Many shops that specialise in congee - Chinese rice porridge - have a short menu of snacks, in case customers want something more substantial. These include fried wonton, fried fish balls with salted clam sauce, fried noodles with soy sauce, and a variety of poached fish, meats and offal. The poached dishes sound dull compared with the fried ones, but they are subtly delicious.
This dish takes only about half an hour to cook, and most of that time is spent preparing the shallots and garlic oil – the beef and bean sprouts take less than five minutes to poach. Not all congee shops top their poached beef with fried garlic and shallots, but those that do make batches for use within a day or two. At home, it is best to make it fresh.
Buy thinly sliced beef from the supermarket, usually labelled for sukiyaki or hotpot.
Aged soy sauce has a rich, not too salty flavour. I buy a brand called Yuan’s, which they label "royal soy sauce". It is expensive but a bottle lasts a long time, because the soy sauce is used in small amounts.
As well as congee, this dish is delicious with steamed rice, or boiled noodles.
Thinly slice the shallots and garlic, and put them into a small skillet or saucepan. Add the oil, then place the pan over a medium flame and heat until the ingredients are sizzling. Turn the flame to medium-low and cook until the shallots and garlic are medium brown.
Remove the pan from the heat and use a small, flat, slotted ladle to scoop the solids from the oil. Shake off as much oil as possible, then put the fried shallots and garlic on a plate. Leave the oil in the pan.
Shred the spring onions lengthwise, then cut them into 5cm (2in) pieces.
Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Add the bean sprouts and cook until they start to wilt, about 10 seconds or less. Immediately scoop them out using a large slotted ladle. Put the bean sprouts on a clean, dry dish towel and blot to remove the excess water. Pile the bean sprouts on a shallow serving dish.
Bring the pot of water back to the boil. Add the beef slices one by one. As soon as each slice loses its pink colour, remove it from the water and drain in a colander. After cooking all the beef, shake the colander to remove the excess water.
While the beef is cooking, reheat the oil used to fry the shallots and garlic.
Pile the beef onto the serving dish.
When the oil is hot, add the spring onions and stir until they wilt. Use chopsticks to lay the wilted spring onions over the beef.
Drizzle the soy sauce over the ingredients, then scatter the fried shallots and garlic on top. Drizzle about 30ml (2tbsp) of the shallot-and-garlic oil over the ingredients and serve immediately.