Congee is a savory rice porridge/gruel. There are many versions of congee but a popular version, known as 'chok' in Cantonese, can be found in dim sum restaurants. The Cantonese versions is typically served with pork, fish or a processed form of egg known as century egg (or pei dan). That also happens to be the style I grew up with so it's closely associated with comfort food.
The ingredients and methodology for cooking chok is rather straight forward. Rice (cooked or uncooked) is simmered and stirred in a liquid for several hours; the longer the cook time, the smoother and creamier the final product. Soaked broken rice can be used for a smoother texture. Water (used in the Taiwanese version) or stock (used in the Cantonese versino) can be used for the liquid. In some cases, the bones and meat are added to the rice and water to add flavor, eliminating the need to make a separate stock.
I had the idea for a quick and dirty method to cook chok.
Stock was made as detailed in the Modernist Cuisine. Chopped up chicken wings (cheap while rich in collagen) were blanched and then pressure cooked in water for 1 hour. The resulting liquid was strained and used as stock. In the mean time, I cooked rice in a rice cooker.
Instead of boiling rice with constant stirring for hours on end, I boiled cooked rice in stock till the rice was soft (5-10mins). The softened rice was blended with a hand blender till the desired consistency, adding stock if necessary.
The final product was topped with a chopped century egg, fried egg, spring onions, cilantro, crispy shallot oil, shallots, soy sauce and sesame oil. Great for hangovers or the cold.
It’s been a crazy weekend of preparing for The Houston Beer Experiment. I’ve been playing around excessively with pork bellies and my new FreshMealsMagic sous vide kit. The event was great and I thoroughly enjoyed interacting with some amazing people and cooks. Furthermore, being in my element cooking and serving up food made me feel alive. It’s quite a great way to spend a Sunday.
My dish, fried pork belly, came in second. While it would’ve been real nice to take home the win and fly to Brooklyn, the whole process of coming up with this dish was a fun thought exercise into cooking.
Anyway, here’s some detail to my second place Fried Pork Beer Belly, explaining why I did what I did.
Step 1: Jaccard
The Jaccard is a device that tenderizes by making rows piercings into the meat. I recall reading a thread on egullet about it a while ago and was intrigued. Pork belly is a fairly tough cut of meat and “jaccarding” it would perhaps make it tenderer. Furthermore, the incisions would help with marinade penetration to give the meat more flavor.
Step 2: Brine
One of the stipulations to the contest was to use a form of beer so I went with hard apple cider in my brine. The rationale – pork and apples go together, as do pork and beer. Why not just use hard apple cider? (Honestly, it might be gimmicky. Regular apple cider might work just as well.) I brined the meat in a 4% brine for 12 hours. I also added 2% of the liquid weight in molasses to add color and to balance out the salt. Lastly, a few drops of liquid smoke were added for good measure.
A brief explanation on why brines work can be found here.
Step 3: Cook at 60C/140F for 50 hours
This step sounds excessive but it’s rather painless. After brining, I placed the pork bellies in Ziploc bags with a splash of apple cider. Everything was then out into a cooler filled with water with my nifty FMM heater to keep it at 60C.
Why 50 hours? Cooking the meat till 60C keeps the lean muscles moist and does make it ok to eat. However, some of the fatty tissues take a little more coaxing to really break down and tenderize. The Modernist Cuisine recommended a 24-72 hour cook time. I’ve sampled sous vide bellies at 12, 24 and 36 hours and the fat still came up a little tough so I just went with 50.
If you can’t afford to do this step, just put a whole bunch of pork bellies in crock pot, fill it up with liquid (water or apple juice is fine) and let it cook on low slightly uncovered. Once it gets to a boil, switch it down to the warm setting and let it ride till it’s soft (6-8 hours). It’ll still be good.
Step 4: Chill
When done with sous vide, remove the pork from the bags and chill, reserving the liquid for the sauce.
Chilling may seem somewhat redundant but it makes life so much easier. Ever handled a piece of warm butter? Warm pork fat feels that way too.
It’s also important to drain any cooking juices before chilling the pork as you want to ensure that the pork pieces are fairly dry on the surface when frying. You’ll thank me later for this. The juices will coagulate around the meat when chilled making them harder to remove.
Step 5: Fry
Along with testing out cooking times, I spent quite a bit of time toying around the frying bit too. I tested a hard cider batter which gave a really good apple aroma. Unfortunately, the batter couldn’t stay crunchy over time, which was not ideal since my dish had to hold for at least 3 hours. As such, I went for the regular dry-wet-dry breading method.
Corn oil tends to be the most suitable oil for my deep frying purpose. It’s readily available, economical and tastes rather neutral. For some reason, corn oil doesn’t absorb as much into the food once it’s removed from the fryer too.
The dry coating gives the wet coating and breading something to stick to. I tried corn starch, tapioca flour and all-purpose wheat flour. I liked the results of corn starch the best and tapioca flour the least. But AP flour was readily available in my pantry so that’s what stuck.
I normally use whole eggs but I found out that beaten egg whites gave a better result. Egg yolks made the final product a more ‘eggy’ and harder product than I would have liked. Beating the egg whites to stiff peaks made for a really fluffy coating. However, it was a nightmare when working with hundreds of pieces of pork belly.
Panko breadcrumbs. That stuff is amazing. It’s crisp and stays crisp. It works so well I didn’t even bother considering an alternative.
Since the pork bellies were in small pieces and were already cooked, I fried them at a high temperature of 215C (~420F) for a couple of minutes till golden.
Oh, and when frying, wear pants.
I just arrived in Singapore a few days back. Here’s what I had for breakfast immediately after a long 24 hour flight. That’s right, I ate all of this for breakfast. Cornflakes are NOT the breakfast of champions.
Won Ton Noodles
Topped with char siew (the red pieces of meat, which is really barbequed pork), won tons and tossed with some sauces, this is a Cantonese staple. You’ll see quite a bit of this in Hong Kong too.
Chicken Feet Noodles
Ok, I get it. Chicken feet for breakfast might sound kind of gross. But if you can get past that, this is actually pretty dang delicious. It’s noodles in some excellent dark baising liquid.
A mix of braised pork, chitterlings, pork skin, eggs and various beancurd products. Some of it’s for the adventurous, even by Singaporean standards. It’s usually accompanied by a bowl of rice noodles in soup (not pictured). This is one of my favorite foods. Ever.
Think of this as dirty rice that’s sticky. Done the Asian way. For breakfast. Blowing your mind? I thought so.
Yeah, this isn’t your typical carrot cake. I think more accurately, it should be radish cake but they call it carrot cake around here. You take steamed carrot cakes and stir fry them with egg, an array of sauces and sometimes shrimp.
These are steamed rice cakes topped with preserved raddish with a healthy dose of chili on the side. The rice cakes alone are pretty plain, but they go real well with the sweet and salty raddish topping.
I never really got when this is called porridge or congee. Anyway, this isn’t anything like oats porridge. To begin with, it’s made with rice. Also, it’s savory. They can come with different meats in it, ranging from fish to pork. My favorite is with a mix of pork and century egg. (It’s a preserved egg that’s black and looks utterly disgusting but I looove it. Don’t judge.) Oh yeah, and you top it off with a healthy dose of fried dough sticks. (That’s the brown stuff). I love this for breakfast or when I’m feeling sick (it acts like my chicken noodle soup then).
It’s been a while since I’ve had an epic failure in cooking. This one seems to be it.
My Charcutepalooza challenge this month was to make a paté of some sort. I opted for the English Pork Pie – ground up meat encased in a flaky pie crust.
But I blow at baking pastries. I’m not sure what it is exactly. Maybe I’m too impatient. Maybe it senses my fear. Maybe it knows I don’t like it. Maybe because I don’t practice enough since most pastries tend to be sweet and I’m too much an umami fan boy. Whatever the case, baking has never been an absolute enjoyment to me. As a result, my finished product tends to be ‘meh’ at best, English pork pie notwithstanding.
The general directions for the pie crust were simple. Mix in 8oz of cold butter and lard with 1lb of flour. Add in a cup of egg/water mixture.
My experience? The dough was way goopy when I started adding the lard. I just used a touch of the egg/water mixture and added a little more flour. It was definitely going to be a flaky dough.
As for the meat filling, that was simple. I’m good with working with meats most of the time anyway. (I’m an umami fan boy remember?) There isn’t too much too write about this, it’s fairly similar to the sausage making process.
The problem came with the baking.
You see, flaky crust may taste great in a cobbler. But when it’s supposed to provide ‘structural support’ to keep a meat filling in, it’s quite A FAIL. Throw that in with a really juicy meat filling and things go to crap fairly quickly.
So this attempt at cooking something didn’t go according to plan. I’m a little upset. Then again, it’s in the failures that we learn. It’s cliché, I know, but I truly believe that.
Pork hocks. I love them. They’re a delight to stew them with beans, slow cooked vegetables such as collard greens, or one of my favorite, stewed and then fried. Plus they’re ridiculously cheap. Pork tenderloins at the local farmer’s market will probably set you back $18-20/lb. Pork hocks, $2/lb. It’s cheap. I’m cheap. I’ll take it.
While I do favor the rustic preparations of pork hocks, there are ways to make them look more posh. In this case, I made a terrine. It doesn’t mean I like them better, they just look more presentable and perhaps palatable to some. Rather than gnaw on the bone, one can elegantly eat it with a fork and knife.
If you didn’t grow up with exposure to European food, chances are, the idea of a terrine may seem a little foreign. Heck, every single one of my friends didn’t really have a clue what I was talking about when I was talking about making them. (I live in Texas.) The definition may even seem complicated since they fall into broad categories. Generally, as per Ruhlman and Polcyn, it’s a big sausage cooked in a mold, dough or skin. In my instance, it’s shredded meat set in gelatin.
Back to pork hocks. Pork hocks are delicious. Pork hocks are also fatty and rich in connective tissues. This makes them ideal for releasing rich gelatinous goodness which is necessary in making some terrines. And so the process is simple – boil the hocks long enough to extract the gelatin into a flavorful stock called an aspic. Pull and shred the meat of the pork hocks. Set the meat in a pan. Pour on the aspic over. Put it in a fridge to set. Remove, cut it, and eat.
Alright, that’s simple in theory but in reality, there are a few more details. Let’s get into them shall we?
Let’s start with the stock/the braise of the hocks. I’m using some real simple aromatics here, just the usual carrots, onions, celery, garlic, bay leaf and pepper. Here’s my MEP (MEP = mise en place, which is just a fancy way of saying preparing your ingredients and having them in place before putting them together. Using the term mise en place makes you sounds like you’re a foodie. Saying mise makes you sound kinda bad-ass cool. Shortening that to MEP just means you’re too lazy to type.)
Here’s what you’ll need:
2 Pork Hocks
2 Onions, quartered
2 sticks of celery
1 Tbsp of peppercorns
1 Bay leaf
2 cloves of garlic
1 sprig of thyme
water (guesstimate this)
3/4 oz of gelatin
1 cup of parsley leaves
Salt to taste
1. Put the hocks and aromatics into a pot and fill it with water. That chunk of ice you see there is from a little chicken stock I added for good measure. I was making room in my freezer. Bring everything to a simmer and simmer. I just left mine in a 160F to 200F (I changed the temperature) oven for a few hours overnight because I was sleepy. Overnight seems long and it probably is. Gelatin breaks down with prolonged cooking. But I had powdered gelatin to work with, not a problem.Next, remove the hocks, cool them down and then shred. I like large chunks. Put aside any fatty parts and tendons aside. Discard or eat them. (I roasted the bones and the tendons and ate them. Not the whole bone mind you, just the marrow.)
2. Strain the liquid at least twice. Four times is better.
3. Mix the shredded meat with some chopped parsley and salt. Ideally, season the meat when it’s cool since the terrine will be served cold. The human tongue tends to be less sensitive to seasoning when eating cold foods. Pack the meat into a mold such as a terrine. I don’t have a terrine (it’s a container) so I used a bread pan.
4. In the mean time, mix in some gelatin with the aspic. Test the aspic by putting it on a cold dish or a bowl set on ice. (I used a shot glass.) It should be firm enough to cut but soft enough that it almost melts in the mouth.
5. Pour the aspic over the meat mixture. Place a plastic wrap over and place in the fridge to set overnight.
6.Remove the terrine from the pan. If there’s any difficulty, place the pan in some warm water to melt some of the gelatin until it slides right out. Then slice the darn thing to eat. (If it’s hard to slice, put it in the fridge or freezer for just a little longer to firm up.
7. Serve cold with some kind of acidic sauce to cut the richness of the terrine. Here, I’m using a raisin & onion chutney courtesy taken from Charcuterie.
Three weeks of travelling and a week of catching up with life made me exhausted. But it’s now back to the saddle, cooking and creating once again. While traveling, eating great food and catching new sights are both inspirational fun, it’s doing the things that I really love that energize me.
So anyway, onto June’s Charcutepalooza challenge – stuffing and making poultry sausage links. And I’m going to start off with a HUGE claim – this is easily one of, if not the, most delicious thing I’ve ever cooked.
Charcutepalooza challenge – bulk sausage. Nothing too complicated here – just meat that’s been passed through a grinders, seasoned and consequently cured. Basically this stuff is sausage meat sans the sausage casing.
WTF Makes is a Sausage?
According to McGee’s On Food and Cooking (which shall hence forth be known as THE BOOK on wtfamicooking), the word sausage has it’s root in the Latin word for “salt” (sal salis). Sausage is simply chopped meat and salt (plus seasonings) stuffed into some sort of casing. The salt plays two roles in sausage – the first being to preserve the meat and the second is that it dissolves one of proteins (myosin) which in turns binds the pieces together just like a glue. The sausages are almost always stuffed into some kind of casing. There are several types of sausages out there such as fresh sausages, emulsified sausages, fermented sausages, smoked and dried sausages just to name a few.
Even though they are not stuffed into casing, bulk sausages are would fall under the category of fresh sausage. According to THE BOOK, because they are unfermented and uncooked, they are highly perishable and should be cooked within a day or two of being made/purchased.
The Importance of Chilling Out
The texture of the chopped/ground meat is really important in sausage. If left to warm up, the fats and the proteins in the sausage could separate. This results in a very coarse and unpleasant texture. There are a few steps that ought to be taken to prevent this.
- Keep the meat cold. I tend to leave meat in the freezer for say 10-30minutes, depending on the quantity, before grinding.
- Keep the grinder or food processor that you’re using cold. I store mine in the freezer most of the time but if you’re short in freezer space, just leave it in there overnight before grinding large bulks of meat.
- Grind at a low speed. There’s a lot of friction in grinding which in turn produces heat.
- Keep storage bowls cold. I store the bowl for the ground meat in the freezer prior to the grind. Alternatively, you could put your storage bowl on top of another bowl of ice.
- When introducing liquids to your ground meat, use cold liquids. This will help maintain the low temperature of the meat.
How I Made Chorizo
Probably one of the more common bulk sausages in North America is the Mexican style chorizo. Seasoned with a variety of chili powders and various other seasonings, this is a rather unique sausage compared to most if you ask me. It takes on a smoky flavor not from actual smoking itself but from the dried chili peppers, in this case adobo.
As with most of my Charcutepalooza challenges, I adhered fairly closely to Polcyn and Ruhlman’s recipe in Charcuterie. First, I seasoned cubes pork shoulder with a variety of spices and let the mixture sit in the fridge for about half an hour to really chill. Following that, grind onto a cold bowl that was left in the freezer. (Note to self after ruining a Hanes V-neck Tee: do not wear white when grinding meat. It gets real messy to say the least.) Then mix in the liquid components of the sausage, in this case tequila and vinegar before mixing in a mixer for a minute. Taste (not raw but by cooking a small portion, silly) adjust seasonings, done.
- Chill meat
- Prep seasonings and then season meat. Chill some more. Let the seasonings sit for at least thirty minutes or preferably a few hours or up to a day.
- Grind meat.
- Add liquid components.
- Mix mixture till homogenous.
- Taste and adjust.
You can use this formula for your breakfast sausages or whatever bulk sausage you can think of. You can use – food processor if you don’t have a grinder but the texture will vary a little. Just make sure that the food processor is really cold by leaving it in the freezer overnight. Alternatively, you could use pre-ground meat but where’s the fun in that?
Chorizo and eggs go together as well as pizza and beer, steak and beer, and even brats and beer. (I guess you now know where my priorities really lie.) You could serve them with over-easy eggs, in scrambled eggs or even an omelet. One of my favorite applications, however, is a frittata, which is basically a thick baked omelet. It’s great for so many reasons.
- It’s awesome for unloading leftovers.
- It’s not as finicky and requires less attention than an omelet but has similar eggy goodness.
- It’s great when making something egg based for a large group of people. I made this for about 20 people.
- It goes great with bread.
- It’s delicious.
How I do It
The main idea is to par cook your ingredients, mix them up with beaten eggs. Be creative and use whatever is in season or any leftovers the fridge. Spinach, green onions and even tomatoes can be good additions. Herbs such as basil, tarragon and thyme would do great too. You can’t really mess this up.
Ingredients (for 4-6 people):
1/2 whole onion
1 /2 red pepper
1 dozen eggs
¼ cup grated cheese
- Put a pan on med-hi and pan fry the chorizo till brown.
- Sauté onions on a med heat pan with a pinch of salt till half-way soften about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and peppers and soften too, another 5 minutes or so.
- Beat eggs and add a pinch of salt.
- Spray/oil the inside of a casserole dish or oven safe pan. Layer in the sautéed vegetables and chorizo and pour in the beaten eggs. Mix it up a little to distribute the mixture evenly. Sprinkle grated cheese over the top.
- Bake in a 350F oven till set, about 20minutes.You can test this by using a skewer and poking the center of the frittata and it should come up somewhat clean. You’ll want to remove the frittata when it’s very slightly underdone as it will carry over cooking.
- Let rest for 5 minutes, cut and serve with bread.
Fun fact: this post was largely written standing up in the Moscow airport while waiting for a connecting flight.