Sunday, May 8, 2011

Vietnamese Clam Congee (Chao Hen)

Cháo Hến (Vietnamese clam congee)

Clam congee is another one of the many comfort dishes from my parents' home town. It's traditionally made with tiny clams dredged up from the Perfume River in Hue, Vietnam by the locals. To taste these tiny clams in Hue is a magical experience, but here in my Boston kitchen, I use either live little neck clams or Snow's minced clams in juice to recreate a similar taste.

Minced clams in clam juice

Whether using live little neck clams or canned clams, what you will need to do is cook and/or separate the clam meat from its juice.

Clam meat & clam juice

Ingredients for congee:

  • olive oil
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 1 cup jasmine rice, rinsed & drained
  • 1 cup clam juice
  • 8-12 cups water
 Ingredients for clams:
  •  olive oil
  • 1 shallots, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 stalk lemongrass, finely minced (bulb only)
  • 1 cup minced clam meat
  • fish sauce
  • sea salt
  • cracked black pepper
  • sugar
To garnish:
  • fresh chili, thinly sliced
  • spring onion, sliced into rings
  • coriander leaves, chopped
  • Vietnamese coriander leaves, chopped
  • finely cracked black pepper
  • lime wedges
Heat up a soup pot and cover bottom with a drizzle of olive oil. Toss in shallots and fry until slightly golden and aromatic. Add the rice and fry until all the grains have been coated with oil and turned slightly golden. Pour in clam juice and water and bring to a boil. Lower heat and let simmer for about 30 minutes until the mixture is soft and smooth. More or less water can be added for the desired consistency.

Heat up a separate skillet and drizzle with oil. Add in some shallot and fry until aromatic. Add garlic and continue to fry until aromatic. Toss in the clams and season with fish sauce, salt, black pepper and a little sprinkle of sugar. This mixtured of cooked clams can then be added to the pot of congee to finish cooking together or it can be set aside to serve as a topping for the plain congee.

To serve the clam congee, ladle piping hot congee into a bowl. Top with clams, slices of chili, fresh herbs, finely cracked black pepper and a squeeze of lime. Stir up the congee so that it wilts the fresh herbs and enjoy the burst of flavors in your mouth.