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.
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.
1/2 cup new crop jasmine rice*
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.
serves 1-2 (depends how many sides you have)
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
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.
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.
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)