This mushroom congee recipe has a special place in my heart for a few reasons. The first, and probably most important of these reasons being that it is straight up deliciousness in a bowl. Comforting in a way for people of Asian decent because let’s face it, the last thing you ‘whities’ want in your delicate morning tummies is a steamy bowl of savoury rice porridge, with spicy mushrooms of exotic origin. And yet it works! I’m also flying in the face of Asian tradition by doing something very ‘white’ to your precious congee and enriching it with butter. It is a heavily seaweed flavoured butter, but, butter it is none-the-less. And yet the amount of expat Asian-Melbournians that have rushed to extend their congratulations on this humble little bowl of buttery, mushroomy, ricey goop is testimony to it’s quirky success.
Secondly this dish was the very first plate of my own creation that I devised and sent out after taking my first head chef job at Mighty Boy Eatery on Gertrude Street in Melbourne’s hipster capital Fitzroy. It was risky, to say the least. To come out swinging with a dish that flew in the face of both my target audiences ideas of breakfast. I can’t remember what I was even thinking at the time, I knew it would either define my time in my new role, or bring it to an abrupt end. At the time I was either too proud, or just too stupid to put up the ‘safe’ breakfast options on, I just kinda knew that this dish worked. And work it did! Gaining media attention from a couple of Melbourne’s leading hospitality publications and earning me the creative freedom to keep putting up slightly strange food.
I can’t claim all the kudos for this creation however. Nothing is ever truly original, least of all an idea! My old boss Nick Honeyman introduced me to the concept for this dish many years ago when we were working in ‘The Commons’ in Takapuna on Auckland’s North Shore. He came up with the concept of treating this classic Asian staple with all the love and attention of a risotto. Carefully cooking out sushi rice (instead of aborio rice) in a heavily seasoned stock of soy and konbu (Japanese seaweed), using the absorption method. This in my mind is the superior way to cook risotto (or congee) as you minimise the breaking of the rice grains by basically putting it on at a low heat and leaving it the fuck alone! Stir this maybe twice during cooking to insure that it doesn’t catch on the bottom, and the rice will do the rest. Then of course the train of thought continued down that risotto line of reasoning and we just had to chuck some dirty old butter in there! Everything is better with butter, and this once humble rice dish was no exception. Of course never being happy with creating something that anyone else might have a hope of replicating we tinkered with every aspect of the components until we got it right, which eventually led us to seaweed butter.
The recipe I have given below is the very same one we have been serving at Mighty Boy Eatery for the last year or so, and while it differs a lot from the original recipe we put together at The Commons, it feel that it allows the true star of the dish to shine. All this time I have been going on about rice and butter, when the real star of this dish is mushrooms. My love affair with mushrooms goes way back before I even contemplated cooking them. I can remember going out with my family as a child when the weather was just right to pick (chefs now call this foraging……) field mushrooms. Dad of course knew where the best patches were to be found on the farm and taught us which ones to avoid.
And much later many of my good friends will have undoubtedly gorged themselves on a plate of creamy mushrooms on toast at our house the morning after our bands had played a show together. They are the ‘meat’ of the vegetable world, my go-to breakfast must, and after all of these years cooking, eating, and loving this weird and diverse ingredient, I still feel I am only scratching the surface of their potential. So with out further delay here is my Mighty Boy Mushroom Congee.
- 1.6ltr cold water
- 1 piece konbu
- 26g shiitake dried
Combine all and bring to a gentle simmer for 1 hour. Remove from the heat and allow to steep for a further 2 hours. Pass stock reserving the liquid and solids.
- 1 ltr shiitake stock
- 83ml soy sauce
- 250g sushi rice
Combine all in a large pot and cook out gently for around 1 hour or until rice is cooked, stirring only very occasionally so as not to break up the rice grains . Allow to cool and refrigerate.
- 20g nori (japanese seaweed used in sushi rolls)
- 160g butter
- 6g konbu (reserved from the shiitake stock)
- 2g sugar
Soak nori in cold water for 30mins. Cut buter into 1 cm dice and leave out to soften. Squeeze as much water out of the nori as possible using a fine sieve. Blend nori and konbu until a fine paste has developed. Add the butter and sugar to the blender and continue to blend until everything is well combined, being careful to not blend too much as the butter will melt and be shit!
- 1000g water
- 500g rice vinegar
- 60g salt
- 350g castor sugar
Combine all. Bring to the boil and allow to cool. This is much more pickle liquor than you will need, but it keeps forever and is super handy for pickling anything.
- 26g shiitake (reserved from the shiitake stock)
- 83ml master pickle
Bring master pickle to the boil. Cut shiitake into ¼’s and remove the hard woody stem. Pour hot Master Pickle over the shiitake and allow to cool at room temp.
- 20g rice
- 150 ltr water
- 2g sesame oil
- 6g soy sauce
Combine all. Bring to the boil and allow to simmer until the rice is very overcooked and sludgy. Blend until smooth. Line a baking tray with baking paper and spread the rice slurry out thinly and evenly. Place in the oven over night with only the pilot light on and the oven door slightly ajar, or if you have a dehydrator, dry at 65ºc for 14 hours. Deepfry the next day at 180ºc until golden and crispy.
- 50g button mushrooms
- 50g oyster mushroom
- 50g enoki mushrooms (needle mushroom) plus 4 bunches for deep fying
- 2 tsp chilli oil
- 1g ground szechuan peppercorns
- a pinch of wakame seaweed (the dried chopped stuff you get in miso soup)
Chop all the mushrooms (any medley of mushrooms will do fine by the way, this is just my recommendation), and sautee over a high heat. Once the mushrooms are nicely coloured ad the chilli oil and peppercorns. Season well with salt and a little pinch of sugar. Add 2 tablespoons of the precooked rice to a pot and add enough of the remaining shiitake stock to give you a porridge like consistency. Heat the rice to a light boil and then add 1 tablespoon of the Nori Butter per serve. Stir until well combined, check the seasoning, add some salt if required. Dust your bunches of enoki (if using) in rice flour and fry at 180ºc until crisp. Divide the hot congee between your bowls, top with the sautéed chilli mushrooms, pickled shiitake mushrooms, fried enoki, wakame sea weed, and a shard of rice cracker. To take this little number to the next level may I recommend smashing a poached egg on top of it? Now you’ve taken all this time beautifully presenting your congee, mix it all up and and eat that delicious mess.