お粥 (Okayu) – Rice Porridge

Okayu

Rice porridge is a staple food all across Asia, though probably China and Japan are most known for it. It is a great dish to know how to make for a couple of reasons: you can put anything you want in it, and it’s one of those warm, comforting foods that is great for rainy days and runny noses. It kind of fills the niche of both chicken soup and oatmeal.

Since the rice is cooked until very soft, it is often served to people who are sick, since it is easy to digest, but it is delicious regardless of your state of health. It is easy to make with some meat, or to make vegetarian or vegan, just depending on what you want.

When we cook dishes that are served with rice and we have leftover rice, we wrap it in plastic wrap and stick it in the freezer just for the purpose of making rice porridge. You can then just pull some out, unwrap it, stick it in the pot with liquid, and heat it up. It’s hard to judge ratios of rice to liquid this way, but in the end it doesn’t really matter that much. If you’re using pre-cooked rice, you want about twice as much liquid as rice to start with, but you can always adjust as it cooks and add more or cover the pot if you don’t have enough liquid, or remove the lid to let liquid cook off if you have too much.

This rendition just happens to use a number of things we had in our fridge that needed to be used, and it turned out really delicious. Try to find the same ingredients, or just use what you have at home and make up something new. The same basic principles we state below will give you a good starting point to experiment from.

Ingredients

  • Approximately 2 cups cooked rice
  • Approximately 4 cups chicken stock
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, minced
  • 1 large or several small carrots, sliced thinly
  • 4 Chinese-style sausages, sliced
  • 3 eringi (king oyster) mushrooms, diced
  • Handful of turnips and turnip greens, roughly chopped
  • Handful of komatsuna, roughly chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Place the cooked rice in your pot, and add maybe 3/4 of the stock.
  2. Turn on the heat to medium-high. If you’re using frozen rice, let it defrost and break apart.
  3. Once the rice is all broken up and the stock is steaming, reduce the heat to low, and start adding other ingredients. Add the minced ginger and garlic first.
  4. Next, start adding ingredients that take longer to cook, like the carrots and sausage in this case. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Let those ingredients cook for a while with the rice and stock, adding a little more stock periodically if need be, to maintain the desired texture of the porridge. Be sure to stir regularly, so the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot.
  6. Once those ingredients start to soften/cook, add other ingredients that don’t take as long to cook, like the mushrooms, turnips, and any sturdier greens you may have (the komatsuna in this case).
  7. Once everything is nearly finished, add anything you don’t want to cook very long – delicate greens (the turnip greens) and green onion in this case.
  8. Taste for seasoning, add anything you think it might need, and then serve it up in bowls, steaming hot!

How We Make Tea: Oolong

While the world of green teas, including matcha, is rich and varied – it is nothing compared to the world of oolongs. The processing that makes an oolong an oolong makes room for so many styles and variations, it can be dizzying.

Oolong is a traditionally Chinese style of tea (though now also heavily produced in Taiwan as well), and is produced by combinations of drying, oxidizing, and rolling or twisting the tea leaves. Some of the teas are even oxidized by allowing a small insect to bite the leaves, and enzymes secreted by the insect start the oxidation process.

Because of this varied processing, as well as differences in growing region, elevation, and weather, the characteristics of oolongs can be exceptionally varied. Good quality oolongs can also be steeped multiple times, and the characteristics can change with each steeping. Some are very floral, sweet, and light-flavored. Some are nutty, rich and warm-flavored. Some are very toasty, even almost char-flavored. Some are nearly green, and taste very vegetal. The one in the photos here is an aged oolong, and begins with very deep fruity tones like prune, gets more smoky after 3-4 steepings, and then ends by becoming more sweet and floral after 6-8 steepings.

Oolong tea is often brewed in the Gongfu style, in which the unglazed clay pot and cups are first warmed with hot water. The tea is then added to the pot, and hot water is poured on the tea from a pot held well above the tea pot. This water is immediately poured into a pitcher – this is just in order to rinse the tea. The tea pot is then filled back up with fresh hot water, and the water used to rinse the tea is poured over the outside of the tea pot. The tea is steeped for around thirty seconds to a minute. Sometimes it is poured evenly into the drinking cups after steeping, and sometimes into a pitcher. Sometimes a sniffer cup which holds the same volume as the drinking cup is used, and filled first with the tea, which is then transferred to the drinking cup, and the aroma of the tea can be smelled in the sniffer cup.

In terms of typical home preparation, a small clay pot unglazed on at least the inside, or else a gaiwan are typically used. The water is heated to just a few degrees below boiling, and a relatively large amount of tea is used for the size of the pot. Many oolongs can be steeped 3-8 times with steepings of 30-60 seconds. We still usually rinse the tea as in the Gongfu style by pouring hot water onto the dry tea and then immediately pouring it off, though we usually just discard this water. If you are drinking it by yourself, either use a large drinking cup and pour off all the tea into the cup, or pour the tea into a pitcher first, and then refill your drinking cup from that. In any case, don’t leave water sitting on the tea, or it will over-steep. After each steeping, tilt the lid of the pot or gaiwan so that the tea can breathe and doesn’t steam itself inside the pot.

Most of all, drink consciously and enjoy what you’re tasting!

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