Cháo, Congee, Bubur Ayam, Ikayu, or Juk… Many names, familiar flavours
What is Cháo, Congee, Bubur Ayam, Ikayu, or Juk? It’s a thick porridge made from rice. It’s eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Across Asia, from Burma to Japan, Vietnam and Indonesia, families eat a different version of this hearty rice porridge with various methods and toppings, creating unique creations. There is always one constant that connects all the versions, and that’s the rice. Growing up, I ate Cháo Gà- Vietnamise Chicken Porridge.
I don’t know what my earliest memory of eating Cháo was. It’s one of those dishes that I always remember eating. As an adult, I crave Cháo when I’m sick.
Whenever I was under the weather, my mom would make me a steaming hot bowl of rice porridge topped with what my siblings and I called “Dirty Carpet” - obviously, it’s not an actual dirty carpet but flavourful pork floss. I don’t know why we called it Dirty Carpet; it doesn’t look like dirty carpet to me, but my brother thinks it does. That’s what we always called it, and I still do to this day. An example of my family’s idiosyncratic behaviour.
The smell of Cháo gives me instant homesickness. It conjures up images of family, of my mom taking care of me when I was feeling sick. The memory is very reminisncint of a scene in one of my favourite movies. You know that scene, when the critic eats the rat’s ratatouille and has an instant flashback to his mom’s home cooking. That’s what Cháo does to me. When I’m sick, I crave it. It’s my chicken noodle soup.
My mom makes her Cháo with jasmine rice, I make mine with short-grained rice, and my friend makes hers Uncle Ben’s. To each their own. I serve mine with a side of Chinese doughnut sticks (Youtiao 油条); my friend serves salted duck eggs as her side.
You can eat it like Mulan ate it, with some bacon and eggs. It doesn’t matter, as long as you try it and eat it!
To make a flavourful Cháo, start with your stock. I’ll include my recipe below.
Note: Pork floss is excellent. I love it as a topping for my Bánh mì and sometimes just over rice with a fried egg. Don’t be turned off and not try it because my brother says it looks like a dirty carpet.
1 whole chicken (meat removed and bones reserved for stock)
1 large white onion
1 large piece of ginger peeled
2 -3 garlic cloves
3 scallions (two for the stock and one for the toppings)
Salt to taste
1/4 tsp of MSG if you want... I do :)
1 cup rice of choice
8 cups of stock
2 cups of water
Chicken - Reserved from your stock
1 tablespoon Soy Sauce
1 teaspoon mirin
1 tablespoon potato starch (or corn starch)
Remove the white and dark meat from your chicken and set aside, place the remaining bones into your stockpot, cover with water; bring to a boil and cook for about 15 minutes.
Drain your chicken bones and discard your water. Wash out your pot, re-add your chicken bones and 12 cups of water. This step creates a clear broth, free from impurities.
Bring your pot to a boil, reduce your heat to a simmer, cook for 1-2 hours. Remove your chicken bones, skim the fat from the top of the broth, and add your onion, shallots, garlic, scallions, ginger, and salt. Simmer your broth for an additional hour.
In the meantime wash and drain your rice. Cut your chicken into strips or chunks, and marinate with the soy sauce, mirin, starch and pepper. Set aside.
When the stock is ready, remove the aromatics and strain. Return the stock to a clean pot and add your rice. Bring your stock and rice to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook on low for 1 hour. Only stir your Cháo every 20 minutes.
After one hour, take a whisk and stir your Cháo to break up the rice. You want your congee to have texture, but also be thick and creamy. At this point add your marinated chicken and stir.
When the chicken is cooked, it’s ready to serve!
Lien already knows how to make Cháo. She learned how to make this long before I did, so in fact I’m catching up to her in the Cháo area.
Cost Breakdown (assuming you have the rice, salt, pepper, soy, mirin etc..)
Whole Chicken - $5.05 (it was on sale this week)
Ginger piece - $0.75
Garlic (per unit) - $0.15
Scallions - 3 for $2.50
Shallots - $0.60
This recipe makes enough for 4 people + leftovers for lunch. Without toppings the cost of this meal + leftovers is = $1.13 per serving!
Pork floss can be found at any Asian grocery store. It ranges from $5.45 - $6.99 per tub.
I buy my Youtiao frozen can cook as needed. Each package is $2.99.