Can't make a good congee
I've tried various recipes for asian congee (rice porridge), and none of them even approach the sort of subtle flavors I get at restaurants.
I've tried using chicken broth, salt water, and various meats/veggies, but they usually end up tasting like salty boiled rice with included ingredients. Ok, it's not that bad, but it's definitely not quite at the level of subtle flavors that I'm looking for.
The texture is definitely correct (roughly 10:1 water:rice ratio) but I can't seem to get it right. Is there a secret step somewhere - like letting the mix sit overnight, or some missing ingredient? (I tried MSG, but it still didn't taste quite right.)
I also suspect the solution won't be hard to come by - the congees I've loved from restaurants all have looked very simple, with very few ingredients. Definitely NOT chicken-broth based.
I add 2 chicken leg quarters to a large pot and add 3/4 cup of rice and a few slices of ginger and let it boil for 2-3 hours. Near the end I'll add a splash of rice vinegar (unseasoned) and then salt and white pepper to taste. a pinch of msg is optional
This is the method I use, which I learned from my mom:
I rinse (preferrably short-grained) rice the night before and marinade the wet rice with plenty of salt and oil. Let sit on the counter overnight. The next morning, I bring plain tap water to a boil, then add the marinaded rice and any meat/bones to the boiling water. I also put in conpoy (dried scallops) -- see a photo in this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conpoy
which I also soak overnight in some warm water. They add a great flavour to the resulting congee. Once everything comes to a boil, I reduce the heat to medium-low and let simmer until desired texture (rice breaks away into the liquid) is achieved and stirring throughout the cooking process to avoid rice sticking to the bottom of the pot.
This will give you a good base to which you add any additional meat, seafood, etc. and don't forget a handful of chopped cilantro and green onions to garnish (and to add a nice fragrance to the congee) at the end.
From the recipe, I can tell that your mom must be a good cook!
The secret of restaurant congee, from what I understand, is that there are two different bases for different soup. One is white plain rice congee, which usually involves just rice, water, a little bit of bean curd sheet, and a small piece of dried mandarin peel. Some may add dried conpoy lkike mmom's mom. Her method is definitely the right way to go.
The other base is for congee intended for adding other ingredients (like chicken, seafood, beef, whatever). The base requires the basic ingredients of plain white congee plus a salted pork belly or some pork bones to add flavor. They prepare a large pot of this flavored base and finish the final congee when you place your order.
Also note that a real good congee place will blend different types of rices for the optimal "rice" flavor.
There's finely shredded ginger in the congee where we go for dim sum. That litle hit of raw heat adds dimension, so I'd suggest it as a garnish, too. I would try roasting the bones for the stock, rather than aiming for a clear broth. I usually use half stock/half water, and find it's closer to restaurant congee than all water. I'm also fond of the thinly sliced duck eggs in the final soup--that gelatinous texture and rich yolk--there's no substitute.
chicken carcass with some meat is fine but duck is best...whatever you use should be fatty, so fatty that it tinges the broth yellow. MSG is also a good touch.
I love the idea of adding dried scallop. I have had great seafood chao/congee and couldn't figure out how they got it so flavorful with just a basic seafood stock.. It must have been the dried seafood.
You are right to make congee like at your favorite Chinese restaurants is not going to be easy. But it containers the same ingredients as already posted on the board. But the favoring ingredient is "put into the background". Pork bones, Chicken bones and leftover vegetables in a water and rice is all there is. A clear gentle stock to prepared by cooking slowly so that the flavors are released while the broth remains clear. I for one like to use a small piece of peeled ginger.
I find that if you keep the broth simple and basic you cannot go wrong.
A simple basic congee it created and taken by bucket to the front where the chef prepares single order when required.
So you have a mild, gently stock to cooked with rice to make the congee.
I do not use a ratio I guess I am lucky I know how much rice to use. And if I use too much rice I just add a little water or stock (since I have a pot of stock ready at all times at home. You can thin out the congee or thick it as you please.
Most restaurants use a mixture of pork and chicken along with mixed vegetables to make there congee.
But if you plan out a type of congee you want then you should add some other ingredients to help the flavor. Like one of my favorite is fresh fish congee and I have been know to add dried fish to the stock for more flavor.
Tomorrow I plan to have chicken and shitake mushroom congee. No recipe just want I find in the kitchen.
With regards to the pork (or chicken?) - I've noticed that in my favorite congees, there are tiny threadlike strands of pork in the congee. They're supersoft, and I suspect they're contributing heavily to the flavor.
However, when I put in pork meat into my congee, it invariably ends up like a solid chunk, nothing at all like the thready meat I'm finding. What am I missing? (I cut it up into small strips, but I just end up with overcooked small strips of hard meat!)
Yes, if it is thin threads then I agree with CPIa that is may well be yuke soo or yuke foo (two ways pork is fried or bake into a puff threads). If you want thin strips of pork, chicken or beef to not become chunks then you add this at the very end and cook just long enough to be fully cooked. You should mix the meat strips in a corn starch/water mixture prior to adding to the finish congee and stir in a small pot and stir well during cooking than it will not become a solid chuck.
If do not overcook then you will not have hard meat. You have to be able to know when to stop cooking.
I normally add red meat to congee and cook to a boil and then remove from heat. When I add fish I boil the congee remove from the heat and add the fish to the pot and serve at once. Otherwise the fish will be overcooked. Mild white fish is best.