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Cooking up some hot stuff in clay pots

By Ruby Gao (Shanghai Daily)

18:46, January 04, 2013

(File photo)

For many Chinese people, sizzling, aromatic food presented in an earthenware pot, bao zai cai (煲仔菜) - hot clay-pot dishes - epitomize the taste and scent of winter cuisine.

Bao zai cai, referring to ingredients cooked, mostly braised, and served hot in a clay pot, originated in Guangdong Province and is popular in south and east China.

"It's a distinctive style of dish, defined by its temperature," explains Kevin Ji, Chinese executive chef at Renaissance Shanghai Pudong Hotel.

"Some clay-pot dishes are served over fire and you will find the flavor changes gradually according to the heating time," Ji adds.

The charm of the dish rests in the heat helping release all the flavors of the ingredients, giving the flavor more layers and length, says Eiddy Wu, Chinese executive chef at Marriott Shanghai City Centre.

Pursuing a hot and rich taste is a fundamental rule chefs follow in winter when choosing ingredients.

Meat with intense flavor, such as beef and lamb, seafood with natural sweetness and umami flavor, such as scallops, spices and fragrances, represented by ginger, garlic, are popularly used in bao zai cai.

In addition to following culinary rules, chefs also pay much consideration to traditional Chinese medicine when devising recipes, says Peter Chuang, Chinese executive chef at Le Royal Meridien Shanghai.

For example, following TCM guidance, chefs choose "warm" foods like lamb, balanced by vegetables and greens with a "cold" nature, such as water chestnuts, Chuang explains.

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