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As temperatures drop across the United States, starting the day with a warm bowl of congee for breakfast will fortify you to conquer winter’s harsh chill. With its silky-smooth texture and inviting flavors, congee is as comforting as a familiar embrace.
Congee, or jook in Cantonese, is a simple rice porridge eaten throughout China that’s especially popular in Guangdong Province and Hong Kong. True, you can order congee at a restaurant, but ask Chinese kids for their favorite version and you’re likely to be told, “the congee my mom makes at home.”
Think of congee as a breakfast food similar to oatmeal, a blank canvas that you can flavor with your favorite toppings and seasonings. From my own childhood, I remember my mom making a big pot of congee with the ham bone leftover from Thanksgiving dinner. Really, anything is fair game.
Once you start having congee for breakfast, it won’t be long before you’re enjoying a bowl in the afternoon or as a midnight snack, just as it’s eaten in China. With its comforting texture and mild flavor, congee is also great for babies, for people recovering from sickness and for those with stomach troubles. You can also suggest congee to people seeking gluten-free meal ideas.
Making congee is super-simple — it’s really just rice cooked slowly until the grains break down into a porridge. I’ll make a big pot of plain congee in our slow cooker on a Sunday night and then reheat portions with different toppings throughout the week. If ever there was a simple “set and forget” meal, this is it.
Keep this strategy in mind as you follow the recipe and tutorial below. There are three ways to flavor congee using toppings:
– As you cook the rice (ex. chicken or pork bones)
– Just before you serve the rice (ex. vegetables or meats like roast duck, pork, fish or shrimp)
– As a garnish (ex. peanuts, cilantro, green onions or ginger)
The type of rice you choose and the amount of water you use are the two final variables. You can make great congee using only long grain jasmine rice, but consider substituting up to 1/2 cup of short grain glutinous rice (which has a higher starch content) for a silkier texture. Likewise, you can adjust the water up or down to produce a congee that is slightly thinner or thicker, depending on your preference.
Here’s how to make congee, step-by-step. The detailed tutorial with pictures and directions for adding flavor variations is at the bottom of the page.
Your turn! What tips can you share from your family’s recipe? Want to ask a question before you start cooking? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below!
Makes: 8 Servings | Prep Time: 15 Minutes | Cook Time: 8 Hours Overnight
1 1/4 cups long grain jasmine rice
Optional: Up to 1/2 cup short grain glutinous rice
10 cups of water
1. Add the rice to a slow cooker or stovetop pot.
2. Set the slow cooker or stovetop to low and simmer for up to 8 hours, stirring periodically.
3. Ladle into bowls and serve immediately with assorted toppings.
Start by gathering your ingredients. For a meal so satisfying, making congee is so simple. All you need is rice and water.
You can make congee using only long grain jasmine rice. Sometimes you’ll see this rice labeled as “fragrant jasmine rice” and sometimes not. Any brand will do.
Short grain glutinous rice, sometimes labeled as “sweet rice,” is something of a secret ingredient for making great congee. This type of rice has a higher starch content than jasmine rice, giving the congee a smoother, silkier texture. Plum Blossom and Butterfly are good brands, though any will do. If you use glutinous rice, simply reduce your jasmine rice by a corresponding amount, up to 1/2 cup of the total.
Dump all your rice into the slow cooker and cover with 10 cups of cold water. Give the pot a quick stir. At this stage, some folks will flavor their congee with meat bones or stock, but I generally keep my congee plain and flavor it with toppings later in the process.
Next, all you have to do is cover your pot and set the slow cooker on low for 8 hours. I like to make congee at night, then let the rice cook overnight while I sleep. Alternatively, you can also make congee during the day, whether in a slow cooker or on the stovetop. Either way, the directions are the same.
If you’re up, or as the last thing you do before you go to bed, give the pot a couple of stirs. The more you stir, the more the rice will break down into the smooth consistency you’re seeking. Not a deal-breaker, though, so don’t feel like you have to babysit the pot for the entire 8 hours.
While the congee is cooking, it’s a good time to talk toppings, which you’ll add just before serving to add flavor and substance to the meal. Most congee toppings are savory — roasted meats and herbs are common. In this case, I’ve chosen roasted duck, green onions, ginger, cilantro and a chile pepper, a fairly classic combination. You can also use ingredients as varied as roast pork (i.e. char siu), fresh corn, ground pork, peanuts, shrimp, fish and preserved eggs. It’s up to you!
When you wake up in the morning, you’ll be greeted by a steaming pot of congee that’s minutes away from being ready for the best winter breakfast you can imagine! At this point, you can box up any congee that you won’t be eating immediately for use later in the week. Plastic Chinese takeout containers work especially well.
While everyone else in the house is getting ready for the day, chop up your toppings.
Return to the congee that’s left in your slow cooker. Season with a dash of salt and add a bit of water to achieve your desired consistency, if you feel like the congee is too thick. After that, stir in your toppings and let the entire mixture heat through for five minutes.
Scoop the congee into bowls, garnish with a few extra herbs and serve immediately! If you have access to a Chinese bakery, be sure to include a few slices of traditional Chinese donut for a bit of crunch. Enjoy!