What is Congee?
Congee (which is different part of China might also be known as jook or oyayu) is a rice porridge so popular it makes appearances at breakfast, lunch and dinner—welcome and comforting at any time of day. There are other versions of this soupy rice-based dish throughout Asia, but it’s a full on staple in many Chinese homes.
Often chicken pieces or even a whole chicken are braised in the liquid along with the rice, the meat then shredded and returned to the pot, which is delicious. Some member of the onion family is often involved, in this case garlic and scallions, which provided nice color as well as flavor. I also wanted to head in a vegetarian direction with this recipe, so it features chewy and meaty shiitake mushrooms, with the classic Chinese seasonings of fresh ginger and a bit of soy sauce.
What Rice to Use in Congee
There are opinions about what rice to use, but a) since there are so many different opinions, and b) since a friend who makes it a lot told me she switches up the rice all the time, I think I’m going to go with “it doesn’t really matter.” Or yes, it matters, in that the results will differ from pot to pot, but you will get happy results whether you use short grain, long grain (which is what I used here), basmati, Arborio, whatever is in your pantry. Brown rice will take another 20 or so minutes, and you will probably have to add more broth or water.
The porridge is mild, with the toppings providing the flavor (sometimes the congee is topped with the additional ingredients, and sometimes they are stirred right in—either way works beautifully). You can pass extra soy sauce at the table, but the real pleasure of this porridge is that it is a gentle comfort food, so enjoy the simplicity of the slowly cooked rice.
Having said that, a drizzle of sesame oil at the end is lovely. And I went to town with my new favorite seasoning brought home from Japan (East meets East or something like that), Furkikake, this one with little crunchy balls mixed in with the seaweed and sesame seeds and wasabi and fish flakes and other fabulous ingredients (note that most furikake is not vegetarian).
What Should Congee Look Like?
You are not looking for the consistency of regular rice, but rather something slightly soupy, like fairly loose oatmeal. The description may not make your mouth water, but millions of Chinese people are just not wrong; a few bites will convince you.
Congee (Chinese Rice Porridge)
- In a large heavy pot combine the rice, 2 cups of water and the salt, and bring to a simmer over medium high heat. Lower the heat and continue to simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes, adding about 1 cup of broth after every 10 minutes and stirring occasionally. In total you will use between 2 ½ and 3 cups of the broth, and when it gets to the desired tenderness and consistency remove if from the heat (keep in mind that it will thicken slightly as it cools)
- Meanwhile heat the oil in a medium sized skillet. Sauté the garlic and mushrooms for about 8 minutes until the mushrooms are soft and beginning to brown. Add the scallions, ginger, soy sauce, and sugar and sauté for another 2 minutes until everything is fragrant and tender.
- Scoop the rice into bowls and top with the mushroom mixture. Serve hot.
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