Congee-gal Visit with Flavor

January 8, 2018

This week’s post started from my musings about stock. There are plenty of tasty varieties out there: vegetable, pork bone, beef bone, shellfish, etc. In most recipes I come across, the author/cook/chef seems to favor one dominant flavor. I wondered if I could cook a stock with multiple strong flavors. I, like many cooks, fall on one side or the other when it comes to purism in the culinary world depending on the particular dish. No doubt there are many people, especially chefs, that believe in allowing exceptional ingredients to do most of the work, i.e. don’t get in the way of the natural splendor of your ingredients. I think almost everybody, though, likes to play Dr. Frankenstein every now and again. The following congee recipe is pure in the sense that is makes great use of scrap food, but it deviates from purism in a big way by attempting to bring pork, vegetables, seafood, and chicken to life in the same dish. If you don’t want to read and look at my annotated recipe with photos, you can scroll to the bottom for the text recipe (but c'mon, basque in my amateur photography and wit ((I'm like, a really smart and very stable genius)).

 

1 gallon-bag scrap veggies

 (onion skins, bell pepper nubs, bell pepper seeds, garlic nubs, mushrooms, carrot nubs, celery stems, etc. These will be your vegetable flavor in the recipe).

1 large pork bone with some fat and meat on it (This is your pork flavor in the recipe.)

2 bone-in chicken thighs (This is your chicken flavor in the recipe.)

2 Parmesan rinds

1 cup jasmine rice

1 medium yellow onion

1 large shallot

5 large garlic cloves

2 baby bok choy stocks

1 bunch cilantro stems

6ish cilantro leaves

2 limes

2 tbsp Calamansi (citrusy soy sauce – I buy it in a Filipino market; way cheaper in-store)

4 tbsp olive oil

6 tbsp sesame oil (I like the Dynasty brand – likely cheaper in-store)

3 tbsp kaeshi (I like the Lucky Peach recipe)

4 tbsp fish sauce divided into 2 and 2 (This is a small part of your seafood flavor in the recipe.)

1 tbsp rice vinegar (I like the seasoned kind from Kikkoman)

12 cups cold water

3 tbsp coarse black pepper

2 tsp toasted onion

3 tbsp kosher salt

2 tbsp crushed roasted Thai red pepper (I couldn’t find the brand I have online, but here’s a link to a similar product)

3 tbsp granulated garlic (I avoid garlic powder, because it can get clumpy)

3 tbsp granulated onion (Same story here; use granulated when possible)

1 tbsp Hondashi (Ajinomoto’s brand is solid. This is the other small part of the seafood flavor in the recipe.)

 

One workhorse for this dish is vegetable scraps that I slowly accumulated and froze. If you aren’t saving your veggie scraps for compost or stock, you’re not being your #truestself.

 

The other workhorse is a meaty bone leftover from a ham I cooked shortly after Christmas.

 

These two wunderkind are great on their own, but will they play nicely together in a stock-centric dish like congee? Congee, btw, is rice porridge. It has many varieties and is especially popular in East Asia. If you’ve never had it, you need it in your life STAT. Think comfort food with citrus, crunch, heat, and umami.

Because I endeavored to “test kitchen” this particular recipe, I also used some Parmesan cheese rinds to help add some funk to the stock.

 

Here are the beasties laid out before entering the pot.

 

Once you have your pot in hand, dump your bone, parmesan rinds, and vegetables in the pot along with the twelve cups water (or whatever it takes to mostly fill up your large soup/stock pot). Set your burner to high and bring it to a boil. Remove the parmesan rinds at this point – too much time in the pot and you’ll get goop you don’t want. Now reduce heat to medium and simmer for two hours.

 

While your stock is reducing and concentrating in flavor, chop your fresh veggies: garlic, onion, bok choy, shallots, cilantro, and limes. Also measure out your liquid ingredients: fish sauce, kaeshi, rice vinegar, sesame oil, olive oil, and Calamansi. *Note, the base of a bok choy stock is a beautiful flower pattern – admire it. 

  

You’ll also measure out your cup of rice and lightly toast it (five minutes on medium high while regularly turning it over / stirring it).

 Once your bone and veggies have simmered for two hours, pour your solids into a colander over another stock pot. If anything stuck to your original pot, clean it out and then return the stock to this pot. Bring the stock back to the stove on medium heat. Discard the spent vegetables, but grab that pork bone and return it to your stock. Add your dry seasonings (granulated garlic, granulated onion, toasted onion, half your black pepper, and half your salt). If you like a salty kick, add all the black pepper and salt. If you want the flavors a little more nuanced, use half now and check the flavor later to see if you want more. Adding additional flavor is relatively easy, but removing it can be a task. Add half your fish sauce to the stock and all of your toasted rice. *Note - there is no special purpose for displaying my spices next to my fiance's new salt lamp. In my exploration of lighting, I thought it looked cool AF.

 Take a twelve inch frying pan, your olive oil, and sauté your garlic, yellow onion, and shallots for five minutes. The veggies will become soft and partly translucent when done. Add the cooked veggies to your stock.

 

Use the same pan to fry your chicken thighs. Begin by putting your sesame oil in the pan with the burner on medium. Test the oil with a drop of water. You want a sizzle, not an uproar. Use a bit of the reserved salt and pepper to season both sides of each chicken thigh and then drop them in the oil skin-less side down first. Cook this side for four minutes. Flip and repeat. You can further crisp the skin by holding your pan at an angle so more oil reaches more skin.

 Remove the chicken from the pan and place in your toaster-oven on a metal tray lined with foil. Bake at 450 for five minutes and then broil with skin-side up for five minutes. Remove chicken and let cool on your cutting board. *Note, if you don’t have a toaster over, get one! They are the best at quickly producing a crunchy texture on things like chicken, pizza, toast, etc. They are also great for finishing par-cooked foods.

 

Now it’s time to cook the bok choy. Begin by removing the rendered chicken fat from your frying pan. Reserve the fat in a bowl. Add the kaeshi to your pan and turn the burner to medium. When you achieve some light bubbling of the kaeshi, add your rice vinegar. Continue simmering for a couple minutes to reduce the liquid a bit. Add a couple tablespoons of the rendered fat. Now add your bok choy and fry until just slightly tender – about three minutes. You want that sweet spot between raw crunch and partly cooked tenderness.

 

 

Now chop up your rested chicken thighs. I remove the bones and place them into the stock in hopes that the leftovers get a teeny tiny bit tastier.

 

 At this point, the rice inside the stock should have been cooking for about an hour. The grains should be largely broken and fully cooked. If you cooked your veggies and chicken and then chopped your rested chicken in less than one hour, go to the store and buy yourself a trophy, then go home and wait the remaining time until one hour has passed from adding the rice.

 

Your congee is now almost done! Remove the pork bone and discard. If you decided to reserve any black pepper and salt, test your congee and add more as necessary. Now ladle some congee into a bowl.

 

Now add your remaining fish sauce to the thai red pepper. Add about one tablespoon of the funky saucy pepper to your bowl.

Add a handful of cilantro stems / leaf. Add some Calamansi to taste (not necessarily all that you measured out – it’s a strongly flavored condiment). Add some chicken to the bowl. Finally, squeeze some lime into the bowl and you’re ready to eat!

 

Boring text only recipe for those in a hurry:

 

1. Take pork bone, frozen vegetables, and Parmesan rinds and bring to boil in large stock pot with 12 cups water.

2. Once boiling, remove Parmesan rinds.

3. Simmer stock mixture for two hours.

4. While stock is cooking, chop your fresh vegetables.

5. Lightly toast your rice.

6. Once bone and frozen vegetables are cooked, strain out solids.

7. Season broth with all dry seasonings minus 1/2 black pepper and 1/2 salt.

8. Add toasted rice to stock pot and cook for one hour on medium high heat.

9. Sauté your garlic, yellow onion, and shallots for five minutes. Add to pot.

10. Use the same pan to fry your chicken thighs. Begin by putting your sesame oil in the pan with the burner on medium. Use a bit of the reserved salt and pepper to season both sides of each chicken thigh and then drop them in the oil skin-less side down first. Cook this side for four minutes. Flip and repeat. 

11. Remove the chicken from the pan and place in your toaster-oven on a metal tray lined with foil. Bake at 450 for five minutes and then broil with skin-side up for five minutes. Remove chicken and let cool on your cutting board.

12. Cook the bok choy. Begin by removing the rendered chicken fat from your frying pan. Reserve the fat in a bowl. Add the kaeshi to your pan and turn the burner to medium. When you achieve some light bubbling of the kaeshi, add your rice vinegar. Continue simmering for a couple minutes to reduce the liquid a bit. Add a couple tablespoons of the rendered fat. Now add your bok choy and fry until just slightly tender – about three minutes. 

13. Now chop up your rested chicken thighs.

14. At this point, the rice inside the stock should have been cooking for about an hour. The grains should be largely broken and fully cooked. If the grains are not in this state, continue cooking until they break apart.

15. Remove the pork bone and discard. If you decided to reserve any black pepper and salt, test your congee and add more as necessary. Now ladle some congee into a bowl.

16. Add your remaining fish sauce to the thai red pepper. Add about one tablespoon of the funky saucy pepper to your bowl.

17. Add a handful of cilantro stems / leaf. Add some Calamansi to taste. Add some chicken to the bowl. Finally, squeeze some lime into the bowl and you’re ready to eat!

 

 

 

 

 

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