Have you ever heard of Congee, the world’s most perfect healing soup or porridge that was borne of famine and the need to thrift? If not, you should know that it’s the ultimate Super Bowl because it saves you money, labor and fuss, and is endlessly agreeable to being riffed on with different grains, broths, garnishes and presentations. In fact you may even serve it around super bowl time if you like me have any family members or friends who are sick with a cold or have compromised digestion and energy due to another ailment. Or maybe you yourself are feeling winter blues and chills and want an easy and simple healing soup recipe.
Why a Story About Congee?
To detour briefly, congee has been coming on strong to my imagination recently and then earlier this week it was revealed why, or at least one reason why, for as I was ambling down the coast from PDX to LA by train to attend a business event, unbeknownst to me my mama who lives in LA was growing horribly ill. So badly ill in fact that by the time I arrived around midnight nobody was home because everyone was in the hospital. Now that I am here I won’t be fully attending the event but rather caring for my folks and then helping them both get situated when the surgery and rehab is over and so of course why not make lots of congee?
How do I Make Congee?
Making congee is easy and requires three basic steps:
- Rinse your Rice in water – just swirl around with your fingers to wash off some of the starch and then pour out the water.
- Cook your Rice in a large amount of water until it softens significantly. Can be made in a pot or rice cooker, some of which have a “congee” setting, allowing it to be cooked overnight. The standard ratio is 1 part rice to approximately 7-9 parts water. Or broth. This takes a long time (up to 8 hours or more) and therefore enter the Instant Pot (up to 40 minutes – 1 hr). With the Instant Pot, you’ll save hours of time and if you use my recipe and cook your chicken with your rice, the chicken will be velvet.
- Add your Other Elements. Some recipes call for cooking your chicken or meat concurrently with the rice, but many do not and that is why if you order Congee in a Chinese restaurant you will usually see a beautiful and pristinely snow-white congee with the accompaniments balanced on top or offered on the side.
What is Congee, Where Did it Come From and Where and When is it Eaten?
The word congee comes from the Tamil language and is thought to be related to a staple food of the ancient Tamil folk, probably specifically the millet porridge of the Tamils, Koozh. There are Burmese (hsan byok – rice and water with garnish of spring onions and crispy fried onions); Taiwanese (sweet potato often added); Indian (kanji – rice and water, but also often prepared with broken wheat, maize or pearl millet and eaten with green lentils and chutney); Indonesian (bubur – rice based and often with shredded chicken meat, condiments and served with chinese crullers); Japanese (kayu or okayu – rice and water sometimes with eggs beaten in and onion, salmon, roe, ginger and umeboshi); Korean (juk – often with rice and other grains or legumes such as beans, sesame, nuts and pumpkin); Cambodian (bobar); Laotian (khao piak – “wet rice” garnished with fried garlic, scallions and pepper and served with eggs and youtiao); Filipino (lugaw – rice gruel with endless sweet and savory versions); Portuguese (canja – served with fresh mint leaf on top sometimes); Singaporean (teochow – often served with a banquet of side dishes); Sri Lankan (khenda – can include rice flour, toasted rice, sago, coconut milk, tubers and mung bean, or plain as “hal kenda“); Thai (chok – with raw or partially cooked egg added as well as minced pork or beef and onions, served with small donut-like dippers); and, Vietnamese (cháo– sometimes cooked with pandan leaves or mung bean) iterations of congee but perhaps the most commonly known type is Chinese in origin. Any of the latter mentioned countries’ congees is subject for at least an entire post per country but we will be focusing on Chinese congee for now. Congee has been around in China for thousands of years, the earliest probably that millet-based Koozh mentioned above, and its marked characteristic is that is is supremely easy to digest and simple to cook. In some cultures it’s is eaten primarily at breakfast time or as a late supper; in others it constitutes an actual substitute for rice at meals.
Interestingly, Chinese congee is only called as such in Guandong and is known by other names such as báizhōu (“white porridge”) in Central and Northern China. Chinese congees vary pretty considerably by region. To illustrate, a Cantonese congee is made with white rice boiled in a ton of water for a long time until the rice breaks down and becomes a semi-thick, snowy white porridge. Congees made in other areas use different types of rice with differing amounts of water yielding different consistencies.
Chinese congee is often eaten with salted duck eggs, lettuce and dace (Chinese mud carp) paste, bamboo shoots, pickled tofu, wheat gluten, meats, fish, century eggs and/or condiments such as soy sauce, white pepper,oils and chilis. Another thing you’ll see with Chinese congee is fried bread sticks (youtiao) and that commonly happens at breakfast. Congee can be left watery or drained and served up kind of like oatmeal. This may not sound all that exciting to you, but it’s downright essential comfort food and I for one always like to have different plain canvases to create a nice multi-layered and flavored bowl of food.
Congee made from other grains like cornmeal, millet, barley and sorghum are more common in Northern China where rice doesn’t grow as well as other grains suited for a cooler climate. In Chinese supermarkets you can usually find multigrain congee mixes in the health food sections. One of my favorite versions and the only non-grain type of congee I’ve tried is a Chinese one made with mung beans that’s eaten with sugar. It reminds me of a sort of date or fruit mash up which can be really good thinned with a little milk and topped with some nuts.
Can I Use Other Grains in a Congee Recipe?
Indeed you can, and you should use other grains. I love to use oat groats like I did in the recipe I’m providing here. They have a wonderfully chewy and toothsome texture and are very good for you. But you can also use rolled oats, millet, buckwheat, barley . . . you name it.
Where Can I Eat Congee in Portland?
Portland’s beloved Expatriate used to serve a brunch congee but no more, so I’ll send you to my current favorite: Master Kong, who serves a silky white rice based congee that you can add all kinds of everything to, from pork to century egg and condiments up the ying yang.
And now for a recipe. I’ve used oat groats in this recipe, but what you should do is use any grains you have on hand or are curious about, or be safe and go with rice. When you choose your grain, simply follow instructions for how long to cook but add liquid at a radio of 1 part grain to 8 parts liquid. When your grain is finished cooking in the Instant Pot, simply adjust for preferred thickness by draining liquid or adding, depending on whether you want your congee more soupy or more porridgey.Print
An easy and delicious recipe for Chinese Chicken Congee
1 1/2 cups oat groats (what I used) or short grain white rice
1/2 Tbsp salt
8 cups broth or water. Use homemade or store bought.
6 chicken drumsticks
6 slices fresh ginger
Garnishes such as chopped scallion, ginger, chili oil, soy sauce, sesame oil, sesame seeds and chopped or toasted garlic
- Rinse oat groats or rice in water until water runs clear.
- Add chicken drumsticks, oat groats or rice, liquid, sliced ginger and salt to Instant Pot.
- Cook on “porridge” button until fully depressurized. This will take about 1 hour of 100% walk-away time.
- Remove the chicken drumsticks from the congee and shred chicken meat or if you prefer, serve each bowl with a whole cooked drumstick. Garnish as you please. Enjoy!
Serve with preferred condiments and seasonings, and/or toast points or crackers.
Keywords: congee, chicken soup, porridge