Cold weather has finally hit here. It took a good couple of months to show up in earnest, but it seems to have settled in for the long haul. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on who you ask, this cold spell has not resulted in much precipitation. I like active weather, it’s a hangover from my Maritime upbringing. I’m not really about that cold but sunny life. I want blizzards. I want that cozy feeling of looking out the window and seeing the full force of winter while I stir something comforting on the stove. But the weather so far has only obliged me once. So without blizzards, I will have to make do by stirring something comforting without the theatrics. And today that something comforting is this Gochujang Congee with Shredded Tofu.
For anyone who does the majority of the shoveling in their house, I’m sure the paragraph above was hard to read. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if you cussed me out just now. Would it add more salt to the wound if I told you I like shoveling snow? I mean, I guess “like” is a strong word, but I certainly don’t mind it and I prefer it to a half-baked winter or a punishingly cold winter. I like minus 10 and wild. Is that so much to ask? It’s always too much to ask when you try to get super specific with Canadian weather. But that never stops me from trying.
But enough about my weather whims, this is about congee and its divine and comforting properties. I sadly did not know of existence until I was in my twenties. When I move to Toronto, I was introduced to one of the city’s many congee spots by a friend of mine who’s from Hong Kong. And with that first bite, I simply couldn’t believe I had lived the first 25 years of my life without it.
For the uninitiated, congee is a sort of rice porridge. It’s made by simmering a little rice with a whole lot of stock or water. The rice begins to breakdown and creates a pearly, thick pudding-like consistency. That might not be the most appetizing way to describe it. But I am absolutely certain you will love it.
Congee is thought to have been developed in times of famine as a way to stretch a small amount of rice. Congee is typically served plain. It’s considered a simple breakfast or a meal for someone recovering from an illness. It’s generally seasoned with soy sauce, minimally garnished, and served alongside youtiao, a type of Chinese donut. But as with many traditional dishes, congee has become increasingly complex. Now, entire restaurants dedicated to the dish serve up bowls of the stuff, sporting a wide variety of toppings and flavors.
Plain congee is a blissfully blank slate. It has two ingredients that are essential to its moniker – rice and some kind of liquid. The possibilities are endless. Any stock or grain can become congee. Any sauce can be integrated into congee, and anything you can imagine can be put on top of it. And while I respect traditional congee and all the people who hold it in the high esteem it deserves, I’m so here for the play.
So here is my contribution – this Gochujang Congee with Shredded Tofu. Shredded extra firm tofu has made one other appearance on this blog and I doubt this will be its last. It is one of my go-to plant-based substitutes for ground meat. Crumbled tofu really does mimic minced meat and a box grater makes quick work of it. I think I blew some minds with this technique on Instagram, which surprised me. I don’t have a lot of wholly original food thoughts. But this one did seem unfamiliar to most people. I just assumed someone else somewhere more influential than I was already doing it. And they may well be, I just haven’t found them yet. Are you them? Comment below!
As I mentioned above, congee is only two ingredients, so I think it’s fair to ask that those two ingredients be fairly high quality. Don’t use 10-minute rice here. I find Jasmine and long grain rice work best for me. But I know many people and the entire country of Japan use short-grain rice. If you do use short-grain rice, just keep an eye on it because the cook times below are based on long-grain rice. And the other ingredient central to congee is a liquid of some kind. I use high-quality vegetable stock and I urge you to do the same. It makes such a difference to the overall flavor. And to the stock simply stir in gochujang, honey, soy sauce, and gochugaru. Then add the rice of your choice and get ripping. It’s really that simple.
As far as toppings go, the sky is the limit. I went with scallions, shredded cabbage, and buttered corn with furikake. I got a little bit fancy with some crispy shallots and garlic chips. And added some richness with an egg yolk. If a raw egg yolk wigs you out, add a fried egg and calm down, I stirred the yolk into the hot soup, so it was plenty cooked with I ate it. But I get not wanting to stare at a raw egg yolk at dinnertime. It can be off-putting if you’re not used to it.
So that’s everything you need to know about this Gochujang Congee with Shredded Tofu. It’s spicy, rich, and so comforting. And it’s pretty much the easiest pot of porridge you’ll ever make. Except for those instant packets, I can’t compete with the Quaker Oats guy.
Gochujang Congee with Shredded Tofu
- 7 cups good quality vegetable or chicken stock
- 1 cup long grain rice
- 2 tbsp gochujang
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp honey
- 1 tbsp gochugaru
- 1 brick extra firm tofu shredded
- ¼ cup neutral oil I used canola oil
- 2 cloves garlic thinly sliced
- 2 shallots thinly sliced
- 1 cup frozen corn
- 1 cup water
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 tsp furikake
- ¼ head red cabbage thinly sliced
- 3 scallions thinly sliced
- 4 egg yolks
- sesame oil for drizzling
- Pour the stock and the rice into a large soup pot and set aside. In a small bowl whisk to combine the gochujang, soy sauce, honey, and gochugaru. Add the mixture to the pot and place it over medium-high heat.
- Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Let simmer for 45 minutes or until it reaches a thick pudding-like consistency. Stir the tofu into the pot and let the congee simmer for 15 minutes more.
- While the congee is simmering, heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the garlic and shallots and fry until they turn golden. Moving quickly, fish the shallots and garlic out of the oil and transfer to a plate lined with paper towel. Set aside to cool.
- Pour the corn and the water into a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil until the corn is tender, about two minutes. Drain the corn and add the butter and furikake. Toss to coat.
- Ladle the congee into bowls and top each serving with cabbage, a couple of spoonfuls of corn, scallions, and a egg yolk. Sprinkle with the shallot and garlic chips and finish with a drizzle of sesame oil. Serve immediately.