Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Savory congee, one pot rice porridge

Winter at similar time periods, it's definitely much milder here in Taiwan than in California - at least no snow or snow storms in Taiwan. But temperatures are still relatively lower especially in the early mornings and from the 6-ish evenings.

When the temperature is down (or when I am down with flu or cold - like now :( ), I never fail to turn to my comfort foods. Porridge or congee is definitely a heartening meal for me. The warm liquid of the congee literally lines the entire digestive channel starting from my tastebuds to my stomach, with a protective layer that seems to trigger mild exothermic reactions, re-generating and giving off the much needed body heat to keep myself warm within, to the outside.

To my little knowledge, the local Taiwanese here and some Hokkiens have a congee/porridge dish, known simply as Savory Congee, or 咸粥 ~ Xian Zhou (or Hokkiens may call it Kiam Beh). I remember when I was much much younger, my grandmother (a Hokkien) would always make this porridge dish with ingredients such as strips of pork, dried shrimps, sliced mushrooms, and sliced fish cake or sliced fish ball (More on fish balls, and how to make fish cakes from fish balls -- check out posts here and here).

Oh, I enjoyed that congee but at that age of ignorance and reluctance (to learn), I never bothered to find out how the congee was prepared. It must be my lucky day when I happened to watch a Taiwanese cooking programme over the TV - featuring a local Taiwanese cook Savory Congee, or 咸粥 ~ Xian Zhou! I picked up the key tips and there, becomes my one-dish dinner for Monthly Mingle on a cold winter night.

Savory porridge
-1/2lbs minced pork or lean pork strips
-2 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
-1tsp dried shrimps, pre-soak in water for 5mins to soften
-2 dried scallops, pre-soak in water for 5mins to soften
-2 large dried shitake mushrooms, pre-soak in water to soften, then squeezed to remove water, and sliced to thin slices
-4 cuttlefish balls, sliced then cut into thin strips (can replace with fish ball/fish cake)
-1 cup rice
-water accordingly
-salt and pepper to taste
-celery tips, or leaves, diced into very fine bits- garnish

A complete meal out from a pot!

1. In a stock pot, add in 1tbsp oil and at low-medium heat, fry the pork, garlic, dried shrimps, dried scallops, dried mushrooms, cuttlefish slices
2. When fragrant, add in the washed rice so that the rice grains gets imparted with the flavor of the ingredients through the oil and heat
3. Add in water and let the rice grains to slowly cook(simmer) to congee/porridge, stirring it at intervals (Note: it depends how you like your porridge - if you like it thicker and viscous, you do not have to add so much water or otherwise). This will take 15mins or more.
4. Season with salt and white pepper to taste

Through the slow cooking of rice grains in the pot with all the ingredients right from the start, PLUS the stirring of the rice mixture at intervals during simmering, these rice grains have broken up so much and the porridge/congee is so smooth to down. While I know that some congee like this has been cooked so smooth (cannot even see whole grains anymore!) by using a mixture of rice grains (broken grains, pearl grains etc.), the constant stirring method works well for me too. My, do you think I have cooked my porridge/congee smooth, or needs more improvement? :P

One spoonful loaded with pork, mushroom, dried scallops

The technique used in this Savory Congee, or 咸粥 ~ Xian Zhou is new to me especially when cooking porridge/congee is concerned. Usually, I would start cooking porridge by boiling rice grains in water, then add in the ingredients. But this time, I pre-fried the ingredients to expel the aroma and flavor (爆香), then also add in rice grains to mix with these pre-fried ingredients so that the final taste of the porridge/congee is unified, in terms of depths of aroma and savory flavors.


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