Congee… its silky warmth has the power to unfurl the most knotted of feelings. In its most basic form, congee is a simple white porridge of rice and water. It’s soft, mushy and almost soup-like texture makes it easy to digest, making it a customary food for the infirmed in Asia. I remember being served thin congee with just a drizzle of soy sauce – for flavor – when I was sick as a kid.
The appeal of congee lies in its flexibility. With rice porridge as its base, the choice of ingredients and toppings transform this very humble meal into crave-able street food, or even elevated nosh at a swanky congee bar.
Now that it’s autumn, the allure of steaming hot congee is almost irresistible. No matter how you choose to serve it, you can always count on the deep, fulfilling comfort of congee. Please enjoy this congee recipe from my kitchen to yours.
Congee at Home
This recipe is just one of many ways to make congee. You can customize the ingredients, adjust the amount of liquid, and even make it vegetarian.
Cut bulbous part of green onions into 1-inch segments, and save the rest for the topping. To make ginger slivers, thinly slice ginger root, and make long thin cuts across the slices.
Put ginger, green onion and 6 cups of water into a pot and bring to a boil. Add chicken breasts and turn the heat down to a slow simmer.
Rinse the rice 3 times to remove any excess starch and drain. When the chicken is cooked, lift it out of the pot and transfer to a bowl to let it cool down. Add the rice and chicken stock.
With the pot partially covered, simmer until the rice grains break and turn starchy. The longer you allow the mixture to simmer, the starchier it becomes and the consistency will continue to thicken. You can control the starchiness and thickness of the congee by regulating the simmering time.
You can also make the congee more flavorful by replacing water with chicken stock. You can also increase or cut back on the amount of liquid depending on how you like your congee consistency.
When the congee is almost ready, add salt to taste and stir in the sesame oil.
Radish-garlic topping: Rinse the Chinese dried radish (see picture) a few times and drain. The radish is potently salty, so if you want to remove even more salt, soak it for a couple of hours and then rinse and drain. Mince the radish. Peel the garlic cloves and then mince. Mix the minced garlic and radish and set aside. Heat cooking oil in a pan, and slowly brown the garlic/radish mixture. Set aside when ready. The ratio of radish to garlic is fully customizable. If you don’t care for garlic, feel free to leave it out.
I usually make the radish-garlic mixture in bulk and store it in a jar (under a thin layer of oil) in the refrigerator for future use. It’s good for up to a month.
Green onion topping: Thinly slice the green part of the green onion – on the bias, if desired. Set aside.
Roasted salted peanuts: I usually use store-bought peanuts, but if you wish you can roast your own.
Chicken: When the cooked chicken is cool enough to handle, break up and shred the meat with your hands. I like to add a little salt and a little white pepper to season the meat, but that’s optional.
Ladle the congee in a bowl. Add the toppings and serve. Alternately, you can serve the toppings separately and allow the diner to make it their way.
This is why congee rules - it’s so flexible and customizable, there are very few things that would not work. Here are some of the more traditional ingredients typically used for the porridge: thousand-year-old egg, dried scallops and clams and minced pork. Other possibilities for toppings include: chopped kimchi, bacon bits, crispy sliced shallots and even fermented tofu.