Jook, congee, chao: whatever you call it, this humble rice porridge is a staple of many Asian cuisines. I grew up calling it jook, which from my understanding is the Cantonese name for it. Whenever my family would go to Chinese restaurants, I always thought it was weird to see it called congee, which I would assume is the Mandarin name for it?
I have fond memories of going to my grandma’s house for Thanksgiving and her making jook the morning after Thanksgiving with the Turkey carcass, and this tradition has continued into my parent’s household. Topped with a 1000-year old egg, a dash of white pepper, and fresh green onion and cilantro from her garden, it’s such a simple yet gratifying thing to eat. Her rendition of jook is pretty much the gold standard for which I compare all other versions to. One thing missing from her version, though, was the Chinese doughnut. The doughnut adds not only flavor, but more importantly a crunchy texture to what is mostly a mushy textured bowl of gruel. Tasty, tasty gruel, mind you.
My initial thoughts were to use pork belly prepared as it is in thit kho, inspired by my mom’s use of thinly sliced, caramelized pork with a similar flavor profile in her jook. However, the pig’s heads split down the middle at my grocery store always intrigued me, but I never bought it because I couldn’t think of a good use for it other than making a terrine. I fantasized about the tender cheek, tasty tongue, crunchy ear, squishy eye and heavenly jowl in a bowl of jook and thought it’d be a good candidate.
Not to mention the bones from the skull and copious amounts of gelatin in the head would make for a delicious stock for the jook to simmer in. So I went with the head and simmered it with mirepoix to create a solid pork stock and cook the meat until it was fall-off-the-head tender. As you can see, the head didn’t fit all the way in the pot and the snout wasn’t fully submerged in water.
Harvesting the meat from the head was a true test of my will. Several times I wanted to stick my face into the meat and start chomping. The rectangular white strips are pieces of the ear that I cut up in order to spread that great crunchy, cartilage-y texture throughout the meat. I also wished I had some corn tortillas and barbeque sauce so I could make tacos and a pulled pork sandwich while I harvested. Sadly, the snout didn’t make it into the meat mix since I was afraid that it’d be covered in pathogens since it sat above the water line for several hours.
I let the stock cool overnight so I could easily skim off the fat, and then proceeded to make the jook. The steps to make jook couldn’t be simpler:
- Simmer the rice in a lot of water or stock for a few hours, stirring occasionally
I took a departure from traditional jook and decided to use brown rice, hoping it would add more flavor. It did, but it didn’t. It tasted like brown rice, but I missed the comforting and familiar taste of white rice. Overall, I don’t think it was worth using brown rice.
One thing I definitely did not departure from was the use of preserved egg, or as most of my family calls it, 1000-year old egg. To me, the use of the 1000-year old egg is essential to my perfect bowl of jook. In fact, I’d say that if a bowl of jook didn’t have 1000-year old egg in it, I wouldn’t eat it. I have no idea how to describe how 1000-year old egg tastes, because I’ve never tasted anything like it. I did notice that on the egg carton that it said lye was one of the ingredients, so perhaps it has flavors that are found in lutifisk?
My favorite part of the egg is by far the creamy yolk. It’s packed with flavor, while the egg “white” (I guess you could call it the egg opaque black) is relatively bland and simply adds another layer of texture to the jook. Green onion, cilantro, and pepper add pop and brightness to round out the deeply flavored porridge.
For those not turned off by seeing a pig’s head, there are a couple details about prepping the head after the jump.
I had to shave the little guy. I bought a propane torch in case I had to singe hair off of any hard-to-reach areas, but I ended up not needing it.
It was playing peekaboo. When I picked up the head to put it in the pot, I realized that one of my fingers accidentally slipped into its eye socket. Grossed out by the fact that I was poking its eye, I almost dropped the head on the floor.
I just bought a suckling pig’s head and I’m pretty excited about using that meat for tamales.
They eye was disappointing from a taste point of view. The eyes in the tacos de ojo I had in Cancun were a lot tastier.