Delicious Vietnam #17
Back to the time I was in high school, one day a friend invited me to a small shop near the main cathedral in Hanoi. Supposedly, that shop had “the best chicken congee” in town. Tuned out, the shop did sell decent congee. But the horrible service was such a letdown, I vowed never to return.
The simple fact is while I did not mind queuing for food; I would not do so for a bowl of congee! My father and his mother make much better congee that it is hard to beat. Admittedly my father is more famous for his fish congee. I have never made one as good s his though. Gotta learn more in my next trip back home.
Congee (or cháo) is Asian-style rice soup. It is our food of comfort, so much like pho I would say. The Vietnamese version of congee is similar to the one we find in Cantonese restaurants here – small grains of rice being cooked until soft and tender in a savory soupy broth. We like to eat our congee with fried Chinese doughnuts (quẩy), for extra carbohydrates!
What makes my father and his mother’s congee so special? I guess it is in the love and care in the preparation. Unlike a lot of other recipes, we cook our congee from a combination of normal Jasmine rice and sticky rice. The rice is pre-soaked, and then coarsely pounded before cooking long and slow in chicken stock. I love the consistency of our congee – smooth, with separated small grains.
We, Vietnamese, also like to eat out congee with a lot of herbs. Sisho leaves and spring onion are the to-go combination for congee, and it is known to help with flu and the likes. In this instance, I have used Vietnamese mint (laksa leaves) and spring onion from my garden.
Melbourne weather today has been cold; it feels as though we are back in winter. We had chicken congee for lunch, and it was so satisfying!
I never really have a proper measurement for this recipe. So use this as a guide only. You will need a whole small chicken for the stock, but there will be leftover meat. Use it in sandwich, or salad.
Ingredients (serve 4-5)
½ cup sticky rice
1 cup Jasmine rice
6-8 cups water (estimate only)
1 small free-range chicken
1 piece of ginger
2-3 spring onions
3 tablespoons fish sauce
Salt and pepper
Condiment: finely chopped laksa leaves and spring onions
Fried Chinese doughnuts, to serve
Soak the two types of rice for at least 1 hour. Drain, and coarsely pound them with a pestle. It will look somewhat like this (broken rice!)
While the rice is soaked, cook the chicken. Bring 6 cups of water to the boiling point. Stuff the chicken with the ginger and spring onion. Put the chicken into the water, boil with high heat for 10 minutes, and then turn the heat down until the stock simmers nicely. Cover, and let it cook for 30 minutes. Take the chicken out, soak in cold water until cool. Shred the chicken meat, discard the skin and bone.
With the chicken stock, now add more water if needed to make a total of 8 cups of liquid. Bring to the boil, and gradually add in the rice. Bring the mixture to the boiling point, then, simmer with slow fire for at least 30-40 minutes until the grains are soft. Stir occasionally (nothing is worse than burned congee). Add more water if you feel that the congee is too thick.
Turn off the heat, cover the pot of congee and let it rest for 10 mins or so.
Now, to serve. First off, put the Chinese doughnuts under the grill in the oven until crispy. Cut thickly with scissors.
Put enough congee into another clean pot, add chicken, fish sauce. Adjust the consistency of the congee with extra water (the congee will be quite thick after resting) – you want a thick soupy consistency. Check the seasoning and add salt accordingly.
Just before serving, throw in the finely chopped herbs. Serve congee with lots of pepper, chilli powder (if preferred) and Chinese doughnuts.