Into the melting pot

Clay pot rice is a traditional Cantonese dish in which the rice is steamed directly in the pot before Chinese sausages and cured pork belly are added. Maintaining a layer of crispy rice at the bottom is always the key to carrying off the dish.

Cantonese cuisine chef Kong Zhongyou has been making traditional clay pot rice for more than a dozen years. He learned the secret family recipe to create the special sauce for the rice from his uncle who is also a chef.

"In my hometown in Guangdong province, each chef has his own secret recipe for the special sauce, and that's the key to a clay pot rice," says Kong.

Kong's recipe uses three types of soy sauce and a fish sauce that are boiled together for 15 minutes until the rice turns black and its saltiness is reduced to the point at which it can be eaten directly.

One of his signature dishes is crab meat and crab roe clay pot rice. The rice is topped with a thick layer of fried crab meat and roe covered in lard, huangjiu (yellow spirit) and minced ginger.

It takes about 8 kilograms of hairy crab to make 1 kg of crab meat and roe, and a skillful chef needs at least three minutes to remove the meat and roe from each whole crab.

The wagyu beef and mushroom clay pot rice is another signature dish. Kong has experimented with many types of beef from different price ranges and different countries before finally finding the most suitable one to accompany the mushrooms and rice.

Besides the traditional sausage clay pot rice, Kong also makes the dish using fermented soybean flavored white eel, free-range chicken and mushroom topping, and one made from matsutake and other mushrooms for vegetarians.

Kong uses a mixture of three different types of rice to make it chewy and enhance its fragrance. Each clay pot Kong uses can only be used a few times before it begins to crack.

According to Kong, the reason that rice tastes better in a clay pot is that the porous surface of the clay allows air to circulate around the pot, just as it would be if it was cooked over fire.

The size and shape of the pot Kong prefers are also different from the traditional ones, which are usually smaller and flatter, as Kong thinks this helps the rice cook more evenly.

Steaming is another specialty of Kong's. From white eel and yellow croaker to long snout catfish with yellow pepper sauce, he always manages to bring out the best flavors from the original ingredients.

Source(s): China Daily