IT’S COLD AND I’M SICK AND JOOK IS THE ANSWER
Today is my birthday but I’m spending it bed, having surrendered to a bad head cold. And because it’s Texas in December, the temperature has plummeted from 75 degrees this morning to 34 degrees six hours later. The wind is howling outside and my joints are feeling the barometric pressure change and I want comfort food. Jook is the answer.
What the heck is jook, you ask?
Jook (also called congee) is rice porridge. It is a staple all over Asia and is considered a tonic food for children, new mothers, people who are sick, or anyone who is run down and in need of some extra nourishment. It is soothing to upset tummies, is the perfect food when you have a stuffy nose, and basically just tastes like TLC in a bowl. It is easy to make, cheap, and a batch keeps in the fridge for several days (although it rarely lasts that long at our house). My favorite time of day to eat it is for breakfast, but it is good for lunch, dinner, or a before-bed snack too.
The main downside of jook is the fact that it has to be babysat while it cooks for a couple of hours, but the Instant Pot makes it a set-it-and-forget-it recipe (if you don’t yet have an Instant Pot, you need one for sure — it is the most useful kitchen tool I own).
Ideally you would make jook with homemade chicken broth or bone broth. But when I am sick and have been in bed all day, sometimes I resort to Swanson’s (shhhh…don’t tell anyone). The one ingredient that’s non-negotiable is short grain white rice, also called sushi rice. It’s available with the Asian food at my H-E-B, but my favorite thing to do is buy it by the 15-pound bag at the Japanese grocery store in Austin. Other types of rice kind of work, but they won’t give you the silky texture that jook is supposed to have.
Here’s what you do if you have an Instant Pot:
- Put one cup of your short grain white rice in a large bowl full of water. Swish it around for a few minutes and then dump it through a strainer. Do this a couple of times until the water no longer gets cloudy. Rinsing the rice is an important first step and is key for the jook’s texture.
- Dump the strained, rinsed rice into your Instant Pot.
- Add three or four cups of chopped up vegetables. I like a lot of white onion, some celery, some carrot, and definitely about an inch section of finely chopped ginger. You could also use radish or turnip or scallions.
- Dump in a pound of raw ground chicken.
- Take your hands and mush the ingredients together to break up the ground chicken.
- I love salt, so I add about a half teaspoon of sea salt.
- Add about 8 cups of broth. If you’re fancy and have planned ahead, use homemade. If not, store bought is okay too.
- Put the lid on your Instant Pot, close the valve, and program the unit to “porridge” (20 minutes of cook time).
- Wait patiently. Generally it takes about 2 hours for the pot to heat up, pressurize, complete the porridge cycle, and cool enough for the pot to depressurize on its own. Usually I get impatient and start fiddling with the float valve as soon as the cook cycle is done, however, and end up with broth all over my countertop because it spurts through the valve as the steam is being released.
- At this point I usually dump in a bag of store-bought shredded cabbage (the kind that’s made for making coleslaw). Stir it in and it wilts and becomes soft quickly.
- Garnish each serving with sliced green onions and cilantro.
- If it needs more salt, try a splash of fish sauce.
Here’s what you do if you don’t have an Instant Pot:
- Go to Amazon.com and order an Instant Pot. 🙂
- Saute your chopped vegetables (step 3 above) in a bit of oil in a large stock pot until they are soft.
- Add the ground chicken and cook until it’s no longer pink.
- Add a cup of rinsed short grain rice (see step 1 above).
- Add 8 cups of chicken stock.
- Bring the pot to a boil, then reduce heat and cover.
- Stir every 15 minutes or so. Your goal is a porridge that has the texture of very loose, slightly lumpy oatmeal. The rice will mostly break down but should retain just a bit of texture. This usually takes at least 2 hours. You will likely have to add more stock as you cook to keep the mixture from getting too thick.
- Proceed from step 10 above.
But I’m Paleo/grain-free/low-carb!
So obviously jook is a rice-based dish, but it is not terribly high in carbohydrates. There are 132 grams of carbohydrates in a cup of uncooked short grain rice, but by the time you’ve added all the stock and vegetables you end up with about 5 quarts of jook. This means that each 8-ounce serving contains less than 7 grams of carbohydrates. For more on why you should try jook, even if you are Paleo, check out this article.
According to Chinese medicine, rice helps the body to shed retained fluids. Jook also eases mild constipation and quickly resolves bloating. It is also quite filling — a small bowl keeps me satisfied for several hours. For this reason, I think of jook as a food that’s good if you’re trying to lose weight (as long as you are reasonable about your portions).