Now that nights are getting cooler, thoughts start turning towards warming dinners. I found myself at home alone one night recently craving something hot (our flat was the opposite) but not wanting to make my usual big batch of something (think soup, stew, etc). I thought of Chinese rice porridge (also known as congee – but there are variations all over Asia). This is total comfort food for me – it’s serious Chinese food for the ill though everyone eats it when perfectly healthy too.
What one tends to get if ordering congee in London is the very thick Cantonese style ones with some sort of flavouring cooked in: fish, century egg, pork, etc. My mother used to cook a Teochew style porridge (much more watery and the rice grains are still whole) with pork and we’d down bowlfuls of it seasoned to taste with soy sauce, white pepper, garlic oil and chopped spring onions. If you were to go out in Malaysia and Singapore and have Teochew porridge, you’d get a number of small, strongly flavoured dishes served alongside a bowl of plain Teochew style rice porridge. This was exactly what I wanted.
I’d never made a small batch of rice porridge before as I’d always cooked it for 2 or 3 (it doesn’t keep very well). But in a small pot, why not? And yes, I discovered it can certainly be cooked in small quantities – kitchen tigress gives a handy table for the ratio of rice to water required. I found that the amount I cooked (recipe below) provided me with two rice bowls of porridge, the perfect amount for my dinner.
Can’t forget about the dishes! As the Teochew porridge is unseasoned, the side dishes are usually quite salty. I made sauteed green beans, a chai poh (salted radish) omelette and cooked some minced pork with a chili black bean sauce. Looking around our kitchen, I found a few extras too that went well on the side: salted peanuts, half a hard boiled salted duck egg and some leftover dried prawn sambal. If it’s strongly flavoured, it’ll go well with the porridge! A bite of pork, a spoonful of porridge (actually, pros are able to push the top layer of porridge into one’s mouth with chopsticks), a nibble of salted egg, more porridge – I think it’s rather a fine supper on a cold night.
Teochew Porridge for One
Wash 1/4 cup of jasmine rice (or a regular long grained rice), drain, and then add 650ml water. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 15 minutes until the grains are soft but still whole. You don’t want them to end up as mush. It should be somewhere between thick and thin, still with liquid left. See this photo for reference.
Chai Poh Omelette
Beat 2 eggs together with a few dashes of fish sauce. Heat a frying pan over medium heat and add 1 tbsp of sunflower oil. When hot, add 1 finely chopped clove of garlic and two pieces of chai poh (Chinese salted radish), chopped, and fry together for a couple of minutes. Pour the eggs over and fry as you would a flat omelette.
Fried Green Beans
This shows up quite often when I have no idea what vegetable dish to make; if you can get long beans, then all the better. Trim your green beans and cut into approximately 3cm segments. Heat a little sunflower oil over medium-low heat and then add a smashed garlic clove to slowly cook in the oil. Discard the garlic and then add the beans. Fry, turning often, until the green beans are all wrinkly. Salt to taste.
Minced Pork with Chilli Black Bean Sauce
Rinse 1.5 tsp preserved black beans and chop roughly. Mix them together with 1 tbsp oyster sauce, 1 tbsp dark soy sauce, 1 tsp light soy sauce, a dash of Chinese black vinegar, 1/4-1/2 tsp sugar and 50 ml water.
Finely chop one clove of garlic and saute in 1 tbsp sunflower oil. Add about 200g minced pork and fry until cooked. Add about 1 tsp chilli paste and continue frying for another couple minutes. Pour in the sauce mixture, stir well and let simmer for a few minutes. Stir again and thicken with a little cornstarch/water mixture.