I hate feeling unwell.
Especially after I moved out of home almost 20 years ago and having to look after myself since then.
When I was a child and caught one of my fevers, mum would cook congee for me. For those who don’t know, congee is basically rice porridge. However in a Chinese household, that is like the proverbial chicken soup – a panacea for all ills.
Mum would make it either plain just flavoured with ginger to be eaten with sides of pickled lettuce hearts, canned fried dace (a kind of sardine) with black beans, boiled salted ducks eggs, century egg; or cooked with pieces of chicken on the bone, slowly poached in the gently bubbling porridge; or with minced pork, ginger, and chopped century egg. The porridge would then be my lunch and my dinner until I feel a lot better.
At other times, when we were feeling a bit “heaty” – symptoms will be a sore throat, dry scratchy eyes, and a general feeling of malaise, she would cook fairly plain foods in order not to stir up the heat any further. This could be pork rib soup with bitter melon and tofu or pickled mustard, tomato and tofu or chinese herbs, or steamed eggs with mince, or steamed chicken.
The soup would be a clear broth, made from slowly simmering a kilo of meaty ribs in 2 litres of water, with a large knob of smashed ginger and maybe a chopped onion for about an hour. Then the bitter gourd – cut in half lengthwise, the pith and seeds scrapped out, and chopped into segments, along with a packet of soft wobbly tofu would be added to the broth, seasoned with salt and cooked until the bitter gourd is soft.
If making the pickled veg and tomato version – a whole pickled mustard green( available from Chinese groceries ), sliced to lengths of around an inch, soak in water for 10 minutes to remove the excess saltiness. Add that, along with 2-3 ripe tomatoes cut into quarters, skinned if prefer, and a packet of soft tofu, cubed. Simmer until the tomatoes have fallen apart and the greens have softened. If not salty enough, add some salt.
Nowadays, it is so easy to make the herbal soups – all you need to do is visit a chinese grocer and there would be pre-packaged mixed herbs for any health complaints. You can get packets of herbs for improving your brain function, for improving your circulatory system, for improving your respiratory system or even those that claim to help improve your youthful looks. A friend of mine who is a scientific sceptic would scoff at the claims, but having grown up on the black herbal soups my mum made me, I am not about to get into an argument with him about it. Maybe it’s all just in my mind, but whenever I come down with something and in need a tonic, I would go find the packets of dried red jujubes, honey dates, dried lily bulbs, ginseng roots, chinese bitter almond kernels, lotus nuts, luo-han fruits, dried goji (Yes we were eating this stuff a long time before it became fashionable, and no, we do not eat them on our cereal!), fox nuts, dried beetroot, angelica, and a whole host of other herbs which I have no English names for. And then I will get a kilo of chicken bones, and a kilo of ribs (yes my family loved ribs) or soup bones. The meat would go into a slow cooker with a kettle of hot water poured over, then the herbs would be added. I would then leave it to slowly bubble away for the rest of the day on the low setting, or at least for 4-5 hours on the high, and go back to bed. When done, my dinner would be the soup along with the ribs dipped in oyster sauce and plain steamed rice.
Cheat’s chicken congee
- 2 cups cooked plain steamed rice
- 6 cups hot water
- large knob ginger, about 2 inches, peeled and smashed
- 300 grams chicken thigh meat cut into 1 inch cubes
- light soy sauce
- oyster sauce
- Shao Xin wine
- Sesame oil
- corn starch
- Put the rice and the hot water into a large sauce pan and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat down to a simmer, stir to break up the lumps of rice. Add the ginger. Leave to simmer, stirring occasionally, for around 45 minutes, until the rice have “flowered” or broken apart. The congee should have quite a thick soupy texture.
- While the congee is cooking, marinade the chicken in 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of oyster sauce, 1/2 teaspoon of sugar, 1/4 teaspoon of sesame oil, 1/2 teaspoon of corn starch and 1 tablespoon of wine.
- When the congee is thick, stir in the chicken and simmer until the chicken is cooked, around 10-15 minutes.
- Serve hot with sides of pickled lettuce hearts, preserved tofu (nam-yu), coriander, hardboiled salted ducks eggs or century eggs.
Steamed Eggs with mince
- 250 grams minced pork
- 6 eggs
- 1 inch young ginger finely slivered.
- light soy sauce
- oyster sauce
- sesame oil
- corn starch
- 2 salted duck’s eggs ( optional )
- mix together the pork, ginger, 1/2 teaspoon of corn starch, 1 teaspoon soy sauce, 1 teaspoon oyster sauce, 1/4 teaspoon sesame oil in a bowl. Transfer the mixture to an oiled deep sided dish, like a Pyrex pie dish.
- Beat together the eggs, 6 tablespoons of water, 1/2 tablespoon of light soy, a few drops of sesame oil, and the whites of the ducks eggs if using.
- Chop the duck’s egg yolks into small pieces, if using, and scatter over mince mixture. Pour over the eggs.
- Add at least 2 inches of water to the bottom of a steamer, and heat until boiling. Place the egg mixture over the steamer, and turn heat down to medium-low to gently steam until cooked. Around 45 minutes.
- serve hot with plain stir fried greens with garlic and rice