According to the worldwide web, cooking in unglazed pots has been around since Roman times, or 27BC.
Cooking rice in claypots is also thousands of years old, but claypot rice can be traced back to Cantonese cuisine of China’s Guangdong Province. The dish was later popularised throughout China and spread throughout Southeast Asia.
Vietnam definitely inherited the claypot cooking technique from China many years ago, especially in rural areas where electricity and propane were not so common. The most popular use of claypot cooking in Vietnam are for ca kho to (caramelized catfish), thit kho to (caramelized pork belly) and com tho (rice). Claypot cooking is still used today but most commonly in restaurants. The original way to cook was with charcoal or wood, which is not so convenient for home usage since the invention of the rice cooker.
Com tho ga literally means claypot chicken rice. Claypot rice refers to rice with marinated meat and vegetables cooked in one pot. This is not a fancy dish but a very tasty dish and one of my go-to local dishes to introduce to visiting guests. What’s really amazing about com tho it that you can substitute water with chicken broth to cook the rice to give added flavor. Sounds familiar? Think Hainanese chicken rice or Italian risotto but with fully-cooked rice instead of al dente. It’s very popular in China, Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia. It’s typically served with Chinese sausage, spare ribs, eggs, salted fish or vegetables.
The main difficulty in cooking this dish is controlling the heat in order to have perfectly cooked rice throughout the claypot instead of crispy burnt rice on the bottom and uncooked rice on top. The authentic way is to cook everything together but what I found when trying to replicate this dish that it’s best to cook the rice and chicken separately. So when the rice is about half done, add the almost-cooked marinated chicken to finish it together.
For the recipe, marinate chicken thigh and legs with oyster sauce, soy sauce, rice wine, salt, pepper, sugar, sesame oil and garlic for about 30 minutes. Stir-fry the chicken with your choice of vegetables, such as shiitake mushrooms or bok choy, and set it aside. Add chicken stock to the rice in the claypot and cook until half done.
Introduce the chicken and vegetables to the rice and cook together until done. Although it sounds simple enough, it really isn’t, so I’ve listed a few notable places below for you to try. Let me know what you think.
1. Com Tho Chuyen Ky
Located in the Old Market between Ham Nghi and Huynh Thuc Khang Street. This is one of the oldest continuous family-owned restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City, operating since 1948.
65-67 Ton That Dam Street, District 1, HCMC
Open from 10.30am to 9.30pm
2. Com Nieu Saigon
This particular Com Nieu location was prominently featured in Anthony Bourdain’s A Cook’s Tour back in 2005.
27 Tu Xuong. District 3, HCMC
Open from 6am to 10pm
3. Com Nieu Saigon
Has a couple of locations throughout the city but these two are the most popular amongst the locals.
59 Ho Xuan Huong, District 3, HCMC
Open from 6am to 10pm.