The set-up sounds like something out of a cheesy late-night-TV infomercial. It’s a slow cooker, a rice cooker, a vegetable steamer — and it even makes yogurt, too. I was half expecting to be hit with the “Just three easy payments!” rap when I got to the end of the user manual.
But VitaClay really doesn’t need to work the hard sell for its Smart Organic Multicooker and Yogurt Maker. After successfully making batches of rice, stew, and yes, even yogurt, this keep-me-out-of-the-kitchen guy is here to tell you that if you hate to cook, this kitchen appliance is a great substitute chef.
The VitaClay distinguishes itself from other slow cookers with its removable Zisha clay pot. Also known as Yixing clay, Zisha is a natural earthen substance formed over thousands of years in southern China. Zisha is rich in iron oxide, so it has a reddish hue and is usually left unglazed. It’s where VitaClay gets the “Organic” in the cooker’s name — the machine itself is not organic, but the pot used to cook food is.
The 8-cup, 500-watt cooker is brain-dead simple to use. I just stuck whatever ingredients I was cooking in the clay pot, closed the lid and pressed one of three dedicated buttons on the front: rice, slow cooker, or yogurt. An LCD display on the front indicates your cooking time. A convenient feature is the ability to delay the cooking time from 10 minutes to five hours. That way, you can time it so your meal is ready only when you’re ready to eat it. There’s also an automatic warming cycle that kicks in and keeps the pot full of cooked food warm for up to half a day.
The yogurt-making function is unique to this slow cooker, but unfortunately I found it only makes the stuff in feed-an-army proportions. One quart is the absolute minimum. That’s fine for some people, but it’s also complicated (remember, I am not a kitchen person), requiring you to cook the milk first, then letting it cool, adding the yogurt starter and only then placing it in the clay pot for six to eight hours. When it’s done, it still needs another four hours of refrigeration. Isn’t this thing supposed to make my life easier? I decided it was simply more economical to just buy yogurt at the grocery store.
Cleaning the clay pot after use requires no elbow grease. Any rice that sticks to the bottom can quickly be removed with a short soak in warm water. The unglazed clay absorbs moisture — part of its cooking charm — so drying time is a tad lengthier, but no big deal. Also, I can’t view the Zisha clay as anything less than a huge asset. Because of the slow and steady steam evaporation from the clay pores in the closed chamber, meats and vegetables are more tender. More flavorful, too.
As a Black Belt in non-cooking, I like the idea of a “throw everything into one pot and forget about it until it’s ready” device. The VitaClay Chef does this in triplicate, though you can count me out for the piles of yogurt.