Rice porridge is eaten all over China and South East Asia where it takes many names. In Hong Kong (and the UK) it's called congee, in mainland China zhōu, the Thai know it as โจ๊ก (joke) and in Vietnam it's cháo (the ch is j pronounced I believe) - to name a few. In it's most basic form it is rice boiled in water and a little rice goes a long way as with prolonged simmering it goes beyond tender and starts to break down, thickening the water with its starch. This transformation of small amounts of rice into big bowls of food may well be how it came about, making a reduced crop go a long way after a poor harvest. During the Cambodian revolution it certainly took this role, with the ousted city dwellers sustaining their back breaking lifestyle with nothing but a watery rice porridge. On bad days they were lucky to find a few grains in the bottom, let alone a meal's worth of carbohydrate.
By the addition of various flavourings though it can be transformed from a basic meal to something luxurious, a fine start to the day that may seem weird for the temperature of South East Asia but for some reason works well. It's salty and soothing, filling the stomach for the day ahead.
First step is to cook the rice in stock and not water and then near anything goes. Soft pork and the black and purple century egg make a fine congee, the pig and egg are again bedfellows in the Thai joke moo, or pork porridge, where minced pork is added to the simmering slurry shortly before serving and even nearer to the bowl an egg is broken in. You can choose to leave this to poach slowly in the residual heat or stir through straight away, adding rich yellow streaks of yolk. It's not finished then either as toppings are provided - spring onion and ginger are seen nearly everywhere and soy, fish sauce or black vinegar are all used as seasonings, not to mention salt, sugar or white pepper depending on where you are.
Duck legs lend themselves well to this dish as the prolonged simmering they need to tenderise provides a base stock for the rice (for other everyday congees I tend to turn to the Oriental favourite chicken powder for my stock - quick, simple and pretty authentic). The duck flesh then shreds easily from the bone, providing texture and rich strands of meat. When I eat this for breakfast I prepare the night before up until the rice is cooked then shred the meat, add to the porridge and warm through when I get up. It makes a fine lunch too and is even meaty enough for an evening meal. As I've made this as a Vietnamese cháo I've seasoned with fish sauce, if this isn't to your taste then the aforementioned black vinegar cuts through the richness well.
For other flavours simply boil the below amounts of rice in stock to get your base porridge and add things as you see fit - whether it's meat, fish or seafood - topping with whatever you fancy. It's pretty much a do what you want dish like noodle soup or fried rice.
Cháo Vịt - Vietnamese Rice Porridge with Duck
Ingredients, for 4 people
2 duck legs
120gr jasmine rice
2 spring onions, halved and crushed
2" ginger, crushed
Greens from 2 spring onions
1 red chili
Chop the duck legs in two to expose some marrow then simmer in 2 litres of water, with the ginger and spring onion, till tender. This should take about an hour to an hour fifteen.
Remove the duck and flavourings, strain the stock through a fine sieve and then make back up to 2 litres with water. Add the rice, bring to the boil and then simmer, again for one hour to an hour fifteen, until the rice has broken down and the cháo has thickened nicely. The stock is very light so it will need to be seasoned, using salt and fish sauce and - if you like the stuff - the ubiquitous chicken powder.
Whilst this is happening and when the duck legs are cool enough to handle remove the meat from the bone and shred. Just prior to serving add the meat (and skin if you want) and warm through.
Provide your diners with sliced spring onion, red chili, fish sauce and white pepper for them to add as desired.