rice soup (aka juk or congee)

Juk
My family calls this dish rice soup.  It’s pronounced something like “juk” in Chinese and is usually labeled “congee” on restaurant menus. Which is good because calling it porridge doesn’t do it justice.

It’s basically rice cooked in more liquid than you’d normally use. It is a perfect food for winter, for when you’re feeling under the weather, or if you’ve gotten a tooth extraction, like my dad did last week. My grandma has been making him rice soup all week long and I’ve been quite a lucky benefactor.

The key to good juk is to break down the rice grains until it’s all a thick and mushy soup – my grandma describes this property as “noh” in Chinese. Starting with a good broth or bones and add-ins helps tremendously. My grandma usually does pork meatballs, maybe a few dried shrimps, and when we’re fancy, adding a thousand year old egg just before serving.

It’s not literally a thousand years old. What are you thinking? It is preserved though, and I guess it kinda looks like a fossil. It’s just a duck egg wrapped in clay and other materials for a few months. I won’t pretend to be an expert on this process but I’m sure Google will be able to help if you’re curious. As far as my grandma has described, they bury them in clay pots for a bit before they’re ready to eat. They are generally an acquired taste for westerners, especially with their dark black and green appearance, gelatinous consistency, and creamy greenish yolk. They are particularly delicious when they have a snowflake/flower-like pattern on the egg (see pic below) – I think this is a sign it’s been preserved properly and the salts/reactions that give the egg their flavor and texture have done their work.

Here’s my grandma’s traditional recipe. Be warned: grandmothers are not precise cooks. But their food is somehow always tastier.

Grandma’s Traditional Recipe (written as she told it to me):

  • Jasmine Rice
  • Pork Neck Bones
  • Ginger
  • Ground pork
  • Dried Shrimp (optional)
  • Salt, to taste (at the very end)

Wash the rice. It’s best to do this the night before so it cooks better. Just wash it and let it sit in water until you’re ready to use it. Stick it in the fridge or let it sit out if it’s cold enough out. Make bone broth with pork neck bones if you have any (or other bones if you have those). There’s enough flavor to get broth out of them twice. You can cook the bones right with the water and rice, but then you might have small bits of bone in there, so you can cook the broth first and transfer it to the other pot if you want to avoid this.

If you want 2 bowls of soup, get 2 1/2 bowls of water or broth for the rice (for 2 small Chinese bowls worth of rice soup, it’s about 3/4 cup rice). If you want dried shrimp, rinse/clean them and add to the broth with the rice. Add a few slices of ginger (somewhere between 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick and a few inches wide). Once the water is boiling, turn it way down. It doesn’t need to keep boiling. It might not even look like it’s cooking. If you want meatballs, add small balls of ground pork (seasoned lightly) and bring the soup back to a boil. Turn it way down and leave the lid on. Cook for at least 30 minutes or until it’s “noh.” If it’s taking a long time, take your chopsticks and stir it up in the pot a bit to break apart the rice to get it “noh.” It’s ready. You can just heat it up when you’re ready to eat it. Salt can be added at the very end – use however much you think it needs. You can even add more water if you think it’s too thick.

The easiest way to keep cooking it once the broth/water is boiling is to transfer it to the hot steamer. This way there’s no chance of it sticking to the bottom of the pot. When the rice sticks to the bottom of the pot, it can turn black and is really hard to clean.

 

The snowflake “Fa” pattern below is a sign of a quality thousand year old egg.

Thousand Year Old Egg