Cháo Bồi (Vietnamese Porridge with Seafood)

In this light, savory Vietnamese porridge, shrimp, crab, and mushrooms are suspended in a silky soup of rice and tapioca pearls.

Cháo Bôi (Vietnamese Porridge with Seafood)
Photo: Photo: Heami Lee / FOOD STYLING CHELSEA ZIMMER / PROP STYLING / CHRISTINE KEELY
Active Time:
1 hrs
Total Time:
1 hrs 30 mins
Servings:
8

Whenever people ask what my family eats for Thanksgiving, I'm somewhat reluctant to answer, fearing that we Nguyens would appear unpatriotic.

While we've embraced many cultural aspects of our adopted nation, we go rogue come late November. We've lived in the States for nearly 50 years, but certain foods are not fully part of our holiday orbit. After roasting giant supermarket-sale turkeys in the late 1970s, my mom permanently eighty-sixed them in favor of chickens (prized meat in Vietnam) stuffed with sticky rice, shiitakes, roasted chestnuts, and a glug of Cognac. Potatoes were best fried, baked, roasted, or simmered in saucy dishes—never mashed. (Why would you need mashed potatoes if there's sticky rice?) Until recently, she shunned brussels sprouts, thinking they were defined by the overcooked canned orbs that we were served at the refugee resettlement camp when we first arrived in the U.S.

At midlife, I certainly don't live and cook under my mom's control, but I have also never cozied up to conventional Thanksgiving. When I was in college and living with my brother in Los Angeles, we curiously cooked a box of commercial bread stuffing and were disappointed. When my boyfriend of Irish, German, and American heritage invited me to his family's Thanksgiving, I immediately said yes. As it turned out, his people preferred to dine at Lawry's in Beverly Hills, where everyone ordered prime rib and rounds of martinis. (I followed suit because, honestly, I was still a prime rib virgin in 1990.)

I married that boyfriend, partly because he understood and accepted my family's traditions. My father passed in 2021, and for as long as my mom remains alive, we'll be at her home for Thanksgiving to feast on favorite Viet dishes. She'll spoil us with piles of fried cha giò imperial rolls and platters of herbaceous goi (composed salads). And we'll slurp up cháo bồi, a rice porridge laden with seafood and silky tapioca pearls (recipe at right), and, before the meal is done, we'll want dibs on the leftover soup. (That's never a problem because she will have made a triple batch.)

My mother's cháo bồi is a light, savory porridge of shrimp, crab, and mushrooms suspended in a silky soup of rice and tapioca pearls. The rice grains are parboiled and then simmered until their ends split and "bloom" for a soft texture. For a handsome finish, halve the shrimp symmetrically so they cook into pink-orange curls.

Our Thanksgiving concludes with wedges of fresh Fuyu persimmons and mooncakes. These sweets reflect the season: The fruit is harvested from my generous neighbor's trees, and the cakes connect us to Teˆ´t Trung Thu, the mid-autumn festival, an important East Asian harvest celebration that typically occurs in September. It signals a time to rest, consider nature's bounty, gather with loved ones, and feel grateful. - Andrea Nguyen

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces unpeeled raw large shrimp, tail-on

  • 3 medium scallions (about 1 1/2 ounces), cut into 3-inch-long strips and smashed

  • 1 (1/2-inch) piece unpeeled fresh ginger, thinly sliced and smashed (about 1 tablespoon)

  • 12 cups lower-sodium chicken broth, divided

  • 1 (6-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breast 

  • 1 cup uncooked long-grain white rice

  • 6 dried wood ear mushrooms

  • 2 tablespoons canola oil or other neutral cooking oil

  • ½ cup thinly sliced shallot (from 1 large [2-ounce] shallot)

  • 8 ounces crabmeat (fresh, thawed frozen, or canned), drained and picked

  • cup uncooked small pearl tapioca (about 2 ounces)

  • Kosher salt, to taste

  • Thinly sliced scallions (light green and dark green parts only)

  • Roughly torn fresh cilantro

Directions

  1. Peel and devein shrimp; place shells and tails in a medium saucepan. Cut each shrimp in half lengthwise. Place shrimp on a plate, and refrigerate until ready to use.

  2. Add smashed scallions, ginger, and 4 cups broth to shrimp shells. Bring to a rolling boil over medium-high. (Remove chicken from refrigerator, and let stand at room temperature while broth comes to a boil.) Boil, stirring occasionally, until flavors meld, about 5 minutes. Add chicken breast. Cover saucepan tightly with lid, and remove from heat; let stand until chicken feels firm yet still yields a bit to the touch and a thermometer inserted in thickest portion of meat registers 155°F, about 20 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer chicken to a plate, and loosely cover with aluminum foil; set aside. Pour broth through a fine wire-mesh strainer into a large (5-quart) pot; discard solids. Cover and set aside.

  3. Rinse medium saucepan, and fill halfway with water. Bring water to a boil over high; add rice, stirring to separate grains. Boil over high, undisturbed, until tender but still firm, about 8 minutes. Drain rice, and set aside. Rinse and dry saucepan.

  4. While rice cooks, soak mushrooms in hot water until softened, about 15 minutes. Drain and cut into thin (1/8-inch-wide) strips.

  5. Add remaining 8 cups chicken broth to warm broth in pot. Bring to boil over high; stir in mushrooms and reserved rice. Reduce heat to medium-high; gently boil, undisturbed, until rice grains are plump and start to split at ends, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat.

  6. While rice cooks, heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium. Add shallot, and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant and soft, 3 to 5 minutes. Add reserved shrimp; cook, stirring often, until shrimp are just cooked and turn opaque, about 2 minutes. (Shrimp will curl into a corkscrew shape.) Remove from heat, and add crabmeat to shrimp mixture. Hand-shred reserved chicken into saucepan. Set aside.

  7. Place tapioca pearls in a fine wire-mesh strainer, and rinse briefly under cold water. Stir tapioca pearls into rice mixture in pot; return to heat over medium-high, and cook, undisturbed, until soup is slightly thickened and opaque tapioca pearls have expanded and are mostly clear, about 10 minutes.

  8. Stir chicken mixture into soup in pot; cook over medium-high, undisturbed, until heated through, about 1 minute. Season with salt to taste. Add up to 1 cup water as needed for soup to reach desired consistency. Remove from heat, and ladle soup evenly into 8 individual bowls or a large bowl or tureen; garnish with sliced scallions and cilantro. Serve immediately.

Note

Dried wood ear mushrooms impart an earthy quality and can be purchased at nuts.com.

Suggested Pairing

Tart, minerally white: Lieu Dit Santa Maria Valley Melon de Bourgogne

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