By Luc Gougeon
There hasn’t been a day since I arrived in Japan that I haven’t eaten a bowl of white rice. I love rice, yet for the times when I crave something a little different and more creative than plain white rice, I make rice porridge, a simple and traditional rice recipe popular all over Asia and a classic Japanese dish. The dish has many names, yet the cooking method is quite similar with a few variants in the ingredients. In Korea it’s called juk and in Japan it’s referred to as okayu. Okayu is a traditional New Year food, and it’s also often served to sick people because it’s easy to eat and digest. You could say it’s the Japanese version of chicken soup.
The Japanese okayu is very plain if you compare it to its Korean cousin. The main ingredients of okayu are simply rice and water. Could a recipe be any simpler? The seasoning is also very simple: a little bit of salt, some chopped green onion and maybe a beaten raw egg for additional texture, and that’s it! After that, it’s all a question of ratios. The traditional Japanese okayu has a ratio of 5 or 7 parts water to 1 part rice. In comparison, the typical Chinese congee has 12 parts water to one part rice, making it a lot more watery.
I ate some amazing juk in Korea and it gave me some ideas about bending the Japanese recipe. Water can easily be replaced with beef, chicken or vegetable broth. You can also add vegetables and meat to make it a lot heartier. It’s also possible to make an amazing rice porridge with leftover kimchi nabe. Instead of broth, use the kimchi soup and it will give your rice an amazing taste. You don’t even need to empty your nabe earthenware, just add the rice and you’ve got porridge.
Now let’s talk about preparation.
1.) You will need to start with uncooked plain white rice. Rinse it in water and save the rinse water for your plants. The rice rinsing water is a major source of pollution in Japan, but it doesn’t have to go to waste — your house plants or the grass outside your window will love it! Let your rice sit in cold water for more than 30 minutes.
2.) Measure the water according to the 5/1 or 7/1 ratio, add the strained rice and water to the pot and bring it to a soft boil. Simmer covered between 30 to 40 minutes and you are done!
If you want to vary the recipe, you can saute veggies, seafood and meat before adding the rice and liquid. My favorite is a beef and mushroom rice porridge.
Give this recipe a try. It’s a good cure for a hangover or the common cold!