Jook, also known as congee, was the ultimate comfort food for me as a Chinese-American kid growing up in the American Midwest.
We would eat it for breakfast with an array of small dishes like ground fried fish or pork floss, thousand-year preserved duck eggs, pickles, shao bing (sesame covered hot pockets) or youtiao, fried sticks of dough.
Another popular variation is to make jook with a whole chicken until the meat falls off the bone with a bunch of green onions and ginger.
Jook was also something served plain when I was sick; it filled my belly when it could not handle anything seasoned or oily.
It could be thick like oatmeal or soupy, depending on your taste. I always enjoyed the thicker consistency and would scoop large bites with a traditional blue-and-white ceramic Chinese teaspoon patterned with little translucent grains of rice.
As my family and I started sheltering in place this March, our rice cooker remains our constant friend throughout these rough times.
It never lets us down and allows us to cook a meal in one pot set at the perfect time and temperature. The variations are endless with jook – savoury, sweet, vegan, vegetarian. Using stock instead of water will give more flavour and not require any additional salt.
It is a dish made for frugal times that can be supplemented with fried dumplings, boiled eggs, peanuts, kimchi or anything crunchy on the side for a heartier meal.
In my childhood memories, steaming bowls of jook mean comfort, healing, and sustenance – all of the things we need right now during the coronavirus pandemic with such uncertainty and no end in sight.
For a simple meal that can use a wide range of pantry items and leftovers, jook made on the stove or in a rice cooker can get you through another day. You can also make jook using a slow-cooker or Instant Pot, following the manufacturer’s instructions.