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Saturday, January 5, 2013

Pork Congee 猪肉粥

A nostalgic favorite of mine, making this pork congee had surely brought back plenty of the sweet memories I have had growing up. Memories of the many many uncountable bowls of pork congee that I had had with my dad and occasionally with my brother at one particular place back in my hometown, Kuantan. Sadly this particular shop right opposite the main post office in town had been out of business for quite some time now; memories, however, hardly fade once they get etched in our hearts. Moments of reminiscence, so please do pardon me. Back then we were the few regulars of this particular stall run by a loving old couple specializing in none other than their one and only specialty - the pork porridge. No orders were ever needed whenever we went; they knew just too well what we had come to love and adore after the first few visits that we made. Once seated down, the wife would come and line our cutlery ready on the table with the daily newspaper in hand to keep us occupied while the husband would be setting off cooking our porridge in swift movements, bowl by bowl.

There probably were nothing super WOW about this bowl of congee that I grew up knowing and eventually loving, but it had always brought us comfort unfailingly. And soon that became one of dad's and my favorite breakfast place to frequent (but then again, did I not ever have to attend school most mornings? Well they probably were those weekends then. lol.). A humble stall in a huge restaurant with plenty other stalls selling a good selection of other breakfast, every bowl of porridge the husband made was one that had been consistently good all the years. Despite being a real simple bowl of congee, it had always left us with not a single issue that we would have wished it done any differently from how he had always had it done. It was to me a bowl of heart-warming congee that could not have been any better than it already was.

Some homemade irregularly shaped fresh meatballs made from minced meat, thinly sliced pork loins, a small selections of pork innards (the intestines and livers among the few) which of course would only appear in your bowl of congee upon a personal order and a few springy and bouncy pork meat balls all topped with some finely shredded lettuces, each bowl was made complete with a small handful of the crispy fried shallot and a round of their precious aromatic oil for an enhanced flavor plus a few pieces of bite sized crispy crullers. And to top everything off, each bowl came with an egg cracked right into the middle of the bubbling hot bowl of congee. With a few light dashes of white pepper powder, that simply made the perfect picture to a perfect bowl of velvety smooth pork congee, at least to my very own personal definition.

Pork Congee 猪肉粥 Serves 4
1 cup brown jasmine rice (or any other types of rice)
1/2lb minced pork
1/4lb pork tenderloin, cleaned and fat trimmed then thinly sliced 
6 pork meat balls, halved
3 cups anchovy stock or chicken soup base, made ahead of time 
5-8 cups water
salt to taste
1/4 iceberg lettuce, finely shredded
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsps cooking oil
crispy fried shallots for garnishing, recipe here 
1 stalk spring onion, chopped for garnishing 
1 pair crispy crullers, cut to bite sized pieces
white pepper powder to taste
4 eggs (one per serving)

Minced pork marinade
a dash or two white pepper powder
2 tsps light soy sauce
1/2 tsp sesame oil
2 tsps corn starch

Pork tenderloin marinade
a dash white pepper powder
1 tsp light soy sauce
1/4 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp corn starch

1. Begin with marinating the meat well ahead of time. The longer they are left marinated, the tastier they will be when incorporated into the pot of congee later.  2. Rinse the rice with water thoroughly. Depending on the type of rice used, some may require more rinsing before the water starts running clear. I had to rinse mine twice. Set aside.
3. To prepare the fried garlic oil, heat the cooking oil in a sauce pan. Once well heated, turn the heat to medium-low and add in the minced garlic. Stir regularly and keep a close eye on it as soon as it shows a tinge of browning. Once they start turning golden in color evenly, remove from heat and transfer to a heat-proof bowl and set aside for later use. 

4. Bring the stock together with about 5 cups of water to boil in a stock pot. Make sure that the stock and water are rapidly boiling in the pot before adding in the rice. The wave action within the stock pot reduces the chance of getting the rice from getting burnt if left to sink to the bottom of the pot directly above the heat source. 
5. Let boil on high heat for about 15 minutes before turning down the heat to low. Cook gently for another 1½ to 2 hours stirring from time to time. The exact cooking time will depend on the type of grains used. Brown rice generally takes a longer time before they thoroughly disintegrate.
6. Have about 3 cups of boiling water ready by the side. As the congee gets thickened over time, add in a little boiling water as needed to get to the right consistency. By the end of it, the rice grains should be well broken down appearing creamy and mushy. Finish by adding in salt to taste.
7. To prepare the congee in individual portions, ladle in enough congee for a single individual portion into a separate small pot or skillet and place over a medium-low heat. Add in 1/4 portion of the pork meat balls. 
8. Using a teaspoon, spoon off about 1/4 of the minced meat into the individual pot. Stir every now and then to make sure they are separated from one another. The minced meat does not have to be properly shaped. The are perfect regardless of whatever form they may take. Add in 1/4 of the sliced pork tenderloin next while stirring continually to make sure that they don't clump together. Continue cooking and stirring for about a couple of minutes until all the meat changes color and has cooked thoroughly.
9. Crack in an egg right into the middle of the pot and leave undisturbed for about a minute. Carefully transfer the content to a serving bowl. Garnish with the crispy fried shallots, about a tsp of the fried garlic with its oil, shredded lettuce and a sprinkle of spring onion. Top off with a dash of white pepper powder. Serve with the crispy crullers on the side. 

Alternatively, the congee can be prepared in a whole batch instead of doing them individually. If you are more keen on getting them done together, have the ingredients added straight into pot, in the same sequence as above. Make sure that the congee is bubbling hot before portioning them out into individual bowls at the end. Crack an egg into each bowl and leave undisturbed for a longer time (two minute at the very least) - the heat from the congee will take care of getting them cooked although it may still not be a fully-cooked one. Or another way of doing it will be by adding in the eggs directly into the pot. You may not get a whole egg per serving in the end, but this should guarantee you a thoroughly cooked egg if having them uncooked is a concern to you.

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