Growing up, no other food that my parents made spelled out love better than jook, or Chinese rice porridge (also called congee). All it took was a little rice and broth or water to make comfort food at its finest. It warmed our tummies alongside noodles on weekend lunches at home. Since it's so hearty yet easy to digest, it made us feel better whenever we were sick with the flu, stomach problems, you name it. It was also traditionally a birthday food with my family--my dad explained it as "simple food that symbolizes your humble beginnings"--pretty wise, eh?
So now that I'm a Chinese Mama, jook has quickly become a staple in my household too. It's cheap, it's delicious, and it's such a feel-good food. Long gone are the days of dragging myself out of bed on a weekend morning to go to brunch in my best I-tried-really-hard-on-purpose-to-look-disheveled-yet-comfy garb. No sirree, I'm up early making jook for my family.
All you pretty much need is this: one part rice to approximately 10 parts liquid (broth, water or a combination of both) I prefer using jasmine rice, and using broth always makes jook alot more tasty than does water, though using water is handy when queasy stomachs call for the blandest of bland foods.
Put the rice in a large pot and add only about 4 to 6 parts of the liquid. Bring to a boil and lower heat to simmer and cover. After the rice simmers for a little bit, it will start to break down and look like the photo on the left.
Keep adding liquid in one to two part increments as the liquid in the pot starts to get absorbed by the rice and stir. As you near the 10-parts-liquid-part, the rice will start to look like the photo on the right. At this point, I always taste the jook for consistency before adding more liquid. Remember, you can always add more liquid but you can't take it out, so don't think that you have to use exactly 10 parts of liquid. Sometimes 8 is the magic number for me and sometimes it's 11, it all depends on how you want it and how moody your rice is on the absorbency scale that day. Another thing to keep in mind is that you can't rush jook; hearty, soul warming foods can't usually be made in 10 minutes, so be patient. Jook can sometimes take up to a couple of hours to make.
When your jook is near done, you can also add meat or other ingredients that would make it more interesting. Make jook as simple as you want, or as elaborate as you want. These days, I usually add coarsely chopped chicken thigh or beef because I'm catering to a toddler's diet, but the possibilities are really endless. Seafood makes for a really tasty jook, as do offals. My favorite jook growing up was a chicken and dried squid one; my brother's favorite contained pigs feet and boiled peanuts.
No jook is complete to me without all the condiments. At bare minimum, I've got scallions, ginger, and preserved turnip laying around for our jook meals. But it's an extra-extra-special day when I've got peanuts, thousand year old egg, deep fried bean threads, or yao zhar gwai--a deep fried cruller of sorts--to add to my jook. And oh yeah, don't forget the white pepper!
So doesn't this make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside now? Makes you wanna go hug your Chinese Mama, right? Don't have one? That's OK, just go make some jook--it's the next best thing.