Since I'm such a connoisseur of peasant food – is that an oxymoron? – I think it's only appropriate that I feature peasant recipes on my blog and the first place honor goes to none other than Teochew porridge. I grew up eating piping hot porridge for lunch and breakfast almost everyday. For me, it's the best comfort food bar none. A good bowl of hot porridge energizes the body, lifts the spirit, and warms the heart.
Making good rice porridge is very easy. It starts with the choice of rice: 'new' is better than 'old'. New rice is rice that has just been harvested and has a high starch content whilst old rice has less. If it doesn't say 'new' on the packaging, that means it's old. It's not as good as new but doable if you aren't a porridge fanatic like me.
A quarter cup of rice per person would be sufficient unless you're a real peasant who has to work in the fields after your meal. For the first quarter cup, add about 650 ml water and for each subsequent quarter cup, add 250-350 ml. Bring the water to a boil, then continue boiling on high heat for about 15 minutes. It's crucial a furious, rolling boil is maintained or the porridge will be watery instead of gruelly. Make sure it doesn't boil over as it starts to foam, and lower the heat slightly if necessary. The porridge is ready after about 15 minutes when the water turns slightly starchy. Old rice may need a few more minutes and a bit more water. The rice grains continue to absorb water and the porridge thickens after the heat is turned off. So don't let the porridge rest too long unless you prefer it thicker, cooler and softer.
There's a clue in the photo on why the bowl of porridge is not really for a peasant. A true peasant would not be caught dead eating porridge with a spoon. He prefers to 'sweep' the porridge into his mouth with a pair of chopsticks in one hand whilst holding the bowl to his lips in the other. There's no need for a spoon nor is there an extra hand to hold one.
The peasant likes to squat - even when he has a chair because he's used to squatting in the fields - whilst 'sweeping' his porridge. He starts from the edge of the bowl where it's cooler, and works his way towards the centre. From time to time, he punctuates his eating by tapping his chopsticks against the rim of the bowl a couple of times. I think that's his way of enunciating a slight pause in his actions as he thinks about what to eat next with his porridge.
There are a thousand and one dishes that go well with Teochew porridge. One of the great classics is Chai Poh (Salted Turnips) Omelette. Check out my next post for a fool-proof omelette that's thick, fluffy, not too salty and not too oily.
|TEOCHEW RICE PORRIDGE|
(Recipe for 2 persons)
½ cup rice, washed
950 ml water
Bring water to a boil and add to rice. Continue to boil on high heat. Porridge is ready after about 15 minutes when water is slightly starchy. Old rice would need a few more minutes and a bit more water.
The ratio of water to rice changes with the amount of rice being cooked. Here's a rough guide:
¼ cup rice - 650 ml water
½ cup rice - 950 ml water
¾ cup rice - 1,250 ml water
1 cup rice - 1,550 ml water
1¼ cup rice - 1,900 ml water