Photo by Aubrie Pick
Creamy and comforting Asian rice porridges are prepared by gently simmering rice in liquid, such as water or stock, until the starches release. These soups are generically called cháo in Vietnamese, but in America, they’re better known as porridge or congee. The thrifty, versatile soups soothe stomachaches, colds, and hangovers. They’re a breakfast and lunch food, but don’t let this stop you from enjoying them for dinner.
Given that simmering can take a good hour, and the pot often threatens to boil over, Viet cooks have their tricks, such as using broken rice grains to hasten the cooking process. I simply soak cooked leftover rice overnight, and simmer for 15 minutes the next day. Here’s my basic recipe, followed by suggestions for embellishing the soup. See the Notes for options using other grains.
- Active Time
- 30 minutes, plus overnight soaking
- 2 cups packed cooked white rice
- About 5 cups chicken stock, vegetable stock, or store-bought chicken or vegetable broth
- 2 cups water, plus more as needed
- 3 thick slices unpeeled ginger, bruised
- 2 green onions, white parts kept whole, green parts cut into thin rings
- About ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- Recently ground black pepper (optional)
- In a 4-quart saucepan, combine the rice, chicken stock, and water. Cover and let sit overnight at cool room temperature (around or below 60°F) or in the refrigerator.
- The next morning, add the ginger and the white parts of the green onions to the pot. Partially cover (a small gap is perfect to minimize evaporation and avoid a boil over) and bring to vigorous simmer over high heat. Lower the heat and gently simmer, partially covered, for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally and adjusting the heat as needed. When done, most of the liquid will have been absorbed (you’ll see little separation between the rice and liquid). Discard the ginger and green onions. Stir the pot, cover tightly, turn off the heat, and let rest for 10 minutes to finish thickening. The desired thickness of the porridge can vary according to taste; it can be rustic and thick, or elegant and thin, or somewhere in between. If needed, add a splash of water to thin or cook a little longer to thicken. Taste and season with the salt.
- When ready to serve, reheat the porridge to a simmer, then ladle into individual bowls. Garnish with sliced green onions and pepper.
- Lean, light-tasting cháo responds well to fatty, salty, spicy, herbal enhancements. In addition to (or instead of) garnishing your porridge with green onion and pepper, consider the following, and feel free to mix and match.
- Crisp chopped bacon, a fried or soft-boiled egg, and maybe chopped kimchi for punch.
- Lemongrass Tempeh Crumbles or Crispy Caramelized Pork Crumbles.
- Chopped Sriracha Tofu, fried onions or shallots, and coarsely chopped fresh cilantro, mint, or basil.
- Crack a raw egg into the bowl before ladling in the hot soup. Top with crumbled rice crackers and perhaps ribbons of Korean toasted seaweed snacks (one pack of gim is enough for a batch). Stir well before eating.
- Drop 8 ounces of raw peeled shrimp into the soup as it heats. When the shrimp are pink and cooked through, ladle out the soup. Add slivered ginger and maybe some gim.
- Stir in raw or seared mushroom. Add a handful of shredded cooked chicken or some shrimp, or both.
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