Shiitake Congee – And A Challenge!

Sous Vide Shiitake Congee
Shiitake Congee

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!

Shiitake Congee

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Total Time: 2 hours

Yield: 4 generous servings

Shiitake Congee

  • 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
  1. 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.)
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
http://herbivoracious.com/2013/01/shiitake-congee-and-a-challenge.html

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Posted by Michael Natkin on Monday, January 21st, 2013 in Contests, Experiments, Recipes.

23 Responses to “Shiitake Congee – And A Challenge!”

  1. January 21, 2013 at 7:30 am #

    I love these flavors, and anything with an egg on top has my heart.

  2. Will
    January 21, 2013 at 8:06 am #

    Your comment that sous vide is an “eminently practical” technique in the home kitchen is amusing but unsupported by your example. Your recipe for breakfast Shiitake Congee requires two hours to prepare, a highly impractical allotment for all but the 1% who’s chefs might rise that early to put this on the table.

    If there are any truly practical applications for the rest of us do share them.

    • January 21, 2013 at 9:14 am #

      Will, that’s a totally fair point. This recipe isn’t meant to be proof that SV is super practical, it is more of just an experiment. But workaday uses of SV include easy, 100% reliable poached or soft-boiled eggs, the best blanched-and-shocked vegetables ever (and they hold for days in the fridge), poached pears, and we are working on recipes for incredibly easy mashed potatoes, etc. We’ll be sharing lots more of this stuff on ChefSteps over time.

  3. January 21, 2013 at 8:57 am #

    Shiitake, I forgot all about this mushroom! I did some improvisation of my own, come see it. :) I need to do shopping and get me some shiitake mushrooms, I already have an idea how to use it!

  4. January 21, 2013 at 6:09 pm #

    HI all! I heard Michael threw out the challenge to his readers, so I thought I’d step over and throw down. The chef steps forum just started our weekly challenge series last week and got some great, but decidedly meat heavy, breakfast dishes. This week it’s vegetarian only. So while the term sous vide may be strange and frightening to many of you, trust me when I say that words like vegetarian and vegan make some of us feel the same way. Anyway, let’s see what you’ve got. An easy home sous vide set up doesn’t take any more equipment than a big pot, a thermometer, and some ziploc bags. That’s how I got my start. I’m hoping to see some entries this week from the Herbivoracious crowd. I’m also looking forward to your perspective on our dishes, so stop on by!

    • January 21, 2013 at 6:59 pm #

      Dude, so awesome that you came by with the words of encouragement!

  5. Annonie Muss
    January 23, 2013 at 11:46 am #

    What a ridiculously patronizing intro here. It’s as if you’re speaking to a bunch of 4-year-olds. If you truly believe that your readers are scared of foreign words why bother writing at all? What a depressing thought, to think that everything should be addressed to the lowest common denominator. I also think it’s foolish to assume that people who read food blogs and are willing to click on a link to a recipe for shiitake congee will not have even heard of sous vide cooking. There seems to be an almost infinite number of priggish prats proselytizing about it these days.

  6. Neela
    January 23, 2013 at 12:14 pm #

    I just don’t like the idea of cooking my food in plastic. However, I love the idea of powdering dried shiitake mushrooms. I’m thinking of making the congee overnight in a slow-cooker and frying the stuffed yuba rolls in the morning as I soft-boil the eggs. This would make breakfast prep faster, Will.

    So, I suppose I’ll be missing the point to try sous-vide, but I imagine I’ll end up with a yummy breakfast all the same!

    • January 23, 2013 at 12:18 pm #

      Oh, no, that will totally work. Really sous vide is incidental to this recipe, at least for the congee – but it does make the best damn poached eggs you’ll ever find.

    • January 23, 2013 at 3:30 pm #

      By the way, re cooking in plastic, we have a resource here: link to forum.chefsteps.com

  7. KIm
    January 23, 2013 at 3:22 pm #

    I’ve been getting your emails with recipes since the fall. I don’t think you used grams for measurements before. Is this what to expect from now on?

    • January 23, 2013 at 3:32 pm #

      I’m trying to move more in that direction, yes. It is much more consistent, faster, and cleaner… we’ve got some resources here and here. That said, if enough people find it too frustrating, I’ll try to include volume measurements as well.

  8. January 23, 2013 at 7:11 pm #

    Awesome recipe. Good thing I still have some shiitake. I’m trying this for breakfast tomorrow.

  9. Jen
    January 25, 2013 at 10:24 am #

    I am thrilled to see some of the modernist cooking techniques here. After giving me “Modernist Cuisine at Home” for Christmas, my spouse was hemming and hawing about buying a sous vide kit as we didn’t think I would be using it too much. He ended up getting one and has had some lovely looking meat out of it; I’m excited that I’ll be able to use it too…and for congee yet (one of my favourite comfort foods)!

    I can’t wait to see more of the modernist techniques in future posts!

    • January 25, 2013 at 11:16 am #

      Hey Jen –

      Nice xmas present! I’m delighted to hear you are excited about using some of these new techniques! And of course come check out what we are doing at ChefSteps as well – we’ve got a whole free sous vide video course there, so we’ll have lots of ideas for you.

  10. January 27, 2013 at 9:14 am #

    Thanks for the inspiring recipe Michael. You seem to be a very creative chef and I’m glad you share your tips&tricks so that also we amateurs can learn a thing or two. I’ve been living healthy for some time and fresh ideas are always helpful. Although I must say that 2 hours is quite a long total time.

  11. Gabby
    February 1, 2013 at 12:08 pm #

    Hi Michael, if I were to omit the egg (trying to make this dish vegan) would it drastically change the flavor composition of the dish? In other words, does the egg “make the dish”?

    Thanks!

    • February 1, 2013 at 12:36 pm #

      You could definitely omit the egg, and just add more of everything else. The egg adds a certain richness but it will still be very good without it. Maybe you could add some sauteed fresh shiitakes.

  12. April 16, 2013 at 1:18 pm #

    I am only a self taught chef but I really like to cook and and try different things. My wife thinks I’m crazy because I cook my butter chicken in my indoor wood fireplace since I don’t have a tandoori oven.It makes the chicken really smoky tasting, better than most local Indian restaurants I have tried. I have always wanted to try sous vide. I am going to try and build my own cooker similar to this (link to instructables.com), yes I also like messing with electronics. I will have to try this recipe when I get it built, thanks.

  13. June 4, 2013 at 11:38 pm #

    Great recipe Michael I never thought of that ! It definitely reflects your creativity as a cook! Btw, is it safe to cook in plastic? Hehe, running out of shiitakes , gotta get some!

  14. June 27, 2013 at 5:55 pm #

    Shiitake Congee is amazing and healthy! I used half the salt and it still tasted fantastic. I cooked this for my family and it was a major hit. Thank you so much!

    JS

  15. Phoebe Jones
    April 6, 2014 at 1:49 pm #

    Here in Vancouver, BC, a commercially produced (product of Singapore) seasoning, called ‘Vegetalk vegetarian mushroom seasoning (basically dry mushroom powder/salt, no MSG) is readily available in the Chinese grocery stores. I had been cooking congee with multi-grain in pressure cooker for awhile with very good result. I use 2 cups of multi-grains in a large pot of water, pressure-cooked for 40 min. boiled uncovered for another 15 min. seasoned with mushroom seasoning. Add vegetable (corn, mushroom, tofu etc.)/meat/seafood of your choice. Make a good breakfast/lunch/dinner anytime.

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