Congee or Jook is a Chinese staple that is eaten any time of day or night. It is healthy and good for you as well as a tasty snack or meal depending on what you put in it. The basic Congee is simply rice and water. One part rice and 3 parts water and its brought to a boil and then simmered for several hours to a consistency of porridge. When I was growing up in Chinatown, New York City, besides dim sum for breakfast, you can order a bowl of jook. You can have it plain which is simply rice or you can have things like fermented bean cake, preserved radish, chicken, pork, fish, ginkgo nuts, 1000 year old eyes (I’ll get into that one later), and many many more.
At home most families will make it with chicken, pork, turkey, using the carcass instead of throwing it away. For instance, after Thanksgiving each year, I use the turkey carcass and make turkey jook. The bones are put in the pot after the simmering starts and whatever pieces that is left over is shredded and put in the pot also. I’ll also add ginkgo nuts to it to add a natural sweetness to it. Pork is also a good ingredient to put in, a nice pork chop with the bone would also give the jook a nice flavour when it is done.
When someone is ill in a Chinese household, a large pot of Jook would be made, plain so that it is easily digestible and the person that is ill will not have many things to chew. Also being plain, if the person has a unsettled stomach the plain rice porridge will not upset their stomach any more then it needs. When I was a child, if I was sick, had a fever or some illness and I can’t eat much of anything I would be served a bowl of plain jook. This serves the purpose of providing me with a nourishing meal and also providing me with the needed fluids to keep me hydrated. As you begin to get better, then things like soy sauce, preserved radish, scallions, etc can be added.
Garnishes for congee can be scallions, preserved radish, peanuts, Asian Parsley, and my favorites are Crullers, and the above mentioned 1000 year old eggs. Now before you make that face, the name is not what it really is, sort of. It is duck, chicken or quail egg that is preserved in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, lime and rice hulls for several weeks or months depending on the method of processing.
The yolk becomes a dark green or grey colour with a creamy consistency and the odor of sulfur and ammonia. The white becomes a dark brown, translucent jelly with little flavour. This egg can also be sliced like oranges slices and served on a plate as a appetizer. The crullers are the favorites of children because it is a long fried piece of dough and you break it up and put on top of the jook or you can simply dunk it into the jook and take a bite of it.
Make yourself a large pot of jook and like a blank canvass try different things and soon you’ll discover which ingredients are your favorites. Though if you ask any Chinese family how they make it you’ll come away with a different recipe each and every time.
Congee (Jook), scallions, 1000 year old eggs, chicken