Many of us have had congee at some top hotel or at hawker center. Some like those serve in hotel dim sum 皮蛋瘦肉粥 or 干贝粥. While some others may be deeply in love with hawker center 猪杂粥, 鱼片粥 or 花生粥. No matter what you love, the base is still the same; Congee.
This type of rice porridge is really traditional and close to our heart as a Chinese. So how do you actually make them? I have been blessed to be able to work in a Chinese kitchen which does it own Congee right from the scratch. Making it is easy, making a good one is not!
I'll divide Congee into 3 components.
For us Singaporeans, Jasmin rice is so readily available. It has really nice fragrance if top quality ones are used. The trick in making a good congee is to include just a little glutinous rice. Why? The ideal texture of congee should be thick which could be achieve through reduction of the congee till most liquid is evaporated. However that will affect the texture which result in a not so smooth congee. With the addition of glutinous rice, it will help thicken the congee to a very smooth and silky consistency without the need of reduction or additional of starch thickener.
Jasmin rice : Glutinous rice
50 : 1
Soaking the rice overnight will allow the starch to absorb water and swell so it shorten the cooking time greatly.
Well, you need to use liquid to cook congee. There is no right and wrong answer as to what liquid u use to cook it.
People who loves their congee white should use tap water to cook it. then flavour it with salt and pepper later.
However if colour is not of concern, a well flavoured stock can really pack a punch. There are many different master chinese chef with different recipe for their 上汤(superior stock).
What i learn here at my workplace, the base is Old hen, Pork loin, Jin hua ham, Dried longan and white peppercorn. However, i prefer something with more smokey and with more depth. What i will do is to add and additional ingredient, roasted pork bones. This can really impart a depth in flavour and that little smokiness that is not really overpowering.
1kg old hen, blanched
600g pork loin, blanched
300g jin hua ham, blanched
300g Roasted pork bone, Blanched (i use it only if making pork congee)
10g dried longan
1 tsp white peppercorn
(Recipe not tested not proven, the one i do at my work place uses 20kg old hen, 12kg pork loin... can imagine different in amount?)
Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer and leave it for 6h. Skim off the oil and impurities frequently.
Strain and discard the ingredients. (or keep it and make a remoulage, strain and discard the ingredients then reduce the liquid and make demi glaze, homemade stock cubes :) )
This will probably yield only 5L or less of stock.
Rice : Stock : Water
1 : 6 : 6
To cook the congee, bring the rice and stock to a boil. Turn down the heat and the trick is to lower the heat yet keep it boiling. This takes temperature control skills. Home kitchen should be much easier.
Then when the rice starts to split open meaning it absorbs so much water that it swells so much, it explodes, use a balloon whisk and whisk it till it breaks up and make sure the whisk touch the bottom of the pot to stir it properly to prevent the congee from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
How do you know when it is done? Using a ladle, take a scoop and see. The rice should be all broken up and the consistency should be thick yet runny. What is thick yet runny? pour the congee back using the ladle, u should see its like a line of water flowing yet towards the end its a little thick and it drop as a small lump. If its too runny, cook it a little longer. If its too thick, add Hot water.
Only after the congee is done, then you can season it. Salt & pepper. Some would like oyster sauce, sesame oil, soya sauce. Nothing wrong but i would just keep it simple with salt and see what i would add as toppings b4 adding other seasonings. If i add seafood, oyster sauce, salt and pepper will do the job. If i add pork, i would need sesame oil.
Classic ones can be:
Lean pork + century egg
Ginger + fish
peanut + cuttle fish
pork + offal
But the truth is... the possibility is only limited with what u can think of. i love it with crab meat, scallop and prawns. well marinated and seasoned minced pork made into meatballs. Or just simple salted egg. If you can afford, abalone, why not?
However no matter how you present it, there is a important ingredient that all should have. Fragrance Oil 香油。
fry these ingredients well with any neutral flavoured oil, i prefer corn oil. Using low heat wait till the flavour infused into the oil but don't burn any ingredient.
Just a few drops of this oil will really make the difference. Well sesame oil is good but you don't have to use it for every thing and shallot oil is just too plain compared to this.
As for dried scallop congee, it uses a different type of oil. Take cheap dried scallop and crush it a little. using cold oil over low heat, fry the dried scallop till it release its flavour into the oil. This will make scallop oil which really boost the flavour of the dried scallop congee. At my workplace, the dried scallop used in congee are top quality ones while the one use to make the oil is the side trimming of the top quality ones also.
So... With the combination of Rice, Liquid and Topping, a simple and delicious congee is formed! Smooth, Silky, Yummy :)