Monday, March 24, 2014

Khao Tom Thai Rice Soup

Given how much I always thought I hated congee, I find it pretty shocking how much I now enjoy it.  I haven't tried it in many restaurants because I'm still a little weirded out by ordering rice gruel with a potential surprise inside, but I love making it at home.  We don't do it very often, but that's because I tend to forget all about it until hit with an intense congee craving.  Usually that happens when it is cold out and I am feeling under the weather.  I swear this stuff is almost better than chicken noodle soup.

This congee is in some ways not that different from the Rice Soup, Khmer Style we made a year ago (both use ground pork and Southeast Asian ingredients like fish sauce and lemongrass), except that this congee added tofu and was even more flavorful, which I expected given we used a homemade broth that was very flavorful in and of itself.  I also liked the texture of this congee better because it wasn't quite as thick.  You could totally play with this recipe to adjust the seasonings and ingredients if you felt like playing around in the kitchen (or if your kitchen is simply missing one or more ingredients).  If you're not a fan of pork you could use ground chicken or turkey and if you wanted to be a little more Chinese (and less Southeast Asian) you could use ginger instead of lemongrass, peanuts instead of fried shallots and a combination of soy sauce and salt instead of fish sauce.  You could also omit the Thai chili if you're not a fan of spicy food.  Personally, I thought the dusting of Thai chili gave it the perfect kick, which was muted by the congee, but gave it a little extra zing.

Recipe after the jump!

Khao Tom Thai Rice Soup
Adapted from Serious Eats

6 cups Asian Chicken Stock (see recipe below)
2 shallots, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
2 (5-inch pieces lemongrass), halved lengthwise
2 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
3/4 cups Jasmine rice
3/4 pound ground pork
1 teaspoon fish sauce, plus more to taste
Salt, to taste
1 tbsp lime juice
2 tbsp fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
1/4 cup scallions, thinly sliced
1 Thai bird chili, finely chopped
1/2 pound firm tofu, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup fried shallots

In a pot combine stock, shallots, lemongrass, garlic, and rice and bring to a simmer. Cook until soup is thickened and rice is tender, about 20 minutes. Reduce heat to low Remove lemongrass and discard.

Add ground pork and stir, breaking up the pork, until pork is fully cooked, about 2 minutes. Add fish sauce, a pinch of salt, and lime juice. Stir in half of cilantro, half of scallions, half of chili, and all of the tofu. Add more fish sauce and salt to taste.

Divide soup between bowls, then top with remaining cilantro, scallions, chilies, tofu, and fried shallots. Serve immediately.

Asian Chicken Stock

2 yellow onions, quartered
4-inch section of fresh ginger, peeled and lightly crushed with the flat side of a cleaver
1 organic chicken, about 3-4 lbs, excess fat and skin, organs and tail removed and discarded
 2 lbs chicken parts
4 quarts water
1 tbsp salt
2 tbsp fish sauce
1-inch chunk yellow rock sugar
1 tbsp coriander seeds, toasted
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 small bunch cilantro
5 kaffir lime leaves, fresh or dried (we used fresh)

Rinse the chicken under cool water.  Detach each wing.  Add the wings and neck, if included, to the chicken parts.  Set the chicken aside.

Put the chicken parts (not the whole chicken) in a stockpot and add cold water just to cover.  Bring to a boil over high heat and boil vigorously for 2-3 minutes to release impurities (this will help make your broth clear).  Dump the chicken parts into a strainer and rinse the parts well with water to wash off any nasty residue.  Quickly scrub the stockpot clean and return the chicken parts to the pot.  Nestle the chicken (breast side up) into the bed of chicken parts.  Add 4-5 quarts of water.  The chicken should be covered with about 1-inch of water to spare.  Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat to a gentle simmer.  Use a ladle or shallow spoon to skim off any scum or froth that floats to the top.  Add the onions, ginger, salt, fish sauce, rock sugar, coriander seeds, peppercorns, cilantro and kaffir lime leaves.  Simmer, uncovered, for 25 minutes.  Remove the whole chicken from the water and transfer it to a large bowl.  The chicken should be fully cooked at this point.  Flush the chicken with cold water and drain well, then set aside until cool enough to handle, about 15-20 minutes.  Continue to simmer the chicken parts.

Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, use a knife to remove the breasts and the legs (thighs and drumsticks).  Set aside on a large plate to cool completely.  Return the chicken carcass to the stockpot and adjust the heat to simmer the broth gently for another 1 1/2 hours.  

Cover the chicken breasts and legs with plastic wrap and refrigerate.  Bring them back to room temperature before serving.

Strain the broth through a sieve lined with a cheesecloth.  Discard the solids.  Skim as much fat from the top of the broth as you can.  Taste the broth and season to taste with additional salt, fish sauce and rock sugar.  There will be about 4 quarts (16 cups) of broth.  

If you want, you can cool the broth and refrigerate it overnight to remove the fat that solidifies at the top and then just reheat.

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