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Congee gets flavorful kick-start into lunch, dinner menus

May 25, 2015

Fat Rice chef/co-owner Abraham Conlon provided a home-cook friendly version of his congee that tops the dish with egg, mushrooms, tofu and more.

Congee ó itís not just for breakfast anymore. Chefs are spooning up the comforting rice porridge all kinds of ways at brunch, lunch and dinner too.

Take Minh Phan of Porridge and Puffs in Los Angeles.

"Although porridge is one of the oldest of any and every culture, I think it is only (now) coming into its own modern iteration," Phan writes in an email. "As for the LA scene, I hope porridge becomes the new ramen" ó meaning the reimagined dish of the moment.

What is congee?

"Itís just overcooked rice," says LA chef Mei Lin. Yet belying that humble description, her souped up version with carnitas, scallion puree, hot sauce, peanuts and egg yolk helped her cement the title of Top Chef on the Bravo TV showís 12 season in February.

Congee is one of the few dishes chefs are becoming known for that home cooks can realistically do themselves using whatever ingredients and garnishes they have on-hand, as the curried vegetarian congee from Abraham Conlon, chef/co-owner of Fat Rice in Chicago, proves. For whatever else congee may be or could become in terms of restaurant trends, it continues to be an enduring staple for millions every day. Indeed, itís known across many Asian cuisines: In China, itís "jook" or "juk," in Korea "juk" and in Thailand "khao tom gung," according to "The New Food Loverís Companion. Phan notes itís "chao" in Vietnam.

"I grew up with it as comfort food," says Lin, who is developing a restaurant in LA. She notes that anyone familiar with grits or risotto should be able to relate to congee.

"You can flavor it anyway you want," she adds. "It can be an all-day type dish. I eat it for breakfast and I can eat it for dinner. Itís universal."

As chefs put their spin on this homey dish, they also are focusing on the grain. Both Conlon and Phan note you donít have to use just rice. Try teff, amaranth, quinoa, millet or buckwheat. Thatís one reason Phan prefers to use the term "California porridge" in referring to her dishes because congee is a word that "sets up people for an expectation."

"Porridge is a more general term, giving us flexibility in not only the grains we use, but range in cooking techniques, and expectation of flavor, consistency," she wrote. "For the most part, our porridge is most similar to Asian porridge because of the chosen grain; however, the consistency is more similar to risotto."

Her porridges, she says "definitely taste like California."

Conlon says congee in Cantonese cuisine tends to have "lighter, simpler flavors" ó perhaps a preserved duck egg or scallions and some soy sauce or chili oil. But, as Lin proved with her winning congee, the flavor spectrum is widening markedly.

Indeed, thereís nothing Phan canít think of anything in a home kitchen that doesnít go with her porridge. Peanut butter or Nutella works with kasha or oatmeal. Soy sauce and ponzu pair well with rice. Donít forget butter, olive oil and jams, both sweet and savory, she added. On her menu is a porridge called pickles and jam: heirloom rice paired with a spicy lemon grass jam and mustard green pickles.

"The beauty of congee is a combination of two things, a simply flavored creamy rice/legume porridge and highly flavored contrasting garnish," Conlon wrote in an email.

And, yes, Conlon is up for congee at breakfast, too.

"You can put in things that are like a little bit of fish or a little bit of chicken or a little bit of hard boiled egg to give you great energy of the day," he says.

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CURRIED CONGEE

Prep: 5 minutes

Cook: 30 minutes

Makes: 2 servings

You can start with raw rice or cooked rice in this recipe from Abraham Conlon of Fat Rice. We used raw rice, but give his directions for using cooked rice below. For the cooking liquid, use chicken, fish pork or vegetable broth, or water flavored with a little ginger and green onion, Conlon says.

1/2 cup raw jasmine rice, rinsed in water to remove excess starch1 quart water

1/2 cup coconut milk, optional

1/4 inch slice ginger, left whole

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon curry powder, optional

In a 2 quart saucepan, combine rice, water or broth, coconut milk (If not using coconut milk supplement with equal amount of water or broth), ginger and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil and let boil, 2 minutes. Turn the heat down to a simmer; cook until the raw rice is fully cooked and staring to break apart, about 15 minutes. Add curry powder and remaining salt. Cook, stirring, until rice achieves desired texture. The rice should continue breaking up and thickening the liquid. Remove ginger piece; serve piping hot with garnishes.

Cooked rice: If starting with cooked rice, use 1 cup cooked rice, 3 1/2 cups broth, 1/2 cup coconut milk, 1/4-inch slice ginger, 1 teaspoon curry powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Follow directions above; but cooked rice start to break up in 7-8 minutes.

GARNISHES

Thinly sliced green onions

Shredded fresh ginger

Soy sauce, sriracha, etc.

Roasted peanuts

Hard-cooked eggs

Sauteed mushrooms, such as trumpet or shiitake

Tofu, cubed

Cooked fish, crab or pork, cubed or shredded

CONGEE WITH CARNITAS, SCALLION PUREE, HOT SAUCE, PEANUTS AND EGG

Prep: 45 minutes

Cook: 2 hours

Makes: 6 servings

This recipe is based on one Mei Lin used to help clinch the season 12 title on Bravo TVís "Top Chef." Look for avocado leaves at Mexican groceries or omit them. Lin used an egg yolk slow-poached in a sous vide machine to add silky richness to her winning dish. We suggest a soft-cooked egg.

Braised pork:

2 onions, quartered

1/4 cup grapeseed or canola oil

1/2 pound pork butt (fattier the better)

2 quarts chicken stock

1 head garlic, cloves separated, peeled

1 cup soy sauce

1 cup tamarind paste

5 avocado leaves, optional

1 tablespoon coriander seeds

Congee:

2 tablespoons grapeseed or canola oil

1/2 cup minced onions

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup jasmine rice

1/2 cup sushi rice

5 cups chicken stock

3 cups water

Salt, ground white pepper

Hot sauce:

1 onion, cut in small dice

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons grapeseed or canola oil

1 bag (4 ounces) chile de arbol (aka de arbol peppers), softened, see note

3 chipotle peppers in adobo

Scallion puree:

4 bunches scallions, green portions only

1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt

Garnish:

Chili-lime spiced peanuts (or plain roasted peanuts), minced cilantro stems, soft-cooked egg

For the braised pork, toss the onions with a little oil. Roast on a rimmed baking sheet in a 425 degree oven until caramelized, 30-45 minutes.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a skillet over medium-high heat; sear pork on all sides, 10 minutes. Transfer pork to the insert of a pressure cooker. Add caramelized onions, chicken stock, garlic, soy sauce, tamarind paste, avocado leaves, if using, and coriander seeds. Lock lid. Cook, 45 minutes on high. (Alternatively, cook in a Dutch oven over low heat until tender.) Use the quick-release method to bring the potís pressure to normal. Unlock the pot. Shred pork; fry until crispy in a skillet with remaining oil. Strain braising liquid, discarding solids; reduce liquid in a saucepan over medium heat until thick enough to coat a wooden spoon. Add crispy pork back to braising liquid.

For the congee, heat oil in a skillet over medium heat; cook onions and garlic until softened, 5 minutes. Add rice; toast, stirring, 3 minutes. Add stock and water. Lower heat to a simmer. Cook at a simmer until thick like a pureed soup. Keep in mind to stir every 5 minutes to ensure it doesnít scorch the bottom of the pan. Adjust the way you like your congee, I like mine on the looser side. Season with salt and white pepper to taste.

For the hot sauce, cook the onions and garlic in the oil over medium heat until softened. Transfer to a food processor; add chile de arbol and chipotle peppers. Process until smooth. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve.

For the scallion puree, cut the greens into small pieces. In a hot pan, add oil. Saute greens until they become vibrant green, 30 seconds. Add a bit of water for it to steam; remove from heat immediately. Puree in food processor until smooth and silky. Season with salt.

To serve, garnish bowls of congee with the pork, hot sauce, scallion puree, peanuts, cilantro and egg.

Note: Place chilies in a bowl. Cover with boiling water. Let stand until softened, 20 minutes. Drain.

 

 


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