The Clay Oven – The Best Indian Restaurant in Edinburgh
Ever wondered about the clay oven that The Clay Oven uses for cooking? Read on.
The Clay Oven. Who would believe that the now universally used clay oven can be traced back to 1500 B.C. when the Egyptians invented the ‘tonir’ which was an oven, hemispherical and made of clay, with a side tunnel large enough to allow bread discs to be slid into the main oven, thus preparing the way for leavened bread in the form of flat loaves.
Over the years, however, the biggest transformation to the tonir, which originally has a side entry hemisphere, became a sphere with a narrow-necked opening at the top, now known as the tandoor.
We now had Tandoori cooking which has become established by 1483 in the dynasty of the Moghul emperors, when Babar conquered India, and it is entirely conceivable that it was the Moghuls who perfected Indian Tandoori cooking as they did with their entire range of dishes such as Korma, Rhogan Gosht, Biriani and Kebabs, although it is unlikely that its invention can be attributed to them.
Credit for this probably lies with the Persian and Arab Moslem invaders as far back as the ninth century when they brought their kebabs and charcoal cooking to the rugged and mountainous areas of Persia and Afghanistan and into what is now known as the North West Frontier in Pakistan.
The delicious cooking style we know today was evolved over the next few hundred years, marinades became highly spiced and colourful and yoghurt was incorporated to improve the marinating process and particularly to assist in the tenderising of the meat and poultry which was usually very tough.
The nan breads are another delicacy which are baked in the heat emitted from the top of these ovens and a very important factor, which a great many people don’t realise, is that all clay oven cooked food has a lower calorie content than most other forms of cooking and in most occasions assists in good digestion.
As we now know the clay oven was evolved many centuries ago and the magic which we now associate with “Tandoori” comes from marinated ingredients and of course the large spherical egg-shaped open topped Tandoori pottery tub.
The Clay Oven
The clay oven in most restaurants is usually about 3 feet high and approximately 2 ½ feet in diameter with the open top being about 1 foot in diameter this is normally covered by the chef with a metal plate when the oven is “at rest” in order to retain the heat.
The oven is made from a special blend of clay and Bangladeshi jute is used to reinforce the walls which are about 2 inches thick.
In the villages of Pakistan and Bangladesh the clay ovens are buried in the ground with the earth packed tightly around them to give insulation and stability.
Obviously this is not practical in the restaurant and the oven is in a square enclosure of firebrick insulation blocks.
The open cavities are packed with high density glass fibre wool insulation. A concrete top with ceramic tiles on the top and outside faces creates a hygienic kitchen appliance, cold on the outside yet very hot inside.
The oven is supplied unfired (after three or four uses it has become fired). A small drawhole at the base can be opened or closed to create an air flow.
Although charcoal is the traditional fuel some restaurants usually have two tandoors, one charcoal fired running at very high temperatures and the other gas powered running at lower temperatures.
Charcoal fuelled ovens are usually loaded to about 6 inches in depth and allowed 2 ½ – 3 hours to reach operating temperatures, literally white hot (700F/370C).
It is a property of the special clay blend that it can withstand this high temperature without cracking and the coals can be allowed to extinguish and the oven to go cold between usage without shrinking.
To finish of the oven implements which your chef requires are the 3 feet long round metal skewers which allow the food to rotate on them whilst cooking.