There used to be a giant clay pot sitting squat in a corner of the corridor which led to the kitchen. A plate serving as a lid covered it’s wide gaping mouth whilst a plastic cup sat atop the plate. The clay pot was used to hold drinking water and I can remember it ever so vividly the number of times I would reach for the cup, extend a hand into the pot to bring up fresh water to quench my thirst. And most of all, I can remember the taste of the water sloshing down my throat. That earthy flavour of burnt clay intermingled with the water is one you can’t forget after one experience.
So I cooked Jollof in an unglazed clay pot the other day and invited a couple of friends over for a taste experience. Thanks to Lydia Forson’s Instagram post which featured Abe nkwan boiling and roiling in clay pots over gas; my curiosity was highly piqued. How have I never thought of this? 😅
In many rural areas in Ghana, the traditional unglazed clay pots serve as a cooking utensil which is placed between triangular mounds of clay ( what we call Laat3 in Ga) with smouldering firewood coals as a heat source. It’s an ancient utensil which is still in use today. Clay pots are made from the very common earthenware clay due to it’s high plasticity. There’s always such a distinctive taste difference between foods prepared in traditional utensils & modern metallic saucepans, I am sure you agree 100% :D.
Before using the clay pot, always bake it or season it first or else you will end up with a mouldy clay pot afterwards. To bake it in, first wash the entire pot (inside and out) with running water, then fill it with water almost to the brim and set it on the gas stove for 20-25 minutes over low heat. Pour out the water and use as normal. Seasoning the pot in this manner, releases moisture into the food as you cook which means you need less liquid to cook.
I cooked the Jollof the same way I would using a modern saucepan. One thing I noticed is how the pot eases in the heat slowly so it took time for the oil to heat up and for most of the ingredients to also cook through. Be patient with the pot.
I also didn’t have to constantly be checking and stirring as you would using metallic saucepans. One thing I discovered was that the clay pot was also naturally non-stick! The tomato sauce wasn’t sticking to the bottom of the pot at all.
The fragrance from the pot was divine! All the earthy flavour of the pot combined with the cooking vegetables erupted and flooded my kitchen the whole evening. It was an aroma similar to when pizza is being baked in a wood-fired oven. Tres naturelle. Clay is naturally porous which allows moisture and heat to circulate during the cooking process. That’s the magic.
The tomato sauce was just perfectly cooked and had a less acidic flavour thanks to the alkalinity of clay which reduced the acidity. I also used chicken stock instead of water to cook the tomatoes which made the tomatoes more flavourful.
It’s much easier to navigate through the pot using a traditional wooden spoon ( Banku stick/Gigintso) as compared to using a plastic spoon.
The Jollof was done in 45 minutes. To further retain moisture I covered the rice with aluminium foil and a lid. Weirdly I didn’t see a clay pot lid during my purchase so I used glass lid with a mini steam opening.
Dinner was ready!
“It tastes like party Jollof,”one of our dinner guests remarked. He was right. It tasted just like the Jollof served at family parties. It was so earthy and such an enhancement of flavour in the meal. An authentic taste which you can’t get from today’s metallic saucepans. Nope.
It went excellently with the quail, shallow-fried kelewele and green salad.
I heated up the Jollof for some minutes in the pot. The next day it was still in excellent condition and best of all? The Kanzo was on point! Like so much tastier 😍😻.
This clay pot is going to be a fixed item in my kitchen, it’s not going anywhere anytime soon 😁. Isn’t it incredible that the clay pot design has remained unchanging over the years? The pottery industry in Ghana needs more innovation to upgrade the clay pot design to something easier to handle ( like can we get handles ?) . Cooking in a clay pot is also such a healthier choice as clay contains iron and other minerals. Are you a slow cooker user? Then consider using a traditional clay pot, moisture and nutrients retained for days!
By the way have you used a clay pot to cook before? I would love to know what it felt like using such an ancient yet amazing utensil. How did your food turn out? Do share in the comments section.