This is a gentle and comforting congee that heals and salves the soul. All is forgiven or forgotten after eating this suave silken potage. It is eaten for supper, a dinner alone or occasionally for breakfast. It is especially kind to those who are feeling unwell.
The congee must simmer very, very gently, and it should not be too thick or dry–you may need to add more water as it cooks. Once done, it’s ready to use as a base for other, more complex congees. [Editor's Note: And by "complex congees," the author means those to which any number of things have been stirred in, whether scallion and cracked black pepper and a dash of soy sauce and a raw egg stirred in just before serving, as in the photo above, or shredded pork and and black pepper or shredded chicken and ginger or a sprinkling of peanuts or, well, just about anything, really.] Plain congee is really invalids’ food, but Thais and Chinese love its bland taste and easy-to-digest texture. Please note, many Chinese congee recipes use chicken stock in place of water. You can do that if you please. I suggest watering it down slightly if it’s a rich broth.–David Thompson
LC Breaking Down Broken Rice Note
We’re going to borrow author David Thompson’s definition of broken rice, which is, as he says, “simply the grains of rice that break and shatter during the milling process.” In the eyes of some, these broken kernels are damaged goods, separated from the whole grains, as it can no longer be used to make steamed rice. Thompson explains further, saying “the starch spills out of the broken grains as they cook, making a gluggy, gluey mass. Terrible for steamed rice, but wonderful for soup! Some Thai cooks prefer new season’s rice for congee, saying it makes a more supple soup, while others incline to old grains, saying it has more character and aroma. I plump for the latter. Broken rice is easily bought in Thailand, and is usually available in Chinese grocery shops. It is also very easy to make: just lightly grind or pound the required amount.” If you just don’t have it in you to trek to Chinatown or pound rice, you can still partake of congee. Just use regular whole-grain rice and simmer it a little longer.
Hands-On Time: 5 minutes | Total Time: 2 hours, not including soaking | Serves 4 to 6
- 2 cups (about 1 pound) broken rice
- 8 cups cold water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Shredded ginger root
- Freshly cracked black pepper
- Thinly sliced scallions
- Chopped peanuts
- 1. Rinse the rice well and drain it. Soak it in plenty of cold water for 2 to 3 hours–no longer or the cooked congee will be a thin, dull gruel with no perfume.
- 2. In a large, heavy pan, bring the water to a boil with the salt. Drain the rice and gradually pour it into the boiling water, stirring gently and constantly as the rice returns to a boil. (If the uncooked rice sticks to the pan and scorches, your congee will be ruined.)
- 3. When the rice begins to swell, turn down the heat to very low, cover with a lid, and simmer as gently as possible, stirring regularly and adding more water if needed, until the rice grains have almost dissolved, 45 minutes to 1 hour. (If you didn’t use broken or pounded rice, you’ll need to cook it for somewhere around twice as long. You may also need to add a little extra water if the rice absorbs so much water that the congee loses its soupy consistency.)
- 4. Remove from the heat, cover, and set aside for a short spell or up to a few hours. Ladle into bowls and pass the ginger root, black pepper, scallions, cilantro, and peanuts on the side for each person to add as they desire.
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Congee Recipe © 2011 David Thompson. Photo © 2011 Earl Carter. All rights reserved.