粥 glorious 粥 – rice porridge, Cantonese style

Having made so much pepperpot soup, I ate it for lunch and dinner Saturday, Sunday and Monday – but it was a bit full on to have for breakfast as well.
Sunday morning I made 粥 – zhōu – rice porridge – congee. It is one of my favorite ever breakfasts whatever you call it and it costs about 25p for a litre, including spring onion and ginger for the topping – bargain.
If you look on wikipedia, there’s names for it in 24 or so languages from all over Asia, and in Chinese cooking it is cooked in various styles, both sweet and savoury, (also sometimes with other grains, ground or whole, such as millet, corn etc) – lots of Chinese shops in the UK also sell a multi grain mix. Nearly everywhere, though, it is recommended for the elderly, the sick and young children, as well as for breakfast – it is generally great comfort food, with a sweet, fragrant yet clean taste. I know I always think of making it when I feel old, or ill….or childish 🙂
It’s also often served with a dim sum meal.
Different recipes use different types of rice, and for ages I thought this was down to which region or community the cook came from, but a few months ago, in a lazy moment, I counted how many porridge recipes were in my chinese cookbook from the Jilin Cookery School – a whopping 167, it turns out, and they use a variety of methods and rice types – I had been, for years, using half glutinous and half normal rice – which usually turned out just fine, but not always 😦 so I asked the lovely bloke who works at Hung’s on Wardour St (he’s in charge of the bbq meat and noodle section at the front, but he also does the porridge) and after a bit of confusion, ‘cos we were using different words for the same thing and my chinese is not perfect – he told me they use short grain ‘japonica’ rice – if you’re English, and you’re reading this – this is not short grain pudding rice – it’s everyday japanese rice or sushi rice. Don’t buy the tiny packs for making sushi in the supermarket either – it costs a bomb. In a Chinese/Vietnamese/Korean/Japanese store an unbranded bag should cost about £1.99 a kilo, and you only need 100g to make a litre.

Ingredients for 2 big bowls
100g/ 2 handfuls short grain rice
Approx 1 litre of water
5-6 fine julienne of fresh ginger
chopped spring onion
salt or something salty – to taste

anything else you fancy – coriander/mushrooms/greens/seasoned freeze dried tofu/chinese sausage/fried shallot/fish/ chilli bean paste – sky’s the limit.

you can adjust the level of water to make it thinner or thicker, but it should be at least 8 parts water to 1 part rice for the thickest kind, and then you’ll have to stir it constantly near the end so it doesn’t catch and burn. To make a thinner version use 12-14 parts water.

Method
Wash the rice to get rid of excess starch dust, place in a heavy bottomed pan with water and bring to the boil – stir a couple of times to make sure no grains have stuck to the bottom, and turn down to the lowest simmer possible – the secret is cooking it slowly and gently, so that the starch comes out of the grains without breaking up – cook for an hour, hour and a half, stirring a few times near the end to make sure it doesn’t catch – make sure you only put the lid on the pan half way, because it will bubble up and mess up your stove even at such a low heat. Season with salt or bouillon powder or what you will, pour into your bowl, add ginger and spring onion and whatever you’re using and enjoy. Often for breakfast, the porridge is just seasoned, and pickles/fermented beancurd or whatever are served on the side, but you’re in the comfort of your own kitchen so you can do what you want.

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