Congee is one of my favourite comfort foods, although I'm aware that if you didn't grow up eating it, you probably see it as dull and boring. In many Asian cultures, plain congee - just rice and water - is the first "solid" food that's fed to babies. Adults, though, tend to appreciate congee cooked with (or served with) stronger flavours.
Plain congee is delicious served with a drizzle of soy sauce and sesame oil, and with side dishes of pickled vegetables, toasted peanuts, minced spring onion, fresh coriander and century egg or salted egg.
These two recipes are hearty, though, and need little added to them because they're delicious on their own.
Chiu Chow oyster congee (pictured)
For this dish, you need small oysters (about 2.5cm in length or smaller). You can buy them, already shelled, from some wet-market sea-food vendors.
If you have home-made chicken broth in your fridge or freezer, this dish takes less than 30 minutes to make. If you don't, buy six chicken wings and a few chicken feet and rinse them well. Put them in a pot of water with two slices of ginger and two spring onions. Bring the ingredients to the boil then lower the heat and simmer for about an hour. Strain out the solids before using the broth. You can also make a quick broth by simmering the carcass and any leftover meat from a roast chicken with water for about 30 minutes.
The recipe is adapted from one I found on www.daydaycook.com.
150 grams minced pork
¼ tsp sugar
20ml rice wine
300 grams baby oysters
1 tsp cornstarchFine sea salt and finely ground white pepper
200 grams cooked long-grain white rice
About 600ml home-made unsalted chicken broth
1 piece (about 4cm long) tung choi (a Chiu Chow-style preserved vegetable, also known as dong cai)
Fresh coriander leaves
Spring onions, minced
Put the pork in a bowl, add the sugar, rice wine, a quarter of a teaspoon of fine sea salt and a pinch of white pepper and combine thoroughly.
Put the oysters in a bowl and mix in the cornstarch and one teaspoon of fine sea salt. Leave for a few minutes then put the ingredients into a colander and rinse thoroughly under cool running water, then drain. Check the oysters carefully and remove any bits of shell.
Thoroughly rinse the tung choi to rid it of any grit and excess salt. Pat it dry with paper towels, then mince it finely.
Put the rice in a saucepan and add the chicken broth. Bring to the boil then add the minced pork. Break up the meat with the back of a spoon, then bring to a simmer. Add the tung choi and the oysters and simmer for about two minutes. If the mixture seems too thick, add some boiling water. Taste for seasonings and adjust, if needed. Ladle the ingredients into bowls and top each portion with fresh coriander and spring onion, then sprinkle with white pepper before serving.
Roast duck congee with meatballs
This is a dish my grandmother would serve at Sunday lunch. Buy the roast duck in one piece (unchopped), from a siu mei shop.
1 roast duck
180 grams long-grain rice
4 litres water
1 piece dried tangerine peel
2-4 thin slices of ginger, peeled
For the meatballs:
450 grams minced pork
200 grams fresh shrimp, peeled and minced
15ml soy sauce
10ml rice wine
1 tsp sesame oil
¼ tsp fine sea salt
¼ tsp granulated sugar
A pinch of ground white pepper
1 tsp cornstarch
2 spring onions, minced
1 slice ginger, peeled and minced
A small handful of fresh coriander, chopped
Ground white pepper
Spring onions, chopped
Pull the meat and skin from the duck carcass. Cut the meat and skin into bite-size pieces then set them aside.
Put the duck carcass into a large pan, add the water and bring to the boil. Lower the heat, cover the pan with the lid and simmer for 45 minutes. Strain the stock into a bowl and discard the bones.
Put the dried tangerine peel, sliced ginger and rice into the pan with 2.5 litres of the duck stock. Bring to the boil then lower the heat, cover the pan with the lid and cook until the rice is very tender and the mixture is thick but drinkable. If it's too thick, stir in more duck stock or some boiling water.
While the congee is cooking, make the meatballs. Mix the minced pork with the shrimp meat, soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil, salt, sugar, pepper and cornstarch. Gently stir in the spring onion, ginger and coriander, then form the mixture into meatballs that are 1.5cm in diameter.
When the congee is almost ready, stir in the meatballs and the duck meat and skin (you might not want to add all the duck meat/skin; if it seems like there's too much, refrigerate it and use it for another dish). Cook for about 10 more minutes, or until the meatballs are done. Taste the congee and add salt, if needed.
Ladle the congee into bowls, making sure that each portion has some duck and meatballs. Add sesame oil, white pepper, spring onion and coriander, then serve.