Jook, glorious jook,
We’re anxious to try it.
Three banquets a day,
Our favorite diet.
– from “Oliver, the Musical”
(with apologies to Lionel Bart)
A phrase my friends have heard me utter more than once is, “I’d eat that for breakfast”. It usually is in reference to things most people wouldn’t think once, let alone twice, about eating for breakfast.
I like savory over sweet. For breakfast, I like things that have some complexity, texture and assertive flavors. I also like leftovers – cold pizza, cold fish fry, cold stir fry – you get the idea.
Jook (also called congee) is an Asian rice gruel that I love for breakfast. I know it mostly from Chinese cuisine but it appears in various forms throughout most of Asia and Southeast Asia. It manages to cover all my bases. It uses leftover rice, usually from last evening’s dinner. It accommodates additions of many other leftovers or orphan items too small to be turned into something more major, like dinner, but that are welcome in the jook pool.
1 C. cooked rice, cold leftovers are fine
2 C. chicken broth or water
1 piece fresh ginger the size of a quarter
2 mushrooms, any kind but shiitake are the meatiest
2 scallions, including the greens, cut in the bias into 1/2″ lengths
1/4 C. kimchi, drained and coarsely chopped
1 tsp. vinegar
1/2 Tbs. soy sauce or oyster sauce
2 Tbs. cilantro leaves
1 Tbs. peanuts
1 egg, raw or hard boiled
Country style bread, toasted or fried in olive oil
Put the rice, broth and ginger slice into a sauce pan and bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes or until the individual rice grains “explode”. Add the mushrooms, scallion, kimchi, vinegar and soy or oyster sauce. Continue cooking another 10 minutes. Add the raw egg, stir gently to break it up a bit and continue cooking until the egg is set. If using hard boiled egg add it to the top of the Jook just before serving. Add the cilantro, peanuts, a few grindings of black pepper and serve immediately with a few slices of a country style bread, toasted or fried in olive oil.
Extras: Small amounts of leftover cooked vegetables, some shredded lettuce or some meat picked from a roast or leftover fish would certainly be welcome in jook, in which case you could leave out the egg. If you have access to Chinese preserved duck eggs, they would be an authentic addition.
On our trip to China, I was in heaven. Each hotel had a Congee (Jook) counter with all the fixin’s. I don’t think they used the leftovers from the previous day’s dinner but you never know. The better (more Western) hotels had more than one kind of jook; plain and red bean (the same as plain with a few small red beans added) were the most common. The “fixin’s” were interesting; always a chili paste or oil, several selections of pickled some or another vegetable (burdock was my favorite – weirdly soft and crunchy at the same time), some form of fermented soybeans, sometimes green onions and peanuts, and often some inscrutable but tasty extra.
Now, I’d eat that for breakfast! And I do.