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The Joys of Jook

For most people, the big winter celebrations come to an end when the Christmas tree is taken down, and the New Year’s streamers and empy Champagne bottles are tossed out.

Not for me.

It never really feels finis for me until I make my huge pot of jook, the creamy, comforting rice porridge that I, like so many others of Asian heritage, grew up with.

My late-Mom always made it with the Thanksgiving turkey carcass. She sometimes made it, too, right after Easter with the leftover ham.

Following her tradition, I freeze my Thanksgiving turkey carcass exactly for this purpose. A few weeks later, it’s joined in the freezer by the big, bulky bone from Christmas’ centerpiece, a Berkshire ham. There, these two picked-over, yet still flavor-packed specimens wait until Jook Day comes.

And that day is usually sometime in January when we start to crave turkey and ham again after having had more than our fill over the December holidays. Then, I defrost the ham bone and turkey carcass overnight in the fridge.

In they go into the biggest pot I have in the house, where they combine slowly for four hours with grains of rice: Short-grain if you like your porridge or congee exceedingly creamy with the rice grains almost completely broken down; Jasmine or long-grain if you prefer your jook to be a little more brothy with still slightly distinct grains of rice.

I like to cook my porridge with coins of fresh ginger, Chinese black mushrooms, a drizzle of sesame oil, and a pinch of white pepper. When it’s finally creamy, practically custardy, I ladle it into big bowls, then sprinkle on slivers of green onion.

Then, I sit back and savor my favorite one-last-taste of the holidays.

My Version of Jook

(serves 8 to 10)

2 cups short-grain or long-grain rice (depending on the consistency you like for your porridge)

1 turkey carcass

1 ham bone

3 quarts water

2 1/4 quarts turkey or chicken stock

4 coins of fresh ginger

8 dried shiitake mushrooms

Salt to taste

White pepper to taste

Sesame oil (optional)

Slivers of chopped green onions

Wash the rice in cold water until water runs clear; drain well. In a large stock pot, place turkey carcass, ham bone, 3 quarts water, 2 1/4 quarts stock, and ginger. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cook 1 minute, then skim off any scum that forms on the surface. Add rice, return to a boil over high heat, then cover, and reduce heat to low. Simmer about 3 hours, stirring occasionally.

Meantime, soak dried shiitakes in hot water for about 20 minutes; drain, discard tough stems, and chop mushroom caps into a rough dice. Remove turkey carcass and ham bone from pot. Scrape off any meat that remains and add back to the pot. Then stir in diced shiitakes. Let jook simmer for another hour until the rice grains have swelled and the porridge is thick and creamy. Add salt and white pepper to taste, and a drizzle of sesame oil, if you like.

Ladle jook into bowls, then sprinkle on some green onions and serve. Leftover jook will keep in the refrigerator for a few days. If after reheating, the jook seems too thick, add a little water or stock to thin it to desired consistency. You also can freeze jook in a tightly sealed container.

From Carolyn Jung