Whereas deep-frying, stir-frying, steaming, and smoking may all seem foreign to the average Western kitchen, cooking food in a squat, cozy, crockery pot seems less so. It is a comforting feeling seeing such a pot on a stove. One feels secure, at home, nestled in. One can slip vicariously into the pot and be warmed, like a child with a blanket over his head.
In much the same way as stew pots and crock pots the world over, the purpose of a Chinese sand pot is to cook large or chunked things slowly, in an environment where they retain a special moisture and pick up a dramatic depth of flavor. In China, the ingredients bound for the sand pot are often first deep-fried, stir-fried, or pan-fried to set the exterior with a distinctive texture and color. However, once in the pot, their business is to sit and stew, bubbling gently, developing flavors and gravies leisurely, and exuding a heartening perfume to seduce all who walk by.
Earthenware pot cookery is ancient in China—among the oldest of all vessel-enclosed cooking methods—but its appeal is thoroughly modern. It is energy-saving of both fuel and human energy, freeing the cook for other jobs, or freeing the cook to play.
© 1982 Barbara Tropp estate. All rights reserved.