Sunday, May 20, 2012

Congee: the ultimate porridge

One of my favourite foods during the colder months is porridge. In the last couple of weeks I have been doing the community a great service in trying as many different cafe variations as I can, but I'll save that for a future post (front runner is Three Bags Full with their rolled oat & triticale chewy grain combo). All this thinking about porridge naturally segued into a south east asian version of porridge otherwise known as CONGEE ! I'm sure congee is no stranger to most of you all, but I'm here to convince you how god dang easy it is to make at home. And cheap, did I mention it is outrageously cheap to make? Cheap cheap cheap.

Basically, congee is just rice and water that has been boiled together. Boiling down of the rice allows starch to be released which thickens the water giving congee it's porridge consistency. The term congee actually comes from the Indian work kanji which refers to the water which rice has been cooked in. Congee can come in 101 forms around Asia but I will just give you a simple recipe which you can add whatever you like to and brand it your own.

1 cup rice (use short or medium grain if possible, long grain and brown rice take a lot longer to break down)
8-10 cups water/stock
1tbsp sesame oil

Step 1. Wash the rice thorougly, add the sesame oil and salt and leave the rice to 'marinate' for 1hr

Step 2. Add the water/stock and ginger, then leave the pot to boil for ~3 hours on a low heat, stirring occasionally so the rice doesn't stick to the bottom. Traditionally congee would be left on a stove/fire/ancient Chinese temple coals etc etc.. overnight, so basically you can either cook it the 'express way' or the 'slow and romantic' way.

This photo was taken after about an hour, you can see the rice guzzles up all the stock like a pig on a hot summers day, so keep topping it up - depending on what consistency you are after.

Step 3. Choose your toppings 

I'm a sucker for incorporating as many deep fried elements into meals as possible, but sneakily so you still give the illusion of being healthy. I LOVE YOU TIAO aka chinese donuts aka 'crullers' (which I always thought was bad AZN misspelling of curlers.. kind of explains the looks I got when I asked for curlers on Vic st). White pepper, soy sauce, spring onion, fried shallots and sesame oil are a MUST. Oh god - and chilli oil. Lez spice it up.

Et Voila !

I was making this batch of congee for a group including vegos, so this is a tame version. I usually cook congee up with roast duck bones, and serve it up with the roast duck and salted egg. If you want to be a real authentic hard ass then you would eat it with congealed pigs blood, but I am afraid I'm not real enough for that. Another meaty option is stirring through mince pork with the rice when you boil it up.

For those who don't know what congealed pigs blood looks like - here is a photo for you ! No surprises there.

So probably not a good finishing photo but I hope I can convince you how easy it is to cook congee. I am still blown away by the amount you make with just one cup of rice. Next time you are broke and crying in bed cutting up your credit cards just remember making congee at home will only cost you a couple of dollars. Bloody brilliant!!

If you fancy hitting the town, a couple of not to shabby spots you can grab a cheap bowl of congee are:

Supper Inn (from $7 a bowl, and open til 3am to satisfy all your drunk congee cravings)
Supper Inn on Urbanspoon

Red Silk
Red Silk on Urbanspoon

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