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Hello from the Netherlands, land of windmills & stroopwafels! I mentioned in a previous newsletter how friends have been telling me to lower my expectations for food in my new home, so I have to say that I was taken aback with how outstanding the produce is. As someone who was living in Australia for the past five years and had access to farmers’ markets and great producers, that’s saying a lot. In just a week here, I’ve encountered strawberries that are so fragrant you smell them before you see them, white asparagus that are now in season, and eggs with the sunniest yolks.
And amazing chicken. Yep chicken.
Ling, a Singaporean in the Netherlands, told me to look out for scharrelkip, or free-range chicken at the supermarket. I was skeptical - after all, we used to buy supermarket free-range chicken while living in Australia and the difference between that and regular chickens was not huge.
But scharrelkip looked promising with its yellow-tinged skin, and so I brought two legs and cooked them low and slow on the hotel stove, like a piece of salmon on its skin. The skin gave off a good amount of fat (a good thing in my books), and the meat was firm, succulent, and amped up in flavour. After two meals of pan-roasted chicken, I thought chicken porridge would be good for a change.
On our way from Australia to the Netherlands, we transited at Qatar. At the lounge, we had a wonderful ginger-studded chicken porridge, topped with crispy garlic, spring onions and soy sauce. I know it looks simple, but I thought about it long after we left the airport.
Porridge is slow food. I understand that there are tips and hacks that expedite the process, such as freezing or blending the rice, but then you’ll have to invest the time beforehand to make a good stock. How else are you going to get flavour into your porridge? Please, no cartoned chicken stock.
The most sensible way of cooking porridge at home in my opinion is to cook the rice & chicken together. As your chicken cooks, it releases its goodness, and by the time it is ready, the rice grains would have swelled and turned velvety.
The following is a very agak-agak recipe for 4 because there aren’t any scales or measuring cup in a hotel room. Into a pot go roughly one-and-a-half rice cups worth of jasmine rice and 2 chicken legs. The quantity of rice seems small, but you’ll be surprised how much water the rice absorbs. Season with salt and cover generously with water - the exact quantity does not matter because you can always adjust it later.
Bring everything up to a boil and skim off the scum. Then, simmer the porridge for 1 hour on low heat, covered, stirring occasionally to ensure that the bottom doesn’t catch. You’re not looking for an aggressive simmer, more like gentle blips.
After 1 hour:
Slide a fork or butter knife into the chicken. If you can do this easily, the chicken is ready. Remove it from the pot and set it aside to cool, then shred. I feel like the porridge at this stage is my favourite, but you can make it ahead of time (the texture gets stodgier the longer the porridge sits, but you can easily loosen the consistency with some water.)
When ready to serve, add a generous amount of chopped ginger and cook everything for an extra minute to heat the porridge through.
You can skip this step, but I felt that what made the porridge at Qatar so special was the aromatic fried garlic topping. Chop an obscene amount of garlic (I chopped 5 fat cloves and that’s just for the two of us) and cook it gently in a pan with a few tablespoons of oil until golden. Do not burn the garlic.
Top the porridge with shredded chicken, fried garlic, sliced spring onions, coriander, and a drizzle of soy sauce. Cook a side of vegetables or you can chuck some quick-cooking veg into your porridge at the end. What I’ve learnt is that porridge is incredibly suited for hotel room-cooking, but it’s also a great option for those with minimal equipment/ don’t want to fuss around too much and want a straight-up comforting meal.
More cooking adventures to come when I find my feet in this country!
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