I was sick with a bad cold over the weekend and although I was raised a WASP in midwestern USA, when I’m down for the count I usually cook up a big pot of congee, perhaps one of the most ubiquitous of all Asian foods.
In my experience, there’s nothing simpler and more comforting than congee, which is basically rice cooked with a lot of liquid until it forms a soft and creamy porridge. There are as many recipes and methods for making congee as there are mothers and grandmothers to make them, but here are the basics.
Congee is the Chinese name for rice porridge but it is also known as okayu in Japan, juk in Korea, and jok in Thailand to name but a few. While they each have their own unique variations, they all begin with rice and a liquid, usually water and perhaps a little salt. From that basic start, a mosaic of marvelous of flavors and textures can be added, such as kimchi and salted fish (Korea), or pork with fried garlic and scallions (Philippines.) Congee can even be sweetened with sugar and served with fruit, such as pears or apples.
Another favorite variation is to make congee with chicken or turkey wings and ginger. The wings are removed when they are done cooking, the meat shredded and returned to the pot which is garnished with slivered green onions.
While congee is usually made on the stovetop, it can also be made in a slow cooker or rice cooker. Indeed, many rice cookers have a congee setting, which means you can start your congee the night before and wake up the next morning to an already cooked, comforting breakfast.
Because the addition of extra water can stretch a simple cup of rice to serve a whole family, congee is considered a frugal dish. These days, no matter where you're from or what your economic situation, stretching your food dollars is kitchen wisdom indeed.
But most interesting of all, congee is almost a form of language, a conveyor of memory, culture and identity. Like all good foods, it nourishes more than just the belly.
Please share with us your congee memories and recipes!
1 cup long grain white rice
9 cups water or stock (chicken or fish)
Salt to taste
In a heavy pot, bring the rice, liquid and optional salt to a boil, then turn it down to a simmer and cover loosely with a lid. Cook gently, stirring occasionally, until the rice is thoroughly cooked and the porridge has become thick and creamy, about 1 1/2 hours. Serve up hot with the condiments of your choice or plain, just as it is, for a comforting, simple meal.