Thursday, 3 March 2011

Illness congee

It’s definitely the only time I’ve been smitten with a meal on a plane. It was breakfast on an Air China flight, and the flight attendant offered me ‘porridge or cooked breakfast’. In my bleary-eyed and fragile state, I was vaguely surprised at the option, but considered the comforting quality of porridge and went for that. How bad could it be, compared to rubber eggs and … wedges? Well, you be the judge.

It turned out to be congee rather than Uncle Toby’s, and, with nothing to it beyond rice and water and some sort of preserved egg and pickles, it was the epitome of comfort. Almost tasteless, like baby food; translucent fragments of rice as a milky souplike formlessness.

Since then, I’ve made it at home for breakfast; whenever I’m home alone and can’t be bothered cooking anything else (can’t be beaten as a work-knackered singles solution); and when I’m under the weather but am able to shuffle about the kitchen for the time it takes. With the throat and woolly head I’ve got right now I would have preferred someone else cook it and bring it up the stairs, maybe even spoon it gently into my mouth (okay, that’d be a recipe for impatience), but needs must when the devil drives.

Consider these excellent congee features:

·      Ideal for when there’s nothing in the fridge in the way of ‘fresh’ veg except for an ageing carrot and a shrivelled spring onion.
·      One-pot chuck-stuff-in wonder.
·      Costs about thirty cents a meal; ooh, maybe forty cents if getting fancy with dried shiitakes.
·      As well as 50% cheaper, could be argued to be more nutritious than Maggi Chicken-Flavoured Two-Minute Noodles, especially if tailored to the needs of an upper-respiratory-ailment sufferer. As I fall into that category, today’s congee was supplemented with grated ginger, chilli and a few whole peeled garlic cloves. 

 Congee is about as old as humankind and has a thousand names and cooking methods, often much more elaborate and interesting ones than found here, but this is my unschooled take on it.

1/4 cup broken rice, or about a cup of last night’s leftover cooked rice
3–4 cups water.
The rest is up to you, the contents of your fridge, and your energy levels.

As well as the above odorous substances, today I added a roughly chopped carrot and celery stick, a teaspoon of stock powder, and a few broken dried shiitakes. That was about all I had available, since it’s now Thursday and the lean end of the week. Other times I’ve added dried anchovies, XO or soy sauce or sesame oil, a handful of bok choy or coriander, leftover bits of roast chicken, fermented black beans if I’m feeling brave, or an egg at the last minute.

Bung the rice in a small saucepan, cover with water a few times and swoosh around a bit to wash, then add the cooking water and a pinch of salt and leave it to do its thing over a low–medium flame, stirring now and then – like every time you add an ingredient found at the back of the veggie crisper.

That seems a lot of water to rice, I know. But it somehow expands to use up all that liquid, especially with dried mushrooms. Twenty minutes should do it – it’ll keep thickening on standing, too. It takes a while to cool down enough to prop under the chin, lie back and feebly eat with a soup spoon.

The mushrooms in this one make it look a bit muddy, whereas the simpler you go the whiter and more pleasing its appearance.

I shall now slump back on my pillows, and promise there will be matters more demanding of finesse dealt with soon. I was to be making macawrongs this week, FFS!

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