Our recent trip to Honolulu found Desmond, my four and a half month old son ready for food. He was so absorbed in what everyone else was eating, no wonder, our family reunions are serious food experiences. My Grandfather’s 95th birthday celebration brought Wong family relations together from all over the globe. Large round tables of raucous conversation and group cheers for each new course as it was brought to the table, all this focus on community and flavor my baby boy started yelling for attention. I think once you discover how great eating is it’s hard to just watch from the sidelines. He would literally holler until someone put something in his mouth. Little man doesn’t have any teeth yet and most of what the grownups were eating was too rich, greasy and/or chewy for a brand new eater to handle. Good thing almost every Chinese restaurant has some Jook bubbling away somewhere in the house. Jook is a thin rice porridge that is often served with peanuts and shavings of sweet pork jerky on top. (I would much prefer to have Porkfloss on top of jook than these doughnuts I found on an incredulous expatriate’s indiosyncratic Mainland China blog.)
It has long been used as a food for infants and convalescent adults and is pretty much ubiquitous throughout Asia. Known as congee in India and Cambodia, as Jook in South East Asia and Korea, and Zhou in Putonghua speaking China. Common ingredients mixed in this simple rice and water porridge include lean pork and preserved duck egg, chicken, squid, kimchi, green onions, ginger and just plain for little ones or for troubled digestion.
I used the opportunity of having so many aunties in one place to ask for tips on how to make the perfect Jook. My attempts at home seemed to differ quite dramatically from the smooth perfectly seasoned offerings one finds in restaurants. It takes a little bit of practice and filtering to understand what five sisters have to say across an enormous table speaking in very close and overlapping proximity and cancelling one another out with volume and hand gestures. It’s always a good time watching my mom and her brothers and sisters in action. I imagine all nine of them as young adults, calling on one another (unabashedly) to pull their own weight and heartily creating fun at every given opportunity. Gravesweeping is a common family gathering. Food and drink are put out for the hungry ghosts and the general area is cleaned up, weeded and tidied. Our family doesn’t just light incense, we take our expression to a whole new level – Auntie Lo did an interpretive dance on my Grandmother’s grave (she studies ballroom dance) and Uncle Tony put a lit cigarette in the ground near the headstone. My grandmother was pretty much pregnant between the ages of nineteen and thirty three, you’ve got to figure that she was always alive to the possibility to have a little party whenever she could.
So what I could discern from the kerfuffle that followed my question – great jook can be made following these guidelines. Mix a little salt and oil with your rice. Add 12 cups of water per one cup of rice. Restaurants and Jook Joints use broken rice for a finer texture, one can always duplicate this by running rice through a food processor very quickly before use. Add rice, oil, salt mix to already boiling water. Cook as slowly as possible. Use broth for a deeper flavor or when making chicken or turkey jook.
I added some Konbu (kelp) to my version for extra mineral goodness, and a teaspoon of flax seed for some of those good omega fatty acids. I also used the crock pot to make the whole endeavor easier than pie.
1 cup Brown Rice; 12 cups Water; piece of konbu rinsed in the sink; 2 tsp Ghee; 1/2 tsp Sea Salt; 1 tsp flax seeds.
Mix all ingredients except water, add water. Put on High in crockpot til bubbling (1hr) then turn down to low. Let it go for at least 4 hours. I let it cook overnight. Salt to taste.
Some great serving suggestions… chopped up leftover meats. Zuké :), furikake (seaweed, salt and sesame seeds), you can even make a sweet cereal by adding dried fruit, cinnamon and maple syrup.
Come Thanksgiving I assure you this is what I’ll be doing with the leftovers, boiling turkey carcass broth then making some slowcooked brown rice goodness. Sleepytime happy turkey triptomine jook has got my name all over it.