that pressure does not build up in the pot, and allowing the food in the pot to be infused with smoke from the fire, in the case of food prepared on or near an open fire.
Clay pots are ideal for slow-roasted dishes, because they allow flavors to mature slowly without drying out the food. Often, a slightly caramelized flavor develops, with foods like meats cooking to a fork-tender texture and becoming fully infused with flavor from other ingredients in the pot. Classically, dishes are served directly from the pot while they are still hot.
There are some cautions involved when using a clay pot. It is important to raise the temperature slowly so that the pot does not crack or explode. Hot pots should never be set down on cold or wet surfaces, because the temperature difference can cause the pot to crack. These pots also get very hot and retain heat very well, so people should be careful when handling the pot to ensure that they do not burn themselves.
Once a clay pot is completely cooled, it should be washed in warm water and allowed to dry completely before being put in storage. Ideally, detergents and soaps should not be used on these pots, because they can penetrate the porous clay and leach out into food, adding an unpleasant flavor. If grime is firmly adhered, the pot can be soaked to loosen it and then gently scrubbed with a non-abrasive cloth.