Monday, January 12, 2015

More roast pork magic

One of the best ways to deal with an aching head — be it from a cold, your allergies, or a long night on the town — is a hot bowl of congee. It is soothing and delicious and full of savory bits that will restore your faith in the human race. Of course, if you are not feeling well, even the idea of waiting for breakfast can be daunting. But congee is easy to make ahead of time, and it only needs to be microwaved until it is boiling hot before the tasty bits are added.

Most traditional recipes for this classic congee use blanched or stir-fried pork strips, and that was the way I always made it, too. And then, on my birthday last month, we headed to my favorite Cantonese deli for brunch. I ordered a big bowl of this soothing congee and found shreds of roast pork waiting for me. What a great birthday present that was.

Leftover nirvana
Called siu yuk 燒肉 in Cantonese, this roast pork is not at all sweet and red like char siu, but rather has a golden, deeply fried skin that is crackly and delicious when hot. The cut is from a big side of pork, so it is not too fat, and yet it’s buttery enough to be juicy and tender. Most Cantonese delis will have this hanging in the front window alongside the roasted ducks and chickens, and I like to take a hunk home with me for later snacking. 

This is one of my absolute favorite go-to recipes now that I know what to do with all the delicious shreds at the bottom of the box. Even the bones get used, so keep any that you find. And don’t forget the skin... it adds a wonderful layer of texture. Other than that, personalize this as you like, with crispy cruller (youtiao) slices instead of the peanuts, cilantro in place of the green onions, and even some fresh eggs dribbled into the hot congee instead of the preserved ones.

My favorite... now even better
Pork and preserved egg congee
Pídàn shòuròu zhōu 皮蛋瘦肉粥
Serves 4 to 6

1 cup broken jasmine rice
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon fresh peanut or vegetable oil
17 cups water
1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger
2 tablespoons mild rice wine
Any bones from the roast pork

The tasty bits:
4 ounces (or more) shredded roast pork
2 preserved eggs (pidan)
More sea salt or light soy sauce, optional
1 green onion, trimmed
2 tablespoons toasted peanuts
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Rinse the rice in a sieve until the water runs clear, and then place it in a heavy-bottomed, large pot. Mix the salt and oil into the rinsed rice and let it sit for at least an hour so that it gently seasons and tenderizes the grains.

2. While the rice is marinating, shred the pork into smallish bits while reserving the bones and discarding any large pieces of fat. Shred the skin into thin pieces while you’re at it. Slice the green onion into fine rounds and coarsely chop the peanuts.

Ready to serve
3. Add the water to the pot, stir, and bring to a full boil before lowering the heat to a gentle simmer; add the ginger, rice wine, and any bones that you might have from the roast pork. Cook the congee for 40 or so minutes, stirring occasionally and always scraping the bottom of the pan, until the grains have bloomed and the liquid has thickened. You may also use an automatic rice cooker with a “porridge setting.” The congee will be ready when the grains have blossomed into soft little puffs, but don’t overcook the rice to the point that it becomes gluey. It’s important to be able to see each individual grain and to be able to feel them as they gracefully glide across your tongue.  The most important key to a perfect bowl of congee is cooking it to the exact point of doneness — everything else is secondary.

4. Pluck out and discard the bones. Toss in the pork, skin, and preserved eggs. Simmer these for around a minute just to heat them through and turn them a bit softer. Taste the congee and adjust the seasoning as needed; it may need more salt or a touch of soy sauce, depending upon the saltiness of the pork. Ladle the congee out among as many bowls as you wish, and then sprinkle the tops with the green onions, peanuts, and black pepper. Serve piping hot.

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