Congee

Congee

Zhou

By
From
Every Grain of Rice
Serves
4
Photographer
Chris Terry

All cultures and all individuals have their comfort foods. In China, one Jin Dynasty official is said to have become so consumed with longing for the water shield soup and minced perch of his native region that he abandoned his post and returned home. But perhaps the most universal of comfort foods is rice congee, which is like a caress of the mouth and stomach, as soothing as baby food. At its simplest, it is just rice cooked slowly, in plenty of water, until the grains dissolve into a voluptuous, satiny mass. Because of this long, lazy cooking, the Cantonese like to say that someone who spends hours talking on the phone is ‘making telephone congee’.

Plain congee can be made with water or stock: chicken stock is particularly good. Eat it on its own, with fermented tofu or other relishes, or with any Chinese dishes. For a more nutritious congee, cook the rice with pre-soaked mung beans, peanuts or dried lotus seeds. Plain congee made with water is the perfect antidote to gastronomic excess, and recommended for invalids. In the Cantonese south, where congee is dearly loved, they add all kinds of ingredients: one restaurant I visited in Hong Kong offered nearly 60 kinds. They had a vast potful of plain congee in the kitchen, and a cabinet full of ingredients to be added to it in a smaller pan.

Ingredients

Quantity Ingredient
150g thai fragrant rice
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cooking oil

Method

  1. Rinse and drain the rice. Mix it with the salt and oil and set aside for 30 minutes. Rinse and drain.
  2. Bring 2.4 litres of water to a boil in a thick-bottomed pan over a high flame, add the rice, return to a boil, partially cover the pan and simmer gently for about an hour and a half, stirring occasionally. The rice grains will burst open; by the end of the cooking they will have largely melted into the water to form a soft porridge.
  3. The congee can be eaten plain (good if you are feeling delicate), or with seasonings and other ingredients of your choice.

Variations

  • Congee with other seeds and grains: The congee can be cooked with many other seeds and grains: in this case omit the oil and salt, cook the rice for an extra 30 minutes and season with sugar before eating if desired. Mung or azuki beans, as well as lotus seeds, should first be soaked overnight, then cooked with the rice. Peanuts and walnuts, as well as black glutinous rice (which will colour the congee a deep purple) can simply be cooked with the rice. Dried Chinese dates and gouqi berries may be added towards the end of cooking time.

    Congee with pork ribs, preserved duck eggs and ginger: Blanch pork ribs, chopped into bite-sized pieces, for a few minutes to remove any bloody juices, then rinse well. Cook them with the rice. Half an hour before serving, add chopped preserved duck eggs and slivers of ginger. Scatter it with ground white pepper and finely sliced spring onion greens and mix well before eating.

    Dandelion leaf congee: My Sichuanese friends Yu Bo and Dai Shuang recently served me a congee made with dandelion leaves, added towards the end of the cooking time – a rather lyrical spring version on the congee theme.

    Congee with chicken and shiitake mushrooms: Soak some dried shiitake mushrooms in hot water from the kettle for 30 minutes. Slice some raw chicken and marinate in a little soy sauce, finely chopped ginger, cooking oil and potato flour mixed with water. Slice off and discard the mushroom stalks and slice the caps. Add the mushrooms and chicken to your hot congee and boil for about five minutes. Cover and leave to steep for another 10 minutes or so before serving with a garnish of spring onion greens, sesame oil and pepper.
Tags:
Chinese
Sichuanese
Asian
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