Feeling a bit under the weather last week, and watching the fat wet snowflakes falling outside my kitchen window, I suddenly had a craving for Jook, the ultimate Chinese remedy for anything that ails you.
Known as Congee in English, Jook in Cantonese, or Zhou in Mandarin, this quintessential comfort food is essentially a porridge made of rice. Although congee made from other grains such as millet, sorghum or cornmeal are common in Northern China, where rice does not grow, the soft white version made from rice is the one most encountered in Chinese communities here in the US.
Jook, is a blank slate. To make it, all you need to do is bring one cup of medium grain white rice (I like to use Goya Brand), and 9 cups of water to a boil. I usually add a pinch of salt, although the saltiness of the finished product will depend on what you add to it at the table. Simmer this slowly, stirring once in a while, until the mixture becomes thick and creamy, like oatmeal. This usually takes anywhere from one and a half to two hours.
In China, Jook is seen as an easily digestible food for the elderly, young infants and the infirm, in which case it is often eaten plain. To jazz it up, you can add a little soy sauce, white pepper and sesame oil. I like to shred a little ginger and warm it in Chinese roasted Peanut oil with minced scallions until fragrant, then stir the mixture into the Jook at the table.
Jook is traditionally eaten for breakfast, but can be enjoyed any time of the day.
When it comes to flavoring Jook, the sky’s the limit. Here are some traditional ideas:
Cooked and shredded chicken
Zhacai (pickled mustard) *
Rousong (also called Pork Floss or Pork Song)*
Fermented Tofu (aka fermented bean curd, or bean cheese)*
Century Eggs (also known as Thousand Year Old Eggs or Pi Dan in Chinese)*
Sriracha, or another Asian chile paste
Youtiao (Chinese crullers) *
* all items are available in any well-stocked Asian market
It looks like it may be a long winter. I’ll look forward to more snowy days, bitter cold mornings, a fire in the fireplace and a pot of Jook on the stove!