Clay ovens are versatile, sturdy and retain and distribute heat well. Egyptians began using clay ovens, known as tandoori ovens in India and hornos in South America, to bake bread as early as A.D. 11. The use of clay ovens has experienced a rise in popularity in the United States as a result of the increased exposure facilitated by print media, television cooking shows and travel networks.
- Skill level:
Things you need
- Metal or wooden skewers
- Probe (meat) thermometer
- Clay pot
Soak the clay pot in cold water for 30 minutes if using it for the first time, and 15 minutes if previously used. Clay pots are widely used in clay ovens, particularly in South America. Soaking the pot in cold water allows it to absorb moisture that is released when exposed to heat, creating a moist-heat cooking environment. Also, allow the clay pot to come up to temperature in tandem with the clay oven. Placing a room-temperature clay pot in a preheated clay oven results in cracking.
Place the food items on metal or wood skewers. If using wood, soak the skewers in water for a minimum of one hour prior to cooking to prevent burning. Most clay ovens, including tandoori, suspend the food from a skewer over the heat source. Allow a minimum of 1/8 inch of space between food items on the skewer. This allows air to circulate around the food and contributes to uniform cooking.
Monitor the cooking food. Clay ovens commonly operate in excess of 260 degrees Celsius, and their walls retain heat very well. Many foods, particularly small items such as vegetables and skewered meat, cook very fast when exposed to high heat. Rotate the skewers and baste, if necessary. Also, use a probe thermometer to determine the doneness of proteins. The high heat of clay ovens can prompt food to cook faster on the exterior than the interior if not rotated and managed properly. Cook beef to a minimum internal temperature of 62.8 degrees C, pork to a minimum temperature of 71.1 degrees C and poultry to an internal temperature of 73.9 degrees C.
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