Miso congee w/ crispy scallion oil and cream
” It’s an agent of both calmness and arousal, a stimulating congee. “
Around this time of the year with its cold crisp air, with it carrying a smell of memory that I can’t seem to grapple, I am loosened and adrift. I feel like anchoring to a sleeved cup of coffee with both hands, and wander aimlessly on the street decorated with relentless sparkles. Like an old lady who has lost something but couldn’t remember what. My fingertips are toasty, the coffee sleeve too thin… I’m a child to be fetched.
This, of course, could be seasonal sentimentality talking. But also possibly early, really early onset alzheimer. Both equally dangerous.
I’ve been meaning to cook something that satisfies my overindulged melancholy, something to be eaten after I sing me a river to skate away on and stare out the window for no apparent reasons. Something to part from the perception that congee or porridge – still in my mind, the perfect comfort food – is bland and monochromatic, but at the same time celebrates the fact that it is nourishing, consoling, and the food-equivalent of very expensive therapists.
I started with a very clean, water-based miso broth as the foundation of a soothing but flavorful congee, then dribbled on pockets of excitements from crispy scallions and garlic chips fried in olive oil, quick-pickled shallots and lightly whipped heavy cream. The miso congee is thick, enwrapping, but appropriately lubricated by the luscious mouthfeel of the herbaceous olive oil and the cool sweetness of cream, with a cadence of brightness from the crisped scallions and garlic, tangy shallots and the occasional burst of pain from finely minced pickled bird’s eye chilis. It’s an agent of both calmness and arousal, a stimulating congee. Break a soft-boiled egg on top and it’s a legit meal.
It’s the kind of stuff I crave around this time. And I suspect you, too.
- 5 cups water
- 1 1/2 tbsp katsuobushi/bonito powder (see note *)
- 1/4 cup + 1 tbsp medium or dark miso paste
- 2 tsp light brown sugar
- 2 tsp fish sauce
- 1/8 tsp curry powder
- 1 1/2 cup cooked short grain rice, plus 1/2 cup to finish
- 4 small or 3 large scallions
- 2 cloves of garlic, thinly shaved
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
- 1/4 tsp ground white pepper
- 1 shallot, thinly siced
- 1 1/2 tbsp rice vinegar
- 3/4 tsp light brown sugar
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- pickled chilis, finely diced (recipe available in The Art of Escapism Cooking)
- soft boiled eggs to serve
- MAKE MISO CONGEE: In a large pot, bring water to a simmer then whisk in the katsuobushi powder, miso paste, light brown sugar, fish sauce and curry powder until the paste is evenly dissolved. If your miso paste is grainy and coarse, melt it into the water through a fine strainer and discard the solids. If your miso paste is on the pale side, you can add ground sweet paprika to add a bit of reddish hue. Every miso paste may have different salt level, so adjust if needed.
- Add 1 1/2 cup cooked short grain rice (it may seems very little but the rice will expand), and continue to simmer, stirring frequently, until the rice is mostly broken down and softened, about 30~35 minutes. You can use the back of a ladle to press on the rice against the side of the pot to speed it up a bit, but this part mostly requires some patience. Then at the end, add the last 1/2 cup rice to add a bit of texture.
- MAKE CRISPY SCALLION OIL AND OTHER TOPPINGS: Meanwhile, use either a multi-blades scallion cutter or a sharp knife, cut the scallions into thin strips. No need to be anal about it. Place the scallions into a small pot along with shaved garlics, extra virgin olive oil and sea salt. Place over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the garlics have turned blonde yellow (no darker), then immediately transfer into another bowl. The garlic and scallion will continue to darken and crisp up in the residual heat. Stir in ground black and white pepper, and set aside until needed.
- Combine thinly sliced shallot, rice vinegar and light brown sugar in a small bowl, and let pickle for 10 minutes. Whisk the heavy cream until lightly foamy, then set aside until needed.
- TO SERVE: Serve the miso congee with crispy scallion oil and cream drizzled on top. Scatter the pickled shallot and chilis around (or you can use capers or store-bought pickled chilis), then dust ground black pepper on top. Serve immediately.
* Katsuobushi or bonito flake is dried, fermented and smoked skipjack tuna. It is a very common Japanese ingredient, quintessential in making miso soup, that can be found in most Asian supermarkets and online. Grinding it in a spice-grinder into powder form saves me the step of straining the flakes (which has a woody mouth feel) from the soup.