Congee:

A silky rice soup made from leftover Japanese short-grain white rice. Congee absorbs water and expands as it cooks, so don’t use too much rice unless you intend to eat nothing but congee for a while. For 6 cups of soup, start with perhaps one cup of cooked rice, five cups of water. Put the rice in a heavy pot, cover with cold water and use your hands to mix the rice into the water, breaking up any lumps. Bring it to a boil and then turn it down to a medium heat, stirring frequently. It should be cooked until the grains begin to disintegrate making the broth distinctly silky in texture which may take about 45 minutes. You can make it as thick as you would like, or thin it with more water to achieve the desired consistency. With the addition of a little salt at this point, it would be a familiar and very acceptable breakfast dish to a Zen monk…..but you can add an unlimited number of ingredients and make it as wild as you’d like. Taste it as is first to acquaint yourself with the simplicity of the basic flavour and see what ideas strike you.

For example, peel a piece of ginger, cut it into thin, thin matchsticks and add it to the congee. Stir and taste to see what direction the ginger takes it. Okay, so now look in your cupboards to see what you have on hand that could be added: A drop of shoyu (soy sauce)? Sure. How about a few dried garlic chips? Sure. A few drops of sesame oil? Absolutely. Continue to taste as you add and beware of adding too much of any one ingredient, thus overpowering the soup.

If you have any greens, they could be cut into small pieces and added towards the end of the cooking so that they don’t lose all of their texture. Even sautéed cabbage works well in congee (but don’t add red cabbage while it is cooking or you’ll end up with purple congee.) You can add tofu, beans, nuts or seeds to complete the protein.

I like to make a plain congee and prepare many small dishes of ingredients which people can add to their own bowls at the table. For example: Chilie oil, shoyu, sesame oil, kimchee (Korean pickled cabbage), cubed silken tofu, several kinds of cut uncooked Chinese greens, or perhaps some seared baby bok choy, slivered green onions, peanuts, sunflower seeds, togarashi (Japanese red pepper mixed with sesame seeds), gomasio (toasted white sesame seeds ground with coarse salt), cut nori (toasted seaweed). Each person ladles soup into their own bowl and then adds whatever ingredients they wish, tasting after each addition to see how it changes the soup – it’s a good way to introduce ingredients which might not be familiar.

Congee will store well, refrigerated, for several days. With little effort it can be made up in advance to have on hand to microwave for a fast meal. And it is always very kind to the stomach, especially when you’re not feeling well.

Congee is indeed excellent food. I used to view it as food for the sick and the elderly, but I've now have a newfound appreciation for it. Chinese medicine views congee was "medical food". So it goes, congee is good for cleaning the "bad stuff" out of the bowels. What that means I don't know, but it seems to be good for a complaining stomach. I don't have too much to add to Jinmyo's excellent writeup, just a few seasoning suggestions. Congee has almost infinite possibilities, and every person likes it differently. Here's my preferences.

Plain Congee - Add a pinch of salt. Also, dip crackers in it, preferably with seasame seeds. Not Ritz crackers, the regular kind. That adds a salty taste to the congee, and it also makes the crackers taste nice.

Chicken + Scallions - Shred the grilled chicken and toss it in with the scallions. Add ginger if it fancies your tastebuds.

Abalone + whatever - Expensive, but very tasty. Abalone is a magical ingredient. It makes anything taste good.

Salted Pork + Salty Egg - Yes, I like my congee a bit salty. Don't chop the pork, leave it in smallish chunks. Let it soak in the congee. This is nice.

Thousand Year Egg + whatever - This one is good. Thousand year egg goes very well with congee. Dump whatever else in, as long as it doesn't make it taste wacky. BTW, wait until the egg is soft before eating.

There are plenty more I've tried, but these are my standard ingredients. If you want to try others, go to Chinatown early morning and try the restaurant ones. There are usually thousands of variations for you to choose from. You can eat those with Chinese Crullers.

In fact, the traditional Chinese breakfast consists of congee, bread stick, and perhaps some tea. Good stuff. Go try it out in Chinatown, then take a walk. Nice way to spend a morning. I recommend Toronto Chinatown. That place rocks. I have never been to San Francisco's Chinatown, but I would like to visit.

Most of the western world seems to know this rice gruel as congee(this word is actually Indian in origin), but I know it as jook. In any event, here is my take on it.

Ingredients
  • 1 cup Chinese long grain rice(uncooked)
  • 3 litres of water
  • 1 tsp minced ginger (you can really omit the ginger)
  • Salt
Method
  1. Rince rice once under cold water and drain, do not keep rinsing until the liquid is clear or you will have washed away the starch that gives this soup its consistency.
  2. In a large pot stir rice, ginger, and water
  3. Bring to a boil, Simmer until the proper consistency is reached... perhaps an hour or more
  4. Salt to taste and serve
The consistency you want to reach, like Jinmyo mentioned is silky. It's not entirely unlike a cream soup. You are trying to reach a point where the level of rice in the pot and the level of water are the same.

When jook cools it thickens, don't worry, heating it up will make it liquid again. So it's all right to store it in your fridge for a couple of days

I cannot get enough of this stuff. I love it. I made a large pot today and I've already eaten most of it. When I go to a restaurant my favourite variety is the thousand year old egg and salted pork. It is so much better than the seafood variety (which costs twice as much).

You can vary the flavour by changing what you put in it. DMan has offered several very good suggestions. Two others I know of are: fried peanut and scallion, and seafood (prawns, scallops etc). I also like to stir in some Guilin Chili Sauce to add some heat to the mix. You often find a dish of chili sauce at your table in Chinese tea/noodle houses to be used as a condiment. Start small. It's excellent stuff. Another possibility is a "Chinese doughnut" which is really closer to a crueller I think. An unsweetend stick of fried dough cut up into bite sized pieces. Congee by itself is not really very filling and the "doughnut" helps keep you full.

Liberties can be taken with the liquid used to make the soup. You can use a broth or stock of any variety. I prefer poultry, but my father will not make jook unless he has pork on hand.

Con"gee (?), n. & v.

See Congé, Conge. [Obs.]

And unto her his congee came to take.
Spenser.

 

© Webster 1913


Con*gee" (?), n.

1. [Tamil ka&?;shi boilings.]

Boiled rice; rice gruel. [India]

2.

A jail; a lockup. [India]

Congee discharges, rice water discharges. Dunglison. --
Congee water, water in which rice has been boiled.

 

© Webster 1913

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