December 11th, 2015

By Hook Or By Jook

jook - 15I’m not someone whose imagination runs wild when he thinks of Thanksgiving leftovers. Turkey sandwiches or reheated turkey have always been the standard for me. The most diverse I get in this arena is whether to put stuffing and cranberry sauce on my “sangwich” or just some hot gravy.

Leave it to my friend Jason to shed some new light on the old standard.

Jason’s ancestors came to Hawaii in the late 1800s from the Pearl River Delta area of China. One might think (I know I did!) that this cultural background would impact the food he had during the holidays, but not so. Both of his grandparents were born in Hawaii and celebrated a traditional Thanksgiving. Their table was adorned with turkeys (plural as on many holidays his grandmother would cook one in the oven while his grandfather prepared a turkey in his homemade barrel smoker), stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and lots of pies.

“Grandpa loved sweets and desserts. And Grandma loved to bake. So it was an excellent relationship. She loved to bake and entertain American Style,” Jason explains.

And with anywhere from 12 to 20 people around the holiday table, Jason’s favorite memories are anchored in family:  “After Thanksgiving, it was a bunch of grandkids playing cards and chess”.

Of course, there were some small differences in their celebration with the inclusion of some Chinese and Hawaiian foods like Chow Mein, Poke (which is raw, cubed ahi tuna – one of Jason’s favorite dishes), and octopus.

Like most typical post-holiday families, lots and lots of left overs presented many opportunities. But unlike other families, the Yees polished off the last of the turkey remains by making Jook, also know as Congee.

Jook is Chinese comfort food and comparable to stone soup. Poorer families would boil rice jook - 2(using extra water to add volume) to make an inexpensive porridge or gruel that would stretch as a meal. And much like stone soup, they would add whatever was available to supplement.

“Grandpa was a butcher – he was from a family of butchers. So when we got the turkey carcass, it was as clean as could be. Grandpa didn’t miss a thing. I remember that turkey Jook had very little meat – most of the meat was saved for the traditional sandwiches and we only saved a small bit along with the bones for the Jook.”

As he tries to recall exactly how his mom makes Jook, Jason reminisces about how as a young boy he would carry the 20 pound bags of calrose rice back home for his family to cook. Rather than get it wrong, he decides to get his mom on the phone to verify the instructions he’s providing.

Mrs. Yee happily answers the phone – a reflection of the perpetual positivity I see in Jason that distinguishes him as one of my dearest friends. She is immediately receptive to joining the interview and entertainingly contradicts Jason’s suggestion that “everything is by sight”.

“I measure everything out,” the mathematician reports. “I want to make sure I get the liquid to rice ratio right.”

Mrs. Yee’s precision stems from her preference in the consistency of the rice porridge. “My mother-in-law served a very thick Jook and my mother served it really thin. I like it in the middle.”

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There are other factors too. To make it easier when preparing it for himself, Jason would used pre-cooked white rice which reduces the cooking time. His mom, however, uses uncooked hapa rice. Hawaiian for “half and half”, hapa is a mix of brown and white rice. Carbs are bad for Jason’s dad,  but his mom isn’t crazy about the brown rice – so they meet in the middle.

There are options on cooking the dish as well. Jason and his mom recount that this year she opted to cook it in the crockpot. It’s much easier! Just add the turkey carcass, water and ginger. However, you can certainly go the old school route and cook it in a pot on the stove.

There seems to be a smile on both sides of the phone as they recount that she made sure it was the last meal he ate before he returned to DC after his last visit. One last delicious memory to tide him over until his next visit.

Jook Yee Style
1.5 cup hapa rice (half brown, half white uncooked rice)
10 cups water
ginger to taste (the range is 2 tsp crushed to a 1 inch, skinned piece quartered)
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 turkey carcass with meat (per the amount you want in the dish)
white pepper (to taste as topping for a serving)
cilantro (to taste as topping for a serving)
green onions (to taste as topping for a serving)

Place turkey carcass with meat, uncooked rice, ginger, water and stock in a crockpot. Cover it and cook on high for 5 to 6 hours. I cooked it in a dutch oven on the stove with high heat – and over cooked it! So be careful.

Near the end of your cook time, remove the bones.

Serve topped with cilantro, chopped green onions and white pepper – all to taste.

* Please note, you can swap out pre-cooked rice and reduce your cook time to 1.5 to 2 hours.

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Posted in Dear Diary