Yesterday, I popped out for a short run on one of the trails near our apartment:
Speaking of appetites, let’s get back to the porridge, shall we? [If you’re confused, check out the first part of the porridge discussion in my last post, What Happens When the Colonizers Don’t Discuss Porridge?]
The Chinese equivalent of America’s Good Housekeeping Cookbook is probably Irene Kuo’s The Key to Chinese Cooking [ref. My Mother-In-Law, et al.].
The title is a bit misleading, though, because the book is 532 pages long. Clearly, there must be more than one key. Or else, it’s an incredibly long key. I don’t know what that lock would look like…but I digress. This tome is actually out-of-print, but KMN managed to secure me a like-new copy this summer. I’ve only dabbled in it so far, and I’m sure that Mdm. Kuo and I have a long and adventure-full future ahead of us.
But one of the recipes that I have tried is the one for Rice Porridge. I have long known that porridge is one of KMN’s comfort foods – and let’s be honest – even a progressive, modern feminist wants to be able to cook her husband’s comfort food, right? Well, this one does, at least. So when the book arrived, I immediately flipped to the index to hunt down the porridge details. This is taken from the Rice Porridge introduction:
“Known as hsi-fan, ‘thin rice,’ rice porridge is the basis of breakfast for most Chinese…Made by simmering a small quantity of rice with a large amount of water, the resulting rice is a creamy gruel. The porridge is served in individual bowls with an accompanying assortment of tasty and highly seasoned cold dishes, such as salted and preserved eggs, vegetables, or fish and leftover red-cooked or stir-fried meats and poultry.” [The Key to Chinese Cooking, Irene Kuo]
The recipe looks straightforward: 1/3 cup rice + 4 cups water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let rice “bounce gently in the bubbling liquid” for 5 minutes to loosen the starch. Stir. Cover and simmer for 1 hour. Serve with whatever garnishes/toppings you choose.
Seems simple enough, right? Or not. I’ve tried it three times so far, with varied degrees of (but never complete) success:
Attempt #1: We were still living in the US, and I had just gotten the book. I was anxious to try the recipe. I asked KMN what would make good porridge topping. His reply? “Anything!” I took him at his word. I made a passable but porridge (it only boiled over on the stove once), and topped it with things we already had in the fridge, including chicken sausage and a leftover asparagus saute. The porridge itself was pretty bland, and the toppings…well, they weren’t especially Chinese. And the “fusion” concept didn’t translate so well where porridge was concerned.
Attempt #2: After this uninspiring result, I went on a bit of a porridge hiatus. [OK, we also moved our entire life to Singapore during this time.] But once we were settled in Singapore, with our pots and pans unpacked, I decided to try again. Somehow, though, I misread the recipe as 1 cup of rice + 4 cups of water. Obviously, this didn’t get too soupy, and I essentially ended up making regular rice. It wasn’t even good steamed rice, though. For that, I highly recommend a rice cooker. I’m a total convert and won’t make regular steamed rice any other way anymore. Also, the rice cooker never boils over.
Attempt #3: I thought that using some chicken stock in place of water might liven up the flavor a bit. I’d made some stock earlier this week, so decided to use that to try the porridge thing again. In case you aren’t friends with me on Facebook, here is the status update that accompanied this third pot o’ porridge:
These shenanigans resulted in a stove and pot that looked something like this —>
I mostly blame the stove, and my inexperience with it – even after 2 months. The flame *does* conspire to either completely halt or dramatically expedite my cooking, I swear. [Of course, the fact that I was trying to type blog posts, edit photos, and reply to email while cooking dinner was totally unrelated to the boil-overs.]
With much trial and error, and a vented lid, I was able to achieve some semblance of a simmer. But despite an extra half hour of cooking, I never really achieved “doneness”, as defined be Mdm. Kuo:
Furthermore, my rice grains were still pretty well intact. They didn’t get as broken apart as I’d hoped, and the mixture wasn’t *quite* as creamy and starchy as the really good porridges I’ve had here. But, inspired by some porridge I’d had (out) over the weekend, I added a bit of cooked ground pork, then topped the whole thing with scallions and sliced fishcake. Halfway through slicing the fishcake, I realized I’d cut it along the non-standard axis. Duh. Well, I was feeling creative, so I had fishcake circles instead of strips/ovals. The finished product actually looked pretty good, when served with some sauteed Chinese veggies
So really, I can’t complain too much about this third attempt. The chicken broth gave the porridge a good flavor, and I finally managed to get the “right” kind of Chinese toppings. I do wish my rice had gotten a bit more creamy, though. Maybe my problem was the boil overs, or the extra fat in the broth (vs. water), or perhaps the kind of rice I was using. I think maybe next time, I’ll bring my laptop out into the kitchen while the porridge simmers, to keep an eye on the boiling-over situation…
In conclusion – Thanks, Mdm. Kuo. I promise to practice until I get this right!
Do you make rice porridge? What’s your secret?
Any tricks for cleaning burned starch off the stove…?