I just came home from my trip to Vermont and let me tell you, there’s no place like California. The lush canopy of Fall-colored trees will never persuade me to move to the East Coast. It was bone-chilling cold (at least for this California girl) and it wasn’t even winter. But more importantly, the lack of food diversity had me yearning for home. Finding authentic Vietnamese food was nearly impossible unless you traveled over to a state or two to major cities like Boston, MA.
The chilling temperature and me coming down with a cold had me thinking of one thing and one thing only. A nice hot bowl of Vietnamese thick rice porridge soup (Chao), also known as congee or gruel. The soft texture makes it a favorite among elders, babies and those who are sick. With less than a cup of rice, you can make a pot of chao to feed the whole family.
Chao can be served very plain with just rice simmered in water or stock until thick and creamy. This is best for those who are sick with indigestion and cannot stomach anything flavorful. I, on the other hand, like to use chao as a blank canvas for something magical.
For this particular chao recipe, I made a very flavorful stock out of pork neck bones, ginger and onions. I use pork neck bones because there’s plenty of tender and juicy meat on neck bones. That tender meat gets hand chopped into ground pork that is way more flavorful than any store-bought version, which typically gets made from other tough parts of the animal.
For the rice, I really want a smooth texture. The smooth texture is something I noticed in restaurants all over Vietnam. The Vietnamese restaurant version of chao is always very creamy and smooth, unlike homemade versions. To get this smooth texture, I used three types of rice grains: white rice (gao), sweet rice (nep), and rice powder (bot gao). I started off with soaking the white rice and sweet rice grains in water. Then I pulverized them in a blender or food processor. Chopping the grain into small bits will yield a smooth paste onced cooked. The rice powder gets added later, which not only helps with the creaminess, but it makes the porridge white.
To finish off the chao, I topped it with ground/chopped pork, fried shallots, sliced fresh ginger, green onions and black pepper. Dig right on it and get spiritually transported back to Vietnam. Enjoy the recipe below.
Vietnamese Pork Porridge (Chao Suon Thit Bam)
- 150 grams white rice grains (gao)
- 50 grams sweet rice grains (nep)
- 100 grams rice powder (bot gao)
- 2 white/yellow onions
- 1 thumb-size piece ginger
- 2 lbs pork neck bones
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 liters water
- 4 teaspoons salt
- 3 teaspoons fish sauce
- 3 teaspoons pork stock powder
- 2 teaspoons MSG
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon pork stock powder
- 1/4 teaspoon MSG
- 2 teaspoons fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/4 teaspooon black pepper
- 3 teaspoons sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
- 1 shallot (minced finely)
- 3 green onions (slice thin and seperate whites and greens)
- Fried shallots
Pork Stock Seasoning
Ground/Chopped Pork Seasoning
Other Ground/Chopped Pork Ingredients
- Wash white rice and sweet rice grains with water until water runs clear. Then soak grains in water for 1 hour to soften.
- Roast ginger and white/yellow onions whole in the oven at 4000°F for 45 minutes or until soft and oozing. Allow them to cool then peel, making sure to remove any charred areas. Halve the onion. Slice half of the ginger into strips. The other half into coins)
- Clean the pork bones. In a pot, add pork bones and fill with water to cover. Add salt (1 teaspoon). Bring the pot to a rolling boil and blanch for 3 minutes. Remove bones, rinse under cold water and drain dry. Using a sharp knife, remove all the meat around the neckbones and set aside to cook later.
- In a large clean stock pot, bring water (3 liters) to a boil. Add cleaned pork bones, roasted white/yellow onions and ginger coins (reserve the strips for garnish and ground pork marinade). Simmer on low for 2 hours. Ocassionanlly, skim( the impurities/foam off the top.
- To the meat from the neck bones, mince into ground pork. In a small bowl, combine chopped pork, whites of green onions, 1/4 teaspoon minced ginger (minced up the reserved ginger strips), pork stock powder, MSG, fish sauce, sugar, black pepper and sesame oil. Mix well together.
- In a small frying pan, add vegetable oil and heat on medium-high. Add shallots and fry until light brown. Add ground pork mixture and fry until evenly cooked (5-7 minutes). Transfer pork to a bowl and set aside.
- Drain the soaked rice grains and add to a blender or food processor. Chop until mostly smooth. No need to be completely smooth. Small bits of grains are okay.
- Add blended rice and 3 cups cold water to a new stock pot. Mix until rice is evenly dissolved. Heat on medium-low heat for 15 minutes and frequently stir the rice to prevent the bottom from burning. Pour the liquid of the pork stock into the rice pot and continue to cook on medium-low for 10 minutes.
- In a small bowl, mix together rice powder and 1/2 cup cold water until completely dissolved. Add dissolved rice powder slowly to the rice pot and mix until evenly incorporated. Cook the porridge on low and frequently stir from the bottom frequently to prevent burning. Turn off heat when the porridge is to the desired consistency (about 30 minutes).
- When ready to serve, ladle pot porridg into individual serving bowls. Top with ground/chopped pork, green onions, fried shallots, ginger strips and a sprinkle of black pepper.