Last week I ended up having lunch at one of my favourite restaurants in Portugal – the Mandarin at Estoril Casino. I’ve mentioned it here before more than once, as it is, in the opinion of anyone who knows true Cantonese cuisine, as good as it gets without jumping on a plane and heading for Hong Kong or Macau.
A dim sum lunch for me at the Mandarin always starts with a bowl of congee, something most often eaten for breakfast not only in China but in different variations all over East Asia.
The word congee stems in fact from the Portuguese word canja, meaning broth, usually made from chicken. But in East Asian countries it is actually rice porridge, made from rice gruel. It is just about as versatile as rice itself and although most often eaten as breakfast in Asia, it is also served sometimes as the starch element to a meal, replacing rice or noodles.
Cooked at home, it is very simple, as long as you have some stock and rice (any rice will do). The congee in the photo was cooked at home on Sunday with some stock made from a roast chicken carcass, although for congee I prefer the cleaner flavour of a “white” stock made from boiling raw chicken.
Cook the rice until it can take on no more water and starts to break up (around one hour), adding hot water or stock during the cooking to avoid it drying out and sticking to the pan. Then quickly liquidise it in the pan with a hand blender to create a smooth porridge; more or less hot water or stock can then be added to reach the desired consistency.
Pieces of cooked chicken can then be added or other ingredients (slices of scallop work particularly well). For the garnish, chopped spring onion is usually added along with something crispy – fried pieces of wanton pastry are ideal – and then a drizzle of soy sauce.
Be careful with the quantity of rice used. For a medium-sized pan one small cup of rice is sufficient as it swells to around double the volume of normally cooked rice.
By PATRICK STUART [email protected]