Congee – Chicken Porridge

As the new year approached, we started searching for chicken porridge recipes. They were all similarly easy to put together, but they also all called for long grain white rice. We like white rice but we also wanted our version to be more healthy, so we substituted the white rice for brown basmati rice. The brown rice gave it more fiber and the basmati lent a nutty taste to the porridge. We also like mixing grains whenever we get the opportunity. Our morning oatmeal will sometimes have polenta, quinoa, or whatever small amount of grain or seed we have on hand. So with the basmati rice we included steel cut oats, a traditional morning staple and just regular wheat.

This dish also cooks a lot longer then regular oatmeal or rice, about twice as long. The rice breaks down into a mush like consistency. The result is a savory morning, afternoon, or evening treat. The batch that we made was too much for just the two of us so we froze part of it. We now  look forward to  coming home after a morning run to find a thawed batch of the porridge sitting on the counter from the night before and all that is required is a quick reheating of the porridge, a couple poached eggs, and a few chops of the knife for the condiments to bring this yummy dish back to life.

Congee — Chicken Porridge
(Serves 6-8)

1 whole chicken (organic preferred)
1 small cinnamon stick
few whole allspice
small handful of whole peppercorns
1 star anise
1 inch knob of ginger (peeled and sliced into thick rounds)
3-4 carrots, scrubbed clean and cut into 2-inches
2-3 celery stocks, cut into 2-inches
1 large shallot, cut into large chunks
1 gallon of cold water, or more to cover the bird
1/8-1/4 cup soy sauce
2 cups brown basmati rice, or other long grain rice (not instant)
2  cups steel cut oats (not rolled oats), or other whole grain, or a combination
3-4 chopped green onions
small bunch chopped cilantro
Chinese donut, cut into pieces (optional)
soy sauce
sesame oil
Sriracha and other hot sauce condiments

Put the chicken, vegetables, and spices into a large stock pot and cover with cold water, about a gallon, and add the soy saucePut the stock pot on the stove and over medium heat cover the pot and allow the water to come to a boil. Once the water is boiling turn the heat down to low and simmer for about 1 hour. Turn the heat off and remove the chicken. It will probably be falling off the bones. Strain the stock and discard the vegetables and spices.
Return the stock to a clean pan and add the rice and steel cut oats. Over a medium heat bring the broth, rice, and oats (and grains) to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook slowly stirring occasionally for about 2 – 2 1/2 hours. During the last half hour you’ll want to stir more frequently to avoid scorching the bottom. This can be done the night before, covered and finished the next morning.
In the meantime, when the chicken has rested and cooled, remove the skin and bones from the chicken and shred the meat with your hands. Careful to remove all cartilage and gristle. If you’re eating the congee right away, add half to all of the chicken— depending on the size of the bird and the amount of meat. If you’re cooking the congee the night before, refrigerate the shredded chicken and add to the congee the next morning.
Serve in warmed bowls with chopped green onions, cilantro, Chinese donuts, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and Sriracha or other hot sauce.

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Eggs Benny

Peppery arugala compliments the mornay sauce and creamy yolks in this version of Eggs Benny.

Weekends are special in our house. Not only do we get to sleep in, usually, we also get to chow on brunch items that are heftier than our usual weekday oatmeal, yogurt, or muesli. We try to keep eggs, bread, milk, cheese, and some meat item on hand for these rich weekend brunches. Lately, we’ve been poaching eggs and serving them with everything from soup to salad to endless variations of Eggs Benedict. In fact, it’s been a while since we’ve had a traditional Eggs Benedict breakfast. The idea of Eggs Benedict may seem a little intimidating but the dish is actually very easy to make and we’ve had great success with it over the years. Making a hollandaise sauce is simple when using our blender. We get that with all the butter and egg yolks the sauce is heavy, even for a large breakfast, so we try to limit our consumption of the sauce to special occasions – mostly.

The typical Eggs Benedict is made with English muffins, Canadian bacon, poached eggs and hollandaise sauce. The origin of the dish seems to be up for debate. The choices are between a New York stock broker, Lemuel Benedict, a New York banker residing in France, Commodore E.C. Benedict, and a New York couple named Mr. and Mrs. Le Grand Benedict. Food historians seem to agree that the dish was created around the late 1800’s to early 1900’s. (source: Wikipedia). Whatever the origin of the Eggs Benedict, it appears that the concoction was inspired by the appetites of wealthy New Yorkers who were bored of their typical breakfast fare.

We’re not wealthy by any means, and while we love New York, we’re San Franciscans who love a good deal. So, for the those bohemians on the west coast who love to eat well, we offer the Eggs Benny, a simpler take on this rich classic. The construction of the dish follows the traditional pattern – bread, meat and/or vegetables, eggs, and sauce, but the ingredients consist of whatever you currently have on hand in your fridge. We prefer a béchamel or mornay sauce with our eggs, meat, and toast. The béchamel is a simple milk, butter, and flour sauce. The mornay sauce is a béchamel with cheese added to it. Steve can whisk up these sauces in just enough time for Jason to toast the bread and poach the eggs. They’re quick and easy.

There are many variations on the traditional Eggs Benedict including Eggs Blackstone, which substitutes ham for the streaky bacon and adds a tomato slice. Eggs Florentine substitutes spinach for the ham. There’s also a Country Benedict, sometimes known as Eggs Beauregard, which replaces the English muffin, ham and hollandaise sauce with a biscuit, sausage patties, and country gravy. The poached eggs are replaced with eggs fried to your liking. There are many other variations of this simple, yet classic, construction. We’ll stick to our own versions of Eggs Benny which for us means having poached eggs, toast of some kind, some sort of meat or sauté of vegetable, and all topped with a creamy sauce – hollandaise, mornay, or béchamel. So, now there is no urgent need to run to the store for English muffins and Canadian bacon. Just use what you have on hand and call it Eggs Benny.

Eggs Benny

Crisp bacon, sauteed chard, and creamy hollandaise sauce in another Eggs Benny brunch.

(serves two)

4 Poached Eggs
4 slices of Toast (your choice)
4 slices meat (cooked bacon, prosciutto, Canadian bacon, crab meat, etc.)
and/or a sauté of leafy green vegetables (chard, kale, spinach, endive, etc.) or fresh greens (arugula, dandelion greens, escarole, etc.)
Hollandaise, mornay, or béchamel (your choice)

For poached eggs: In one sauce pan, boil hot water. In a separate skillet, simmer water. Boil the eggs in the sauce pan, with the shells on for 30 seconds. This will help to keep the whites together when poaching them. Crack each egg into one of four separate ramekins. In the skillet with simmering water, slowly pour the eggs one at a time. Allow to simmer for 3-5 minutes or until the whites are cooked and the yolks are still soft to the touch.

Alternately, you can also add a tablespoon of vinegar to the skillet water to help keep the egg whites together, but the eggs will take on the vinegar flavor.

Bechamel Sauce

1 ½ cups whole milk
1 Bay leaf
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
Sprig of fresh thyme (optional)

Warm milk, bay leaf and thyme, if using, in a saucepan over low heat.

While milk is warming, create a roux by melting the butter in a separate saucepan over medium heat. When completely melted, add flour and whisk constantly, approximately 2 minutes, being careful not to brown the roux. Take out the bay leaf and thyme from the milk. Pour the hot milk into the roux while continuing to whisk until roux and milk are completely incorporated. Season with salt and white pepper and continue to whisk until sauce begins to thicken.

Mornay Sauce
1 Sauce Béchamel
1 cup grated cheese(s) (cheddar, Swiss, Parmesan, Gruyère, etc.)

Sauce béchamel becomes sauce mornay when the cheese is added. If you intend to add the cheese, be sure to remove the sauce from heat before whisking in the cheese. Serve hot.

To assemble: place the toast on the plate, then add the meat and/or vegetables. Place the poached eggs on top and then drizzle with the sauce of your choice. Decorate with a pinch of cayenne pepper or paprika. Serve at once.

Note: Leftover béchamel or mornay can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for three or four days. Refrigerated, béchamel becomes very thick. Add it to scrambled eggs or sautéed greens for added creaminess. Or, spread it over rustic bread and toast under the broiler for a delicious open-faced croque.