Friday, March 8, 2013
Rice Soup, Khmer Style
It seems a little ridiculous that we are taking a break from our (Belated) Chinese New Year meals to make a Cambodian version of congee (a traditional Cantonese rice porridge), but Alex is sick and it's gross and snowy outside so I really wanted to make congee. After watching Chrissy Teigen make a Thai version of pork congee on Eric Ripert's YouTube series, On the Table, I wanted to make pork congee. And it just so happened that Hot Sour Salty Sweet had a recipe for a Cambodian congee with pork and a bunch of other deliciousness. So I decided that we could take today off from Chinese food and make some Khmer-style congee.
Congee is homey and comforting (and thus, good sick day food). And when you throw in all of the garnishes that are typical of Southeast Asian cuisine, it can be quite delicious (which appeals to everyone who isn't sick, namely myself, and some of those who are). Fish sauce, chilis, herbs, limes and fried shallots are a lot more fun than just scallions and sesame oil. I'm not knocking Cantonese congee in the slightest - I'm just saying that sometimes Southeast Asian congee recipes are a nice way to mix it up. While the congee was cooking I got a little worried that it wouldn't have enough liquid - that it would be wallpaper paste rather than porridge. And it definitely started to veer off in that direction. We ended up adding a little more liquid to loosen it all up a little, but I have adapted the recipe to include an extra 1-2 cups of water during the cooking process. Note that we used a ridiculously large Le Creuset to cook out congee (which allowed a lot of water to evaporate and necessitated 2 additional cups of liquid) and if we had used a smaller pan an additional 1 cup of water would probably have been sufficient. It was still a little more of a solid than a soup after the liquid cooked off, but that's ok. It was still warm, comforting and yummy. The congee itself had really nice flavor from the combination of dried shrimp and pork. I don't know that I necessarily like the flavor of pork congee better than chicken congee, but this dish made a really good case for pork. Beyond the flavor of the soup itself, I thought that the garnishes and everything else on top of the congee really made the dish. There is something to be said for being able to garnish a dish to suit your own tastes and preferences. We made the fish sauce pretty spicy and it was awesome spooned on top of the congee. But some people might not want quite that much spice. And then I went pretty heavy on the Thai basil, cilantro and fried shallots because I absolutely love all of those flavors. But again, some people might not. For the record, I'm not usually a big fan of bean sprouts (they just don't do it for me because I don't feel like they add anything) but I thought they were perfect here. They provided nice texture. And with congee, one of the things that I really want is texture. Obviously you want the congee to be flavorful, but a bowl of tasty porridge is still a little mushy and boring. You need something to give it a little bite. The bean sprouts, fried shallots and peanuts all added a necessary textural contrast (as well as more flavor) to the congee.
Recipe after the jump!
Rice Soup, Khmer Style
Adapted from Hot Sour Salty Sweet: A Culinary Journey Through Southeast Asia
By Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid
1/4 lb ground pork
1 tbsp Thai fish sauce
1 tsp sugar
7-8 cups water
2 stalks lemongrass, trimmed and smashed flat with the side of a cleaver
1 tbsp dried shrimp
1-inch piece ginger, peeled and smashed flat
3/4 cup Thai jasmine rice, rinsed well in cold water
2 tbsp peanut oil or vegetable oil
5 cloves garlic
1/4 cup Thai fish sauce
1 bird or serrano chili, chopped
fried shallots3 tbsp cilantro leaves
12 leaves Thai basil, coarsely torn
2 cups bean sprouts, thoroughly rinsed in very hot water
2 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced on the bias
freshly ground black pepper or white pepper
1/4 cup roasted unsalted peanuts, coarsely chopped
1 lime, cut into wedges
In a small bowl, combine the pork with the fish sauce and sugar, mix well to blend, and set aside.
Place the water in a large heavy pot over high heat, add the lemongrass, dried shrimp and ginger, and bring to a boil. Boil vigorously for 5-10 minutes, then sprinkle in the rice and stir gently with a wooden spoon until the water returns to a boil. Maintain a steady gentle boil until the rice is tender, 15-20 minutes, then turn of the heat. Remove and discard the lemongrass and ginger if you wish.
In the meantime, in a wok or heavy skillet, heat the oil. Add the garlic and stir-fry for 30 seconds, or until it is starting to turn golden. Toss in the pork and stir-fry, using your spatula to break up any lumps, until the pork has changed color, about 2 minutes. Transfer the contents of the skillet to the soup and stir in.
Combine the fish sauce and chili in a condiment bowl; set aside.
Just before serving, reheat the soup, stirring to prevent it from sticking. Add bean sprouts to individual soup bowls and top with herbs and scallions. Ladle the soup over the top, then top with more scallions, herbs, fried shallots, a very generous grinding of pepper and a scattering of chopped peanuts.
Serve with the fish sauce and chilis and lime wedges.