Sunday, January 18, 2009

Not Another Recipe!

Still life of stock pot on stove. Taken with the webcam.

If I wasn't already laid up with bronchitis this weekend (boo), I would've taken all this crazy weather we've been having as a good time to start experimenting with soup - and in particular, the graniteware stock pot that I purchased for myself at Wal-Mart over the holidays. However, given that my respiratory health hasn't been the greatest lately, I decided that now was a good time to play around with our family's panacea of choice: chicken and rice soup.

Call it what you will - congee, jook, bubur, arroz caldo, lugaw, pospas (what up, Visayas!) - whatever it is, it's definitely comfort food for the days when you could really use the strength. Being the urbanized Pinoy that I am, I usually prefer to make the stuff with chicken because 1) chicken = good, and 2) I've had lugaw with tripe before, and it does nothing for me. In the Meimei household, the only spices that go into our rice soup are ginger, onions, garlic, and other members of the onion/garlic family, to keep the porridge "blonde"; anything else is either optional (Sriracha and fish sauce, hayyyy!) or just plain showing off, which explains why I never liked the saffron-laced versions I've seen in Manila restaurants.

Beyond that, however, there is much considerable debate - starting, of course, with the rice itself. Traditionally most home cooks make arroz caldo with sticky rice, which gives the soup a risotto-like consistency. (If you've ever been to my Mom's kitchen, where jasmine rice is a daily staple by decree of Dad, you'd understand why.) Pinoy expats, on the other hand, like to use a base of regular Calrose or supermarket medium-grain, which has more of the desired soupy-starchy texture found in congee; it does get watery after a while, but some cooks would rather put a lot of Calrose in the stock pot and let it boil until it's thick and porridge-y.

And then there are cooks like me, who just make what I feel like making.

Over the holidays, I got to try SisMei's mother-in-law's legendary Leftover Turkey Jook, made with the remains of this year's Thanksgiving turkey - starting with the carcass in the stock. Not only was it delicious (made even more so by me adding tons of pickled ginger in my bowl) but it was also the perfect antidote to the eat-fests we've had over the holidays. That gave me an even more wicked craving for my Mom's usual sick-day porridge, fueled more so by both my actual sickness and my curiosity about using leftover turkey.

Smoked turkey drumsticks happened to be on sale at Safeway over the week, so I decided to go with making the stock from those - along with dried shiitake mushrooms, which are supposed to be good for your immune system, and brown rice for fiber. The rest of the recipe - which I've now rechristened Turkey, Mushroom, and Rice Panacea - is outlined below...

  • Start with 1 whole chopped yellow onion, 1 tsp. crushed black pepper, and 2 tbsp. of ginger-and-garlic paste (or 2 cloves of garlic) in a 5- or 7-quart stock pot. Add 3 skin-on smoked turkey drumsticks (about 2.5 lbs. if you can find them), then add enough water to cover the meat (about 3-4 quarts). Cover with the stock pot lid and simmer for about 2 hours on low heat or until meat and cartilage starts falling off the bones. (Note: The smoked turkey eliminates the need for salt and any additional flavoring at this point; if you're an umami junkie, though, I'd recommend holding off on the soy sauce and other condiments until later.)
  • After 2 hours, discard the bones; the meat and cartilage should fall away easily when prodded with the back of a spoon, leaving you with a clean bone to toss in the garbage. Stir constantly to separate meat further from cartilage and/or any of the tiny pin bones you might find sticking out, which you can also throw in the garbage. (Note: It's important that you do not throw the cartilage away; not only does it add flavor to the stock, but they're also an important source of collagen. I also like to keep the skin on in this case, since the skins lend a ham-like texture to the proteins in the soup.
  • Once you get rid of the bones, add about 2 tbsp. (an entire 1-inch knob) of chopped fresh ginger - you can add as much as you want, depending on how much you like ginger, but if you're as sick as I am you will need a lot of ginger. If there's a significant amount of water loss, add 1 can (2 cups) of low-sodium chicken broth, put the lid back on, and let simmer on the stove for about 30 minutes on low heat.
  • Meanwhile, soak a 1-oz. package of dried shiitake mushrooms in hot water for at least 2 minutes, to soften them up. Add the mushrooms and the water to the pot once they're soft enough to be pliable, but not too soft to be mushy.
  • Now here's the tricky part: Because of the smokiness of the turkey drums, and also for health reasons, I decided to add some brown rice to the mix, which maintains more of the soupy balance without sacrificing the heft of the starch. Since we have about 3 quarts of liquid in the pan, I went with a ratio of 1 cup brown rice to 1 cup regular white, which makes 2 cups of starch altogether. Depending on how soupy you want this, you could also make this with half Calrose and half sticky if you want the thicker, heartier version, as long as you limit the brown rice to no more than 1 cup - it really does make a difference, since the brown rice does cook into a barley-like consistency.
  • Once you've added the rice to the pot, put the lid back on and let it simmer on low heat, again, for at least 30 more minutes or until the rice has expanded to twice its size and the soup is thick. Turn off the heat and let it cool before serving.

Voila: a perfectly Asian-American rice soup with all the healthiness and heft from the mushrooms and brown rice, the smokiness from the turkey, and the kick from the ginger. You can eat this straight from the pot, or you can go all Fusion on it and top it with green onions, tofu, soy sauce, fish sauce, and even more ginger (pickled or fresh, your choice). You can even eat it with breadsticks, if you are so inclined.

This recipe should last you at least three days if you're single, or should serve at least 4 to 6 guests; refrigerate or freeze any leftovers - but reheat on the stovetop for best results, since microwaving sometimes leaves portions too soupy.

No comments: