Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Teochew Porridge and The Basics


I swore last week I'll make a proper ceremony out of every meal. I'm going to sit down (at a table, not a desk) and eat with a fork and spoon (or chopsticks). Things are still not letting up, things may never let up until I graduate (and become a jobless bum. Unless someone hires me.)

If I were to do this my mum's way, a proper meal would involve a light slowcooked soup and 3 dishes, veggie fishy and usually porky. Nothing is necessarily difficult nor does it take more time overall, but you have a got a few more dishes to wash up this way, and I hate doing dishes. I've hardly had a meal like this since I'm on my own; it's always something one-pot or one-bowl, or one-hand. But I actually love the visual feast of seeing a few plates laid out, and I absolutely relish the whole ceremony of having to pick at food from different plates. So a couple of nights last week I took the time out to make mum-style meals, rice once, and Teochew porridge the other, and already I feel like a more sane person.
Teochew porridge, for the uninitiated, is probably quite queer. This is rice porridge by the way, not oats. But rather than its better known Cantonese congee cousin, Teochew mui is plain, not flavoured at all by the stock it's cooked in; and the softened grains are still whole, not broken down completely into a thick creamy jook. The best way to describe it, is probably...watery rice. Doesn't sound very appetising I know, but this is my ultimate comfort food, especially when I'm ill (or not).

It's plain of course, hence you have this with side dishes that are often very salty. Teochew porridge doesn't really just refer to that bowl or watery rice, but the whole 'setup'. Porridge places in Singapore often come with a gazillion side dishes to choose from, but the most basic must-have is chai poh omelette, fluffy eggs fried with salted turnip. And like all good asian meals, some kind of veg; I've gone for some purple sprouting broccoli from the farmer's market, simply steamed and dressed in fried shallot oil.



And that was it, I'm afraid, Teochew porridge for one rather broke and time-starved art student. Don't judge the lack of salted eggs, steamed fish, or soy-braised pork. It was originally peasant food after all.

TEOCHEW PORRIDGE
serves 1-2
Ingredients
1/2 cup new crop jasmine rice*
900ml water*

Method
1. Rinse rice twice. Mum insists.
2. Bring water to a boil. Add rice.
3. Continue to boil over medium high heat till cooked and the water turns starchy.
*New crop rice is freshly harvested that year. You can tell this simply: the (current) year will be announced proudly on a shiny label on the bag. New rice will cook up much faster into a stickier starchier porridge. You probably won't tell the difference unless you're a fussy rice eater like me, so feel free to use old rice and a tad more water.
*I got the ratios from kitchen tigress, though I usually just eyeball now. Use about 600ml water to the first 1/4 cup of rice, and then add another 250-350ml plus minus for each additional 1/4 cup.


CHYE POH OMELETTE
serves 1-2 (depends how many sides you have)
Ingredients
2 large free range eggs
2 heaped tbsp salted preserved turnip/radish (I love chai poh)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tbsp grated carrot (optional. I also love carrot)
2 tbsp groundnut oil or lard from happy pigs
pinch of unrefined sugar
little bit of (1/4 tsp?) fish sauce
little bit of water/ shaoxing wine

Method
1. Soak preserved radish in warm water for 5 min, then drain and rinse so you don't get kidney failure from all that salt.
2. Over high heat, fry the preserved radish and grated carrot with the garlic in 1 tbsp of oil/lard, till dry and fragrant (respectively). Use a 6 inch pan for a thicker fluffier omelette.
3. Beat eggs with fish sauce and a bit of water/ wine to loosen it up. Pour eggs into the pan. Let set for a while to brown. This ain't no pale anaemic French omelette, you want it fragrant and browned.
4. Reduce heat to medium and keep nudging the cooked edges into the middle and tip the pan to let the uncooked egg flow to the sides.
5. Once the top of the omelette is cooked, it's done! You may or may not choose to flip it to brown the other side. I did and I made a mess. Just fold in half.


THE VEG
Really? Must I?
Steam purple sprouting broccoli till just tender and toss in pinch of salt and fried shallot oil (i.e. mum's secret to jazzing up boring steamed food) then scatter fried shallots over.


The Teochews were poor, which was probably how mui came about-- you need less rice to fill your bowl with all that water. The rice water is my favourite part though, wonderfully bland but with the light sweet taste and scent of the grains. It's especially refreshing after a bite of something salty; two scoops of porridge to mellow and wash the intense flavours down. The chye poh omelette may not look as pristine and delicate as its French counterpart, but it's exactly how I like my omelettes, browned and fragrant on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside, and in this case, spiked with random bits of salty umami from the preserved radish. As for the steamed and oil-tossed purple sprouting broccoli, to me that's simply the best way to enjoy the pure taste of a vegetable that's fresh and in season.

I know I've gone really VERY basic with this, but it is kind of in the Teochew spirit of simplicity, and I've already got 3 plates extra to wash.



Other related recipes:
Steamed Whole Flounder
Soy-braised Pig's Ears 
Steamed Eggs  (updated, now with more tips!)
Fried Carrot Cake (i.e. the chye poh omelette jazzed up with fried squidgy radish cakes)
Leftover Turkey Congee (i.e. the cantonese porridge cousin)

56 comments:

  1. So what if it's simple, if you enjoyed it and it was comforting to you, that's all that matters. You eat your omelette like I do, brown and fluffy, except I like mine with fresh green chillies, but your radish one sounds delightful. As for the porridge, it has rice in it, I like it. We have something similar in Indian cooking but mothers only whip out when were sick!
    Great looking dinner, I am loving the broccoli too. I'd be satisfied.

    Nazneen

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    1. hi five for browned omelettes! I will have to try that green chilli variation one day, sounds yummy! I love porridge, I bet every culture that eats rice has a version of this, it's just so wonderfully light and comforting :)

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  2. loved teochew porridge. I will always have lots of side dishes to go along with the plain porridge. yum yum.... thinking of cooking it this weekend after looking at your post. =)

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    1. YAY if it's a weekend affair, you might even afford to do a few more dishes :)

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  3. Plain congee + salty side dishes used to be the way of my life when I grew up. I still miss this simple yet satisfying combination and from time to time I also make a plain congee with fried eggs for breakfast/lunch. Excellent post in presenting the art of simple food!!

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    1. thanks yi! sometimes I really just crave something simple. that plain congee with eggs is a staple here haha, I don't even bother frying sometimes, I just poach it straight into the congee, then drizzle soy sauce over. heh I'm that lazy with doing the dishes.

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  4. If you have a Panasonic rice cooker with a congee/porridge setting then the end result, if you follow the cooking instructions, is Teochew porridge. I usually go on to make congee by finishing the Teochew one from the rice cooker in a saucepan. Mind you, I may try this as a change.

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    1. damn I have a toyomi rice cooker.

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  5. This looks like a healthy and satisfying meal and as ever I have learned something from you! I love the idea of rice porridge paired with salty flavours. The broccoli looks a lovely vibrant green, so fresh. Shame about the washing up though. ;)

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    1. Thanks caz! Haha I just need to get over my own lazy arse ;)

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  6. Waaah...Chye Poh omelette? You and your posh tastebuds!

    For us, poor means porridge with a square of fermented red beancurd and some dark soy sauce.....so frivolous! ;-)

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    1. Nah this is a treat, I usually only have plain porridge with soy sauce. No beancurd even.

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  7. Hi Shu Han! I could feel the connection with your mum/family/home this meal brought you...

    What about some sweet potato in the mui?

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    1. Yes! I actually do that a lot! Sweet potato would make this even more frugal ;)

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  8. Have not had salted preserved turnip/radish (chai poh) in a long time. Must get some next time I am at the Asian market.
    Love how you prepare the broccoli, best way.

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    1. Thanks norma, I think the best way to prepare vegetables fresh from the garden/market is just to steam it and dress it :)

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  9. Hey, I'm not judging, when I was a student in the last century (just!) I used to enjoy plain boiled rice with a splash of balsamic a little grated cheddar cheese... And thought it was lovely. I still do (shhhh).

    Love the look of this dish and it has made me wonder whether - when I was on a long train journey (48 hours) from Beijing to Lhasa - they served Teochow or Congee for breakfast. Front your description of both the dish, and what is served with it, I'm inclined to think it was Teochow. I really enjoyed it, a great way - with an egg and something salty, to start the day.

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    1. WOW aaron you win. boiled rice with cheese and balsamic.

      If it was more of a thick soup consistency and you can't see the grains at all (i.e. almost as if it's a puree), then that's the Cantonese congee, but if you can still see the grains, it's probably Teochew porridge. Both I love though :)

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  10. teochew porridge is not something i grew up on.. i prefer the cantonese congee, nice and thick ^^ but you sure know how to make watery porridge exciting! just love, love, love your pics, shu han! ^^

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    1. I love both actually! and thanks hui!! I thought everybody would find pics of congee very boring and plain, glad you like it!

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  11. i've never heard of this... i'm going to have to make it, it looks fascinating and I love being intrigued by food... lovely stuff!

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    1. thanks dom! It's funny how somethign so boring and comforting to me is totally new to you:) liek how some of the 'classic' stuff you do is totally new to me!

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  12. There is a shop selling Teochew porridge near my place and it has been around 50 years.. I love their every dishes , simple and yummy , and totally difference from what you have here., next time I try to imitate and cook a spread of Teochew side dishes like that restaurant !

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    1. You amazing lady, definitely, go ahead and cook a spread! Haha. I wish i had the time to..

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  13. Love all kinds of congee - especially baby oyster congee which I last had in a Teochew restaurant in Hong Kong. Will definitely be making this.

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    1. baby oyster congee? Why have I not tried this before? My life is not complete.

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  14. Hi Shu Han, gorgeous blog u have here! Love your photo, I am your new follower :)

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  15. It looks like an extraordinary meal; and also very healthy! I'm sure your mum would be proud of you :-)
    I have never had rice porridge in my life but I have heard a lot about it and read in Chinese cookery books. Do you cook sometimes rice porridge in chicken stock? Something tells me I would like it... The omelet sounds very complex and delightful. I must stop making my staple salt and pepper version one day and try your Asian seasonings instead.

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    1. We do, that sort of congee is more typical of the Hong Kong Cantonese style congee. The rice is usually cooked till the grains break down. See "leftover turkey congee" :) I love those sort of rice porridge too!

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  16. Hi Shuhan, simple maybe, but it looks great. You eat better than I did when I was a student. I remember a (rather bleak) time when I had *literally* nothing left in my cupboard except a large tin of green beans and half a jar of green olives. God... those were bad days :D

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    1. Oh dear. Green bean and green olives salad....? I don't always eat well, but my larder is almost always stocked. I'm greedy.

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  17. This looks so comforting and amazing. There's something about good plain white rice that's just unbeatable cooked that way. Love your trimmings too!

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    1. Thanks Zo! Rice is my ultimate comfort food. I'm such an asian.

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  18. As a teochew, that is exactly how my childhood was like when my grandma made us lunch. Simple and exactly how I love my teochew porridge. So delicious and warming to the soul.
    Now I just need to train my husband to like this!

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    1. You're teochew? Haha I'm sure 2 years later he will be requesting teochew mui for dinner :)

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  19. What a nice, simple meal! Love the omelet - nice combo of flavors. And I've never met a porridge that I didn't like - this looks great. Good stuff - thanks so much.

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    1. I love porridge, you're right, I actually like all sorts of porridge. Even the western oatmeal porridge. Weird, guess I just like mushy textures.

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  20. The ultimate comfort meal and I always cook this when I'm under the weather. Chai Po Omelette is definitely a must and I also must have the pickled lettuce. Black bean sauce anything is good too especially bitter gourd. Yum!

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  21. Only 3 plates to wash! Love this idea :p

    No wonder that I was growing up eating Teochew porridge... less washing is good!

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  22. haha...I totally agree with you. I have no problem in the cooking part, but I always think of the after-map of cooking. One pot/bowl meal are the best. I have to be honest with you tough, until now, I still don't like porridge. My parents LOVE LOVE LOVE it...but somehow, I can't seem to enjoy it. I would eat it when it's served, but not making it on my own. ha....But yours look really good though, I have to say. ;) Thanks for sharing.

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    1. I think it's a love or hate thing. I absolutely love it! Weird huh.

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  23. Hi Shu Han, I sure love your teo chew porridge. The chai poh definitely very appetizing and delicious. YUM YUM

    Have a great week ahead,regards.

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  24. Hi Shu Han, I'm spending a few days in Singapore in May. Can you recommend any good porridge places like you mention in the post? You've got me intrigued!

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    1. hey katy! wow jealous! there actually are quite a handful of good stalls to check out. DM me your address over twitter? I'll send you a nice long email haha.

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  25. Watery porridge sounds a little odd I'll grant you, but this meal sounds perfect to my vegetarian sensibilities. It's a lovely mix of colours as well as flavours.

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  27. you always have the most wonderful pictures xxx

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  28. I am a bit late reading this but I just had to comment anyway. Stunning. Just stunning. You have been the only person to tempt me to make congee. Loving the salted turnip omelette side dish/kick too. I can't believe you think this is basic!

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    1. wow cheers kelly, very happy I've made you reconsider congee. This is basic really, the whole meal comes together in 20 minutes!

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  29. This is my childhood food, believe it or not? Teochew porridge is my after-school lunch - the plain porridge and the Chye Poh Neng...how I miss. I still cook porridge with side dishes where I am living now but they are more homey meals rather than authentic Teochew porridge.

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    1. Nah don't worry too much about it being " authentic" ! it is after all essentially meant to be a homey simple meal, and if that's what you did with your porridge and side dishes, it sounds perfect to me !

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  30. I love my porridge (left to stand for a while so that it becomes a bit more starchy than watery) with just pickled lettuce and salted/fermented soya beans or black beans. If I am feeling a bit more kinder to myself, I will add in Chao San Si (Spicy Bamboo Shoots) to the mix. All three are readily available in canned form. Best comfort food in the world. Don't remind me about sodium intake please....

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    1. Actually porridge with pickeld lettuce is what my mum would feed us as kids whenever we have an upset stomach. Best 'bland' food ever.

      And no I'm hardly going to judge your sodium intake.

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  31. I LOVE congee! My dad used to post it to me when I was at uni. I like to poach an egg in mine. It definitely makes an interesting breakfast!

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  32. Hi Shu Han, Thank you for sharing your recipe. Somehow it inspired me to prepare a porridge using rice cooker. http://servicefromheart.blogspot.sg/2014/02/easy-porridge-recipe-using-rice-cooker.html

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