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.