Although the soothing, simple rice soup known as congee is most often served unseasoned, with flavors added as you eat, some versions are flavored while they cook. There are yam and pumpkin congees, fish congees and sweet bean congees—all wonderful collections of contrasting tastes and textures.Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid are particularly fond of this beef and lettuce congee. Just after the rice is cooked, flavor and texture are added in the form of thin slices of marinated beef, sliced scallions and ribbons of crisp romaine lettuce. The soup should be served with chile paste and freshly ground white or black pepper.Plus: More Beef Recipes and Tips
1 tablespoon Chinese cooking wine, dry white wine or dry sherry
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon cornstarch
6 ounces beef round, thinly sliced
1 cup medium-grain Chinese, Japanese or Korean white rice
In a medium bowl, combine the wine, soy sauce and cornstarch. Add the beef and turn to coat. Let marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Wash the rice thoroughly until the water runs clear. Put the rice in a large saucepan and wash again until the water runs clear; drain. Cover the rice with the 8 cups of cold water and bring to a vigorous boil. Lower the heat and simmer until the rice is very tender, about 20 minutes.
About 5 minutes before serving, bring the congee to a vigorous boil. Stir in the meat and its marinade and the scallions and remove from the heat. Stir in the lettuce and salt. Serve immediately in large bowls, passing Hot Chile Paste and fresh pepper at the table so guests can season their congee as they wish.
The recipe can be prepared through Step 2 up to 2 hours ahead. The congee will thicken as it stands, so you may have to add up to 1 cup of water to ensure a soupy texture.
One way to match the underlying heat of chile paste is to serve an equally assertive, spicy wine, such as a Zinfandel; alternatively, offer a cool, refreshing beer, such as Japan's Asahi.
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