Sometimes, we just need a lot of love … in a bowl of congee. It’s something I always fall back to when I’ve done too much feasting, and last week had been such a sinful week for me. There were more than a few outings to restaurants and cafes, and plenty of days when I’ve had to eat out from dawn to dusk.
I had been indulging in plenty of rich, saucy, even a tad greasy, cooked meals. So it was time to get back to deliciously wholesome, nutritious, comfort food – a void that a bowl of piping hot, thick congee can fill for me! And what’s great about congee is that you can have it any time of day. Being Asians, we enjoy congee for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and yes, heaven forbid if our day should be so long, even supper!5
Congee, or porridge – a term more popularly used in Singapore – is almost a one-dish meal in itself. It’s no longer bland or unappetising, or something that one only eats when feeling under the weather – quite the contrary! These days, congee is skilfully prepared. Rice is stewed in flavourful meat or vegetable broths with specific condiments to impart flavour. The lengthy cooking process cooks and breaks up the rice, literally turning it into a gorgeously fine mush, and in the process, releasing starches, sugars and nutrients to create this silky thick, paste-like soup.
Then, that’s where the fun starts! You add your favourite ingredients to cook in the gently simmering congee, just before serving. Popular choices include fresh fish slices or seafood, pork or chicken meat, organ meats including livers, intestines, as well as cooked salted or century eggs. It’s served and enjoyed piping hot, straight out of the pot. This is popularly how the Cantonese prepare congee.
There are other versions, where the rice grains are cooked but left still whole in the stewing water or broth, like Teochew porridge. Teochew porridge is eaten plain, or with a little sauce, alongside a variety of other cooked side dishes. It’s like having Spanish tapas, the Chinese Teochew way!
Here, I would like to share our family favourite, Cantonese style pork congee with braised peanuts and dried scallops. I first prepare an easy and simple congee base, infused with the flavours of dried scallops and shallot oil. This is already a tasty congee in itself, good to serve if you wish to eat it plain, in place of rice or noodles, with other dishes.
I’m preparing this as a meal in itself, so I then add the seasoned minced pork balls to cook through quickly. Finally, I add the braised peanuts with its sauce, which really brings this congee’s flavour up a couple of notches! Like a raw egg with your congee? Break one into the bowl when serving! Swish it all around in your bowl – it cooks in the congee’s latent heat – and it adds an extra special oomph!