Hubby and I recently tried out a Singaporean-style restaurant. He ordered the laksa while I had the congee. I was used to the Chinese-style rice porridge but this Singaporean-style was different! It was yummy, but the texture was definitely not the usual that I'm used to.
How do I describe the texture? The first thing
that struck me that the "thickness" of the congee. The usual congee
that I make (or eat in Chinese restaurants) is a thin, watery gruel.
This congee was thick like oatmeal. More significant, however, was the
grains of rice, which were broken (or smashed?) into tiny bits. In
contrast to the Chinese-style congee where the rice grains are so soft
they're quite mushy, this Singaporean-style congee had al-dente bits.
There were no whole grains, of that I was certain, but what bits I could
sense in my mouth were definitely firm. I found the texture to be
quite interesting. And of course, I wanted to try and see if I could
recreate the texture.
asked a friend (who had worked in Singapore for several years) if she
had any suggestions. She did! The first secret, according to her, is
the crispy fried shallots (and the resulting shallot oil). After that
was the so-called congee rice grains, which were broken rice grains
instead of the usual whole grains used for steamed rice. Then there was
the liquid to rice grain ratio. The Chinese version has more liquid
per cup of rice, the Singaporean version has lesser liquid, and uses
chicken and/or pork stock.
Here's how I made mine (generally following my friend's instructions)...
the chicken stock beforehand. Our local supermarket sells (usually)
the rib cage, the back part and/or neck parts as soup bones and they're a
lot cheaper then other chicken parts. To make about 6 cups of stock,
use 7 to 8 cups of water with 2 pieces of the back part, 3 to 4 ribs or 8
to 10 pieces of neck. My mom tells me to put everything (an onion,
quartered, 1 or 2 whole tomatoes, 1 stalk celery, chopped roughly, and
slices of ginger, as well as salt and pepper, to taste, and the chicken, of course) in the stock pot
and bring to a boil, skim then simmer at least an hour, preferably 4.
Strain everything and let the stock cool. There's usually a bit of
chicken meat on the bones and I add these to Dexter's food as additional
treats). If there is no time to make homemade stock, feel free to use
canned stock or instant stock using bouillon cubes.
the crispy fried shallots ahead too. Place 1/4 to 1/2 cup of sliced
shallots in a frying pan. Pour in enough canola oil to cover the
shallots. Do not crowd the shallots in the pan. Turn on the heat to
medium (at most) and gently fry the shallots (about 4 to 5 minutes, more
or less). If the shallots brown too quickly, turn down the heat a
notch or two. When the shallots are golden brown, strain the shallots
and air dry (again, do not crowd the shallots; better to spread the
shallots in a single layer). Reserve the oil where the shallots were
fried ("shallot oil") and let it cool.
component is optional but since I like conpoy (dried scallops) and dried
shitake, I almost always add this to my congees. Rehydrate
(separately) about a tablespoon of conpoy (whole pieces not necessary,
bit and pieces are fine) in hot water (the resulting "broth" is quite
flavorful so don't throw it away). Rehydrate dried shitake mushrooms (I
used 6 to 7 small pieces) until soft. Or use 2 to 3 medium pieces and
slice into thin strips. Set aside.
To make the congee, rinse 1 cup of congee rice grains until the rice washing water runs clear. Set aside.
2 to 4 thin slices of ginger in the shallot oil. Put in about 150 to
200 grams of thinly sliced pork (or use ground pork) and cook until
done. Remove the pork and throw in the rice grains; stir fry several
seconds. Add 6 cups of broth, the rehydrated conpoy and rehydrated
sliced shitake. Cook on low to low-medium about 20 to 30 minutes, or
just until the broken grains are al dente. Garnish the congee with the
crispy fried shallots, sliced century eggs and a dash sesame oil.