Clay-pot rice is a cuisine all its own and just the way to ease into the cooking-with-clay cult. The idea is genius: First you soak rice to hydrate the grains, then cook them over high heat with minimal water so they plump up without overcooking. As the rice cooks, the fat from cured meat on top renders down to the bottom of the pot, which develops a burnt-crisp lacquered crust of rice, all while aromatics in the rice steam up to flavor the meat. This recipe borrows some Thai flavors with makrut lime leaves for fragrance and sweet Thai sausage for subtle spice, but make it your own. Chinese sausage or any sweet charcuterie would be just as good, and if you can’t find packaged large bamboo shoots, do like the Japanese and substitute cubes of sweet potato or taro. Since most of this dish’s biomass is…rice, do yourself a kindness and pick a nice one, such as Charleston gold or basmati.
You don’t technically need a clay pot to make this dish, but it’s much, much harder to form that crunchy crust without one. A Chinese sand pot will run you all of $10 in a Chinese grocery, or a little more online. You can also use a Japanese donabe, which will run you 10 times as much. It looks prettier, though.
- In a fine mesh strainer, rinse rice thoroughly under cold water until the water that drains away is clear. This step washes away the surface starches that contribute to gummy grains. Once rice is freshly bathed, transfer to a 2-quart clay pot and cover with 2 cups water. Let rice soak undisturbed for 30 minutes.
- While the rice soaks, stir the soy sauce, fish sauce, oyster sauce, and 1 teaspoon of the sesame oil together in a small bowl. Stir in sugar to taste and set aside so the sugar has time to dissolve.
- After 30 minutes of soaking, submerge the markrut lime leaves in the rice, cover the pot, and set it over medium-high heat. Chinese sand pots are designed for this kind of thing, but if you’re using another kind of clay pot that’s more sensitive to high heat, follow the maker’s recommended instructions. Bring the rice to a boil, which will take about 10 minutes.
- Once the rice comes to a boil, reduce heat to medium low, remove the lid and drizzle the remaining tablespoon of sesame oil around the very edges of the pot. Your goal is to get the oil to drip down the sides of the pot so it can crisp up the rice, not soak into the surface grains. Next, scatter ginger evenly over the top. Then scatter sausage and bamboo pieces on top of the ginger. Cover the pot and cook on medium low heat for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the rice is fully cooked. Don’t worry about perfect doneness; it’s hard to overcook the rice this way.
- Remove the lid, drizzle the sauce over the sausage and bamboo, re-cover the pot, and leave it to rest off heat for 15 minutes. Don’t skip this resting step—it helps the rice crust on the bottom set up and finishes gently cooking the toppings.
- Once the rice is rested, serve at your leisure; the pot will keep everything warm for up to an hour. Serve with a wide, flat spoon to scrape up as much crispy rice crust as possible.
Max Falkowitz is a food and travel writer for The New York Times, Saveur, GQ, New York magazine’s Grub Street, and other outlets. He’s also the coauthor of The Dumpling Galaxy Cookbook with Helen You.