Saturday, 26 November 2011
For three out of four* Chinese Americans (my extremely unscientific sample consisting of me, my brother and two friends), the best part of Thanksgiving is turkey jook. Jook (also called congee for reasons that I will never understand since the word has nothing to do with either the Cantonese (jook) or Mandarin (zhou) pronunciations of the actual dish) is basically a rice porridge. It is comfort food for Chinese people – a meal-in-one, a thick, rich, satisfying soup, usually eaten for breakfast. Soul food. At home, my dad makes it every Thanksgiving; after I moved to New York, the arrival of the brisk, early-dark days of November meant that soon my friend Sandy would leave a large container of turkey jook at the little Spanish restaurant next door to my apartment – the surrogate Chinese mother I never had. (An aside: Sandy also makes incredible jewelry).
You make jook, unsurprisingly, by boiling a little rice with a lot of water/stock. What is surprising is the ratio of liquid to rice: it usually ends up around 5:1 or 6:1. Unquestionably, the most important thing for turkey jook is to make a hearty turkey stock which you use as the liquid. To achieve this, once Thanksgiving is done, as the leftovers are being packed up, take the turkey carcass (don’t carve the meat off too well – make sure there is some left clinging to the bones), cover it with water, and boil it, adding more water occasionally as it boils off. Wash the dishes, watch some football, take a nap – several hours later, you will have a thick, hearty stock. Pick out the bones (but make sure you don’t throw out the meat!), and stick the stock (including the meat) in the fridge. The next morning, take a cup of leftover white rice, mix it with about four cups of stock, some meat, and set it to boil. Roughly chop a couple scallions – throw those in too. Sandy adds a piece of dried tangerine peel and a salted preserved turnip – nice flavors if you can find them.
Rice is amazing – even cooked rice will probably absorb most of the liquid in about 30 mins, but you’re not done. Add a little more liquid to thin it out. The goal is to have the rice start to break down – until the grains are no longer recognizable as grains.
When it’s done anoint it with sesame oil, and sprinkle it with some more scallions, finely chopped this time. Serve hot, with love.
serves 2-4 people
1 cup leftover white rice
6 cups turkey stock (with meat)
1 scallion, roughly chopped
1 scallion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 – 1″ piece of dried tangerine peel (optional)**
1 salted preserved turnip (optional)**
salt to taste
Add rice to 4 cups turkey stock (and tangerine peel/turnip, if using). Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cover, stirring occasionally. After about 30 minutes, check and add roughly chopped scallions, and more stock as needed. Cook for 45 minutes – 1 hour, adding stock as needed, until the rice has broken down, and the consistency is somewhere around that of instant oatmeal. Of course, you can adjust the consistency as desired. Serve with sesame oil and garnish with finely chopped scallions.
* Technically, the fourth had actually not considered turkey jook before, but declared it a good idea.
** These should be available in Chinese supermarkets or specialty stores.