Saturday, September 24, 2011

Fish Porridge

First of all, 'porridge' to me (and other Malaysians/Singaporeans) is a Chinese rice based.....let's call it 'soup'. Elsewhere, it's known as congee to avoid being confused with with what Westerners call porridge (cooked oats). In fact, now most Chinese restaurants in Malaysia and Singapore have 'congee' in the English portion of their menus, even though it has always been colloquially known as porridge. Regardless, a good porridge (like good soup) can have real depth and a wonderfully comforting quality. My mom's pork porridge is one such example, but when I am in the mood for something lighter, I crave fish porridge. 

In Malaysia or Singapore, I would get this at a hawker stall or with dim sum at a restaurant, i.e. I wouldn't cook. And as you well know, I only cook when I crave something that I can't buy or convince someone else to cook. I don't hate cooking and am able to cook some things reasonably well, but have none of the desire or passion to cook that consumes S and E. They get very antsy and a little neurotic when they haven't cooked or baked in a while. I am very fortunate indeed to be or have been (E is too far away now *pout*) the recipient of the results of many a cathartic mission in the kitchen - including meltdowns and tantrums when things don't turn out quite right (according to them). 

Unlike them, I have no desire to make anything from scratch or in the most authentic, 'correct' way possible. Quite the opposite - if I have to cook, I try to reduce it to the simplest, quickest way to get a result that is to my satisfaction. This recipe is a perfect example - incredibly easy and the produces a fish porridge that is pretty close (S can attest to this) to the 'real-deal' (which includes laboriously making stock with pork and fish bones, etc, etc, which would take half a day at least). The monk fish was delicate and smooth and the porridge had a great savoury flavour with just a hint of the fish's sweetness. The crunchy, freshness of the spring onions, sweetness of the crisp, fried shallots, nuttiness of the sesame oil, sharp saltiness of the soy sauce and slight bite of the pepper are all absolutely essential to this dish and give it the complexity in textures and flavours that makes this dish. 

Monk fish
Ginger (whole)
Anchovy stock
Chicken stock
Medium/Short grain rice

Shallots (finely sliced)
Cooking oil
Spring Onions (sliced about 1cm width)
Ginger (finely sliced)
White pepper
Soy sauce
Sesame oil

1. Put about 1 cup of uncooked rice in rice cooker pot (mine cooks up to 7 cups of rice) and fill 3/4 of pot with cold water.
2. Add 1 peeled, two-inch piece of ginger and 1 cube of anchovy stock (may be substituted with chicken stock) to the pot and cook.
3. Check porridge periodically. Should take about 1.5 - 2 hours to soften properly. I prefer my fish porridge really runny, so I periodically stir, add water and let it simmer to get the right consistency.
4. While porridge is cooking, prepare the toppings and cut up the monk fish to approximately 2-inch sized chunks.
5. Fill a shallow bowl with roughly enough cook oil to cover all the sliced shallots. You can put the shallots in the bowl and then pour the oil over it, but I prefer to heat up the oil in the microwave first before adding the shallots. Heat oil in microwave on high for about 2 minutes, then test with a piece of shallot to see if it sizzles. If it does, add in all the sliced shallots and heat on high in the microwave for 2 minutes at a time - there's no precise way to do this, you just have to keep heating and checking to see if it has browned enough. Alternatively, you could just fry them in a pan over a stove.
6. When the porridge is close to the consistency of your liking, add the monk fish chunks and 1 cube of chicken stock and stir. Add water if necessary (if there is too much porridge, before adding the fish, scoop up some into a container and store in the fridge for another day).
7. Cook until fish is cooked and consistency is right.
8. Serve in a bowl, drizzled with sesame oil and soy sauce, and topped with spring onions, fried shallots and a dash of white pepper.

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