Monday, January 30, 2012

New Year's Cháo - Brown Rice Congee

Happy New Year everyone! This is a dish that I have only eaten once a year, since moving out on my own. Once a year on New Year’s Eve, during our family’s party we have a late night snack of nibbles and a big pot of seafood congee or cháo. This happens only a few hours after we have dinner at an all you can eat buffet but it’s such a treat that we manage to somehow find room for it.

If I’ve never mentioned it before, it should be clear that I owe a lot of my love for cooking and eating food from my family. Most of my inspiration for food often comes from a dish I’ve had that was made first by someone in my family. This year, while enjoying my annual bowl of cháo, I wondered why I had never tried to make cháo before. Then I remembered that recently my family has been working on putting together a cookbook of family recipes to share with each other and one of them was a recipe for cháo (expect a lot of exciting recipes soon). So upon returning to Montréal, I gathered ingredients for my first Vietnamese dish of 2012.

Cháo has never been one of my favourites and it’s not because it has a funny sounding English name. As a kid, I found it bland and boring which meant adding a lot of soya sauce. However, I appreciate it a lot more now, maybe because I only eat it once a year, but you really start missing those foods your mom made you growing up. For those of you still living at home, don’t take it for granted! For those of you who have moved out, I hope you’ve learned how to make your own favourites or perhaps visit family enough to get your fix.

Cháo is basically the Vietnamese equivalent of chicken soup, the kind of simple, comfort food you eat when you’re sick. It is generally wholesome and simple, made with water, rice, ginger and perhaps topped with cilantro, green onion and bits of chicken. Traditionally, it is made with white rice, but I only had brown rice so I tried to adapt a family recipe. The batch I made turned out a bit more like a risotto, whereas it should be more like porridge. This recipe was also halved from the original as we are only two people. It makes roughly 4 small servings.
Brown Rice and Chicken Cháo

5-6 cups water or chicken stock
1/2 cup of rice
2 slices fresh ginger
1 tsp salt
1-2 tsp fish sauce
1/2 tsp (2 ml) sugar
chopped green onion and cilantro for garnish
Strips of cooked chicken

Add water, rice and ginger to pot and turn heat to medium-high. Do not cover pot. Constantly stir the rice to avoid burning. Once the water has come to a boil, reduce heat to low, add salt, fish sauce and sugar. Cover the pot halfway with lid and keep it on simmer for 45 mins to an hour, stirring occasionally until the soup has reached a porridge-like consistency while being still just slightly soupy.

Sprinkle with chopped green onions, pieces of chicken and cilantro.