Sandpot Stir-Fried Chicken Rice

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Tomorrow’s Wok Wednesdays recipe is classic Cantonese dish: Sandpot Stir-Fried Chicken Rice. Chinese sandpots are inexpensive and come in a variety of sizes from 2 to 6-quarts. They’re great for soups and braised dishes but the Cantonese love them for special one-pot rice dishes. A pot of rice is cooked and 5 minutes before the rice is done, a stir-fry of chicken and mushrooms flavored with ginger and a little ham is stir-fried until it’s nearly cooked, placed on to top of the rice and finishes cooking from the rice’s steam heat. The rich sauce, accented with ginger melts into the rice and the chicken is extra succulent and tender.

Old-fashioned Chinese say sandpots are one of the healthiest ways to cook. The pots are cream colored with a sandy unglazed texture on the outside, and are dark brown and glazed on the inside. Some sandpots have a large wire mesh on the outside, but be sure to examine the interior of the pot for any cracks to avoid a pot that will leak. Some cooks swear the sandpot must be seasoned before using. To do so, just soak in cold water for 24 hours before cooking. Other cooks like to rub the bottom of the pot with a little vegetable oil for several days until the pot can no longer absorb more oil. Both of these methods are said to prolong the life of a sandpot and prevent cracking. The pots are only treated the first time they are used. The sandpot should never be set directly on high heat. Always start the cold pot on low heat and gradually increase the heat to medium and finally high heat. And after cooking, never set the pot on a cold surface or change the temperature dramatically. That too, will cause cracking.

Old-fashioned Cantonese say that when you cook rice in a sandpot the rice possesses “rice breath.” Like the “breath of a wok” in a stir-fry this means it has special life force. My parents took special pleasure in eating rice cooked in a sandpot and would always comment that the rice had extra fragrance and flavor. Here’s a peek at this week’s Sandpot Stir-Fried Chicken Rice. Join the fun, invest in a sandpot (you can buy it at The WokShop.com for under $25 including shipping) or look for them the next time you’re in Chinatown! In the meanwhile, if you don’t have a sandpot you can certainly use a stainless-steel pot but you’ll miss out on the magical “rice breath.”
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