KitchenTigress: Teochew Fish Porridge

Teochew Fish Porridge

Teochew fish porridge is kinda like fish soup with rice. Most people eat it as a one-bowl meal. Any type of mild tasting white fish with a fine, smooth texture may be used, but it must be very fresh.

Besides good quality fish, my mother's fish porridge has a special ingredient. It's dried squid which must be: (1) julienned lengthwise; (2) soaked till completely soft; and (3) very lightly blanched in the porridge, just enough to make the julienned squid curl.

Dried squid lifts the umaminess of porridge to a higher level. But, if you don't follow the three steps, it'll be tough and rubbery. You'll think there're rubber bands in the porridge. You have been warned.

How do you tell if the fish you wanna buy is fresh?

(a) It doesn't smell fishy. (b) The eyes are bright. (c) The gills are red. (d) It feels firm. (e) The skin is shiny. (f) All of the above.

If you choose "f", then sorry, you're wrong . . . mostly.

20 years ago, "all of the above" would have been the correct answer. These days, the fish may feel and look fresh because it's preserved with formaldehyde, the stuff used by embalmers. Nice, eh?

So how do you tell if the fish is embalmed?

If the fish is cheap, such as ikan kuning, ikan selar or some farmed fish, it's probably safe from chemicals added postmortem.

More pricey stuff, like large white pomfret and large sea prawns, are more likely to be preserved. Without a lab test, you can tell if it's fresh only by eating it. If it looks and smells fresh but it's tasteless although it's wild caught, then you've been had.
When you've NOT been had, fish porridge is an absolute delight. It's full of the sweetness of fresh fish, dried prawns, dried squid and 冬菜. It is light, with no fat other than a few drops of garlic or shallot oil, but it's totally delicious.

How to make Teochew fish porridge

Step-by-step guide

Teochew fish porridge you buy at a hawker centre is fish soup with cooked rice added. The rice has very little flavour. This recipe cooks raw rice in dried shrimp stock. The rice is infused with lots of umami flavour before fish is added. Julienned dried squid and 冬菜 are mixed through at the end to increase the umami kick further.

teochew fish porridge
  • 20 g dried prawns – rinse, soak 10 minutes or longer in just enough water to cover
  • 10 g dried squid body, quill discarded, at room temperature – with scissors, cut crosswise about 3 cm long; cut 10 g lengthwise into thin strips about 1 mm thick; rinse; soak in just enough water to cover till soft, about 20 minutes
  • 200 g white fish fillet – rinse, slice bite-size 3-4 mm thick, mix evenly with 1 tsp light soya sauce, sprinkle with ½ tsp cornflour or tapioca starch, mix again
  • 120 g long-grain jasmine rice
  • 800-900 ml boiling water

  • 1 tsp light soya sauce
  • 1 tsp Tianjin/Tientsin pickled cabbage (天津冬菜)
  • 1 tbsp fried garlic or fried shallots
  • 1 tbsp spring onions cut 3-4 mm thick
  • ground white pepper to taste

  1. Prepare dried prawns, dried squid and fish as detailed above.

  2. Put kettle on. Wash rice till water runs clear. Add dried prawns, along with soaking liquid, and 750 ml boiling water. Bring to a boil. Stir thoroughly to prevent rice from sticking. Keep rice boiling rapidly for 10 minutes, checking and stirring from time to time to make sure rice doesn't boil over.

  3. Top up with boiling water if necessary, depending on how thick or thin you like your porridge. Continue boiling rapidly till rice is just soft but surface is still smooth without any sign of turning mushy, another 5 minutes or so.

  4. Season porridge with 1 tsp light soya sauce and 天津冬菜. Add fish and stir through gently. Turn off heat once porridge returns to a gentle simmer. Add dried squid, along with soaking liquid, and stir through. Remove pot from stove.

  5. Quickly taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Immediately transfer porridge to serving bowls to prevent fish from overcooking. Sprinkle with spring onions, fried garlic and ground white pepper.

  6. Serve immediately with light soya sauce or light brown taucheo (fermented soya beans) as a dip, with lime juice and/or thinly sliced bird's eye chillies added if you like, to bring out the sweetness of the fish. Fish porridge is best eaten steaming hot.