CONGEE: WHAT THE HECK IS IT AND SHOULD YOU EAT IT?
The Delicious Comfort Food You Should Know About
Sometimes sweet, often savory, congee is a staple of Asian comfort food cooking. Sometimes called jook or rice porridge, congee is a delicious, filling and easy to make meal that is endlessly customizable. And these days, it’s popping up on more and more menus across the US. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about congee!
What Is Congee?
So what exactly is congee? It’s a rice soup that’s kind of like oatmeal or grits made with tons of water. On its own, it’s pretty bland and creamy but you can add all sorts of delicious seasonings and mix-ins to make it into a deliciously satisfying meal. Traditionally, congee is eaten for breakfast.
To make congee, you just need rice and a liquid like water or broth, at about 5 times as much water as for rice. You cook the rice in the liquid until it’s thick and soft. It’s got a high ratio of liquid to rice, and it takes longer to cook than rice usually does. To take your congee to the next level, you can add protein like chicken, pork, fish, or egg along with herbs, spices, veggies, and sauces. The Chinese use pork shreds which can be picked up at your local Asian supermarket, and diabetics frequently add rehmannia root and astragalus.
These days, there’s lots of different versions of congee. Even though the dish originated in ancient China, it’s spread throughout other Asian countries like Japan and Taiwan. Now, each region has its own special twist on congee. The Taiwanese eat their congee with sweet potato, and in Japan, congee is called okayu and it’s eaten with pickled plums, salmon, and seaweed.
Where Does Congee Come From?
Congee is old. In fact, it dates back to the Zhous dynasty in China, which ruled around 1000 BC. Back then, people used whatever grain was available to them, including rice, sorghum, wheat, and barley.
It’s actually only known as Congee in Hong Kong English. In the rest of China, you’re much more likely to hear it called jook.
Is Congee Good For You?
Congee isn’t just a comfort food because it’s delicious and warming. It can also help make you feel a little bit better, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
TCM practitioners often have their patients add medicinal herbs to their congee to reap some extra benefits from their food. And because it’s considered a nourishing food in TCM, congee is supposed to help keep your Spleen fired up and working well.
Because the dish is made with so much water and the rice is cooked until it’s soft and creamy, congee is very easy to digest and can help soothe a stressed out digestive system. And that high ratio of water to rice also means it helps to keep you hydrated.
Better yet, if you switch the water out with bone broth, you’ll get all the hydration and nutrients from your cooking liquid in the dish. Bone broth is high in collagen so it’s great for your joints and skin, plus it helps your GI tract repair itself. It’s also anti-inflammatory and can even help you sleep better. That means swapping out the water in your congee for bone broth makes it more like a superfood than a comfort food! So the next time you’re not feeling well, try swapping your chicken noodle soup for congee and see how you feel.
How To Make Congee
There are lots of different ways to make congee, but we love this authentic recipe from Elaine of China Sichuan Food that we adapted to foods we found around us.
1 cup of medium or long grain rice
11 cups water, stock, or bone broth
½ tablespoon of sesame oil
- Clean your rice. You can do this by putting it in a sieve and running it under the faucet until the water runs clear. Then, soak it in fresh water for half an hour.
- Once it’s done soaking, mix in ½ tablespoon of sesame oil. If you don’t have any, use a neutral oil like avocado. Let this mixture sit for another 15 minutes. This helps the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
- Bring 11 cups of water or broth to a boil in a large pot and add the rice. Wait for the pot to boil again, then turn down the heat and cook for 30 minutes. In the last 5 minutes, stir the rice in one direction to help break up the rice.
- Once your congee is done cooking, you can add your mix-ins and enjoy! This will feed 4-6 people.
If you’re looking for an affordable, delicious comfort food that will start your day off right, give congee a try!