Rice congee is a classic Chinese breakfast dish. People from all over China and Hong Kong eat this dish. It has even spread to Vietnam, Korea, and Cambodia, and many other Asian countries. It is essentially the oatmeal of the East. The only difference is that congee is cooked down until the rice almost loses all of its original structure, resulting in a thick but wet soup. Another major difference is that rice congee is often eaten as a savory item. It is either cooked with a protein and its broth or with just plain water, then served with pickled savory vegetables. Oftentimes, it is served with a savory long donut for dipping.
When I think of congee, 2 things come to mind: grandmothers and being sick. The latter is not the most pleasant of thoughts, I realize. I have fond memories of having a big bowl of congee made lovingly by one of my grandmothers when I was down with a cold/flu. It was a vehicle for them to convey the warmth and love in their hearts. One grandmother actually made plain white rice porridge for us every day, which led to an eventual aversion to rice congee for much of my adolescence. As an adult, I can now reconnect with my roots and appreciate congee for both its complexity and simplicity.
Some classic congees are: egg, chicken and ginger, fish and ginger, pork and thousand-year egg.
Make sure that you have an excellent quality broth to cook with your congee, because that is the foundation of flavor. If you rely solely on MSG-filled canned chicken stock, your congee will not be as nutritious or delicious. I always have homemade chicken stock in my freezer because I boil chicken for my dog to eat. If you want to make your own stock, just add some chicken thighs, breast, or bones to a big pot of water and let it simmer for an hour or so, and you’re good to go!
To save time, I use a rice cooker to cook the rice down first, and then I add it to the broth to cook down on the stove. Having the rice do its initial cooking in the rice cooker means that you do not have to monitor or stir until you start cooking it on the stove.
Toppings are everything when it comes to congee. Having fresh green onion and cilantro (unless you are one of those people with a genetically determined aversion to it) is almost a must. If you have time to make the shallot oil, that would be even better. Adding this touch is something I learned from my brother-in-law’s family, who has Cambodian roots. I believe Chinese people tend to drizzle a tiny drop of sesame oil as a topping for their congee.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 2.5-3 hours
1 quart chicken broth (homemade preferred)
1 quart water
½ cup michiu (rice wine)
1 cup white Jasmine rice, washed
2 tilapia filets (or other white fish)
4 tbsp minced ginger
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp of white pepper
3 tbsp fish sauce or to taste
1 bunch green onion, finely chopped
1 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
2 tbsp oil
1 shallot, thinly sliced
Heat a large pot with water, chicken broth, and rice wine. Once water begins to boil and turn fire to medium low. Add in rice. Drop a metal or porcelain spoon into pot –this prevents sticking. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.
Boil for 2 hours until rice begins to cook down, resulting in a thicker consistency. (a thick soup texture). Stir occasionally and scrape bottom of pot to prevent burning and sticking.
Cut fish into thin pieces (½ inch thick) and marinade with fish sauce and ginger. Allow to sit for at least 10 minutes, then add to porridge. Cook on low fire for another 10 minutes until fish has cooked through and porridge is at desired consistency (much wetter and thinner than cooked oatmeal). Add approximately 4 tbsp of fish sauce, or to taste. Add white pepper.
While porridge finishes cooking, heat 2 tbsp of oil in a pan and place shallots in the oil. Fry on low medium heat until golden brown. Set shallot oil aside for topping.
Spoon into individual bowls and garnish with fresh green onion, cilantro, and some shallot oil.