Friday, March 28, 2008

Too Much Rice?

I find it almost impossible to cook just the right amount of rice I need for any sized group. It is especially difficult cooking rice for two, and reheating properly cooked rice just doesn’t seem to work out so well. I’ve made congee in the past in the restaurant setting, and can see how this would easily be a useful technique in the home kitchen as well.

Congee in its most simple form is rice porridge. The method of cooking, and density of the end product vary from Northern China where other grains might be used to southern India where congee is served with spicy fish curries. In most countries congee is considered a therapeutic food since it is easy to digest. Congee also functions as a way to stretch a small amount of rice to feed a large family or guest party. I think of congee as a means to use left over white rice, mostly because this is how I’ve come to use congee in the restaurant.

The traditional way of making congee is to simply way overcook white rice until grains breakdown and a starchy, viscous soup develops. The starting ratio of liquid to rice is as high as 12 to 1. Some rice makers have a special congee setting, but I don’t have a rice maker, nor do I have the time to slowly cook down rice and pay constant attention that it doesn’t scorch.

To make congee I prefer to either use properly cooked left over rice that has been cooked with a 3 to 1 ratio of liquid to rice at which point I would reheat the rice with just enough liquid to cover. If I was starting with raw rice I would start with a 4 to 1 ratio. Instead of cooking the rice for a long time, I prefer to speed things up by using a blender or food processor to break down the grains. This works best with warm rice, which is why we reheated the leftovers. I also prefer to leave about a quarter of the rice as whole, plump overcooked grains. I’ve also found that processing the rice just until the grains break down produces a silky congee opposed to a further blended mixture that tends to tighten up. Finally, remember it’s a lot easier to add some liquid to the blend than to try to cook liquid out.

My favorite flavoring for congee is pickled ginger. I proceed with making the congee just as described but in the blender along with the rice I add sugar, pickled ginger, and pickled ginger vinegar, salt, and white pepper. The sugar and vinegar balance is important as to ending up with a congee that is tart, but not puckeringly bitter. This starch base works very well with both soy and spicy sauces or proteins.

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