Monday, October 25, 2004

The Joy of Jook

Sometimes on Sundays I make myself a Japanese-style breakfast: miso soup (Kikkoman instant), grilled salmon or trout, a bowl of rice, and green tea. I normally make about 4 to 5 cups of rice in my cooker, so of course there's leftovers. Occasionally I fry leftover rice, but for the fall and winter months I make jook.

Jook is the Cantonese pronunciation of the Chinese word congee, or rice porridge. It's what happens if, when making rice, you go overboard on the water and let it cook so long that the starches in the rice grains are leeched into the cooking water, resulting in a thick, lumpy sludge. Something like oatmeal.

The thing about jook is that it goes rather well around this time of year, as a way of keeping warm or feeding someone suffering a cold. Rice and water are bland, but most Asian-Americans (or indeed, Asian-Canadians) season it with bits of stuff -- chopped meat, pickles, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, etc. -- and the blandness of rice means almost anything will go well with it.

The way I make jook is to take a cup of cooked rice (either medium- or long-grain works well, but not Uncle Ben's) and add it to 2-3 cups of liquid in a saucepan, which is then heated to boiling. The liquid I like to use is chicken broth -- either Campbell's ready-made (I prefer the low-sodium blend) or water mixed with President's Choice chicken stock mix. I season with sesame oil, soy sauce, and pepper. I'll add in cubed Spam turkey, some minced hot peppers, and/or pickled mushrooms. I find that, once it gets to the boiling point and I reduce the heat to medium-low, a half hour covered is enough time to get the consistency I like. It's not typically Asian, but it works for me.

It's a comfort food, like Kraft Dinner, which gets me through a weekday evening. And the heat of jook does wonders for reducing the snuffliness of a cold.