Through the ages, nearly all cultures have made use of clay as material for cooking pots. In Japan, traditional clay cooking pots are called donabe pots, while in Spain they are referred to as cazuela and cooks in Africa call their clay pots with a domed lid tagines. The porous surface of clay allows for even distribution of heating throughout. A donabe pot can be used over most heat sources, including stovetops, traditional ovens, and microwave ovens.
The method of cooking in a donabe pot is extremely easy. As soon as you purchase a donabe, fill it with tap water and let it stand for several hours until all the water has been absorbed. It is not necessary to re-hydrate the pot with each use, but if the pot has been sitting in the pantry for an extended period of time, be sure to re-hydrate the pot before using it again. It's important to make sure that the outside of the pot is dry before using it to cook, however, since moisture could cause it to crack.
While the donabe pot is extremely versatile, it should only be used to cook dishes with a soup or stock base such as miso soup or a stew type recipe. Because of their porous texture, you should never attempt to cook completely dry foods or fry foods in oil in these pots. Dishes that benefit from a melding of flavors are ideal for preparation in a donabe pot as the even heat distribution allows for a sublime blending of flavors. Clay pots never get hot in any one spot, nearly eliminating the need for stirring. And because you seldom have to lift the lid to stir, even the toughest choice of meats and chunks of vegetables simmer until tender in their own juices-and retain all their nutrients for maximum health benefit.
Most donabe pots are as lovely to look at as they are functional, making the transition from stove to table an easy one-step process. An added benefit of cooking and serving in a donabe pot is that the clay keeps the food warm for quite some time at the dinner table. Once the meal is finished, gently clean your donabe pot with a mild detergent and rinse thoroughly. Sharp utensils or abrasive scrubbers should never be used on your donabe pot as the possible scoring caused may affect the overall consistency of the cooking surface.