In the next paragraph, I’m going to use a potentially scary word. After all, it is French, and it also might make you think you are going to need expensive new kitchen gear to do it (you won’t). Please remain calm, because as you’ll see, I need your help.
And that word is: sous vide. (Fine, it is two words.) If you aren’t familiar with it, in short it literally means cooking food that has been sealed in a vacuum, but in practical terms it means cooking food with precise control of the final internal temperature, usually sealed in a plastic bag in a water bath. In November I started working at ChefSteps.com. We’ve made it our mission to show the world that sous vide isn’t just for professional chefs, isn’t expensive, and doesn’t have to be scary. In fact, it is eminently practical for straightforward home cooking – and you can do it without any new equipment at all if you don’t mind improvising a bit.
Last week on the ChefSteps forums, we started a weekly culinary challenge. It is very much just for fun, not some super-serious prize thing. The first challenge, lead by Grant Grilly, was “breakfast for dinner”, and I made this shiitake congee that we are about to talk about. This week, Grant is out of town and I’ve been deputized to lead the challenge. So guess what I picked? Of course! Vegetarian entree, any style you want, but at least one component has to be cooked sous vide.
Now here is where you come in. Everyone at ChefSteps and in the ChefSteps community loves them some vegetables, but by and large it is a pretty meat-heavy crowd. We need some Herbivorions.. hmm… Herbivoracions?… you fine folks! We need you to come over and show that us vegetarians and vegetarian sympathizers can throw down in the kitchen a little bit. Here is the forum post where you can see the “rules”, if you can call them that – and you’ll see that there is already a certain amount of smack-talk going on. So… are you in?
About today’s congee: congee is a thin, savory rice porridge that is eaten in one form or another all over Asia, often for breakfast. It is a blank slate that can be topped with just about anything. For this version, I flavored the rice with dried shiitake which has profound umami intensity, and topped it with a sous vide poached egg, pan-fried rolls made from tofu skin (yuba), and store-bought Chinese pickled greens.
Cooking it sous vide was mostly an experiment, since you can readily cook congee in a rice cooker or on the stovetop or in a pressure cooker, or I’m sure in a slow cooker. One nice thing about doing it in the bag is that the shiitake aroma stays very clear and present. Also, if I were to test it a few more times and really dial in the amount of water, it would stay very consistent and there wouldn’t be a need to add any at the end.
One more intriguing tip: when I was testing this recipe, the yuba rolls came out nice and crispy. But Grant mentioned a method, which I haven’t had time to try yet, that will make them even crispier. Instead of pan-frying, deep fry them, twice or even three times. Like you would for a French fry. First at a lower temperature to remove most of the moisture from the outer layers, then at a higher temperature to crisp up. Sounds amazing to me. If you try it, let me know.
Now.. come play!
- Note: vegetarian & kosher; vegan if you omit the egg
- 4 eggs
- 40 grams dried shiitake mushrooms, caps only
- 185 grams Asian rice
- 8 grams salt
- 194 grams storebought pre-fried tofu, finely diced
- 8 grams sesame oil
- 12 grams tamari
- 12 rectangles fresh soybean skin (yuba), about 2" x 6", double-thick
- Canned pickled Chinese cabbage or Sichuan pickled vegetable
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Cook the eggs sous vide at 63 C for 45 minutes; alternatively make them soft-boiled in any way you prefer (not the same, but also good.)
- Grind 20 grams of the shiitake caps in a spice grinder to a fine powder. Put the remaining shiitake caps in a bowl with very hot water to soak.
- Combine the shiitake powder with the rice, salt, and 1 liter (1000 grams) of water and cook sous vide at 90 C for 1 1/2 hours or until completely broken down into a porridge consistency. Don't worry if the shiitake powder looks ugly in the bag, it will look fine when you stir later.
- Finely dice the reserved shiitake caps, and toss them in a bowl with the diced fried tofu, sesame oil, and soy sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning.
- Make twelve yuba wraps, filling each with 1 tablespoon of the tofu mixture. Don't seal the ends, just wrap up as tightly as you can. As close as possible to serving time, so they stay crisp, place a large skillet over medium-high heat, add a slick of vegetable oil, and pan-fry the yuba wraps until golden-brown on both sides. Season generously with salt and pepper.
- To serve, open the bag of rice, empty into a bowl, and stir in boiling water from a kettle until it is at a pleasing consistency, somewhere on the soupy side of oatmeal. Divide among four hot bowls. Crack an egg and put in each bowl, followed by 3 of the yuba rolls and a couple of tablespoons of the pickled cabbage.