Creamy congee (jook) is so comforting

One of my favorite comfort foods is a thick and savory rice porridge. It’s often considered a breakfast item but can be eaten for any meal. It is often called congee or jook and comes in a variety of flavors ranging from plain to abalone and chicken. Joe always orders one that is a mixture of pork parts (tripe, kidney, etc.). Since I’m not a fan of internal organs, I usually opt for something terribly non-exotic like ‘chicken’ or ‘beef’. Regardless, I loved it so much that I started making it at home.

Generally, my congee is made using leftover cooked rice. It can be made from uncooked rice, but takes a bit longer. Last night I made plenty of rice so I could make congee this morning. However, I didn’t think it all the way through and realized this morning that I didn’t have any chicken broth on hand. No worries, congee is versatile and I made a more simple version.

Many of us have had rice in soup, but congee takes rice one step further. The rice cooks until it begins to break apart. The starch thickens the liquid and creates a creamy consistency. The bits of remaining rice are soft and extremely tender. Since it’s easily digestible, it’s often one of the first foods a child learns to eat. Many mothers make it to soothe their sick children when they are at home sick. It’s comforting and nourishing.

I made a plain version today, then dressed it up with a few toppings. I used a ratio of 1 part cooked rice to 2 parts liquid. In this case, I used water. As it cooks, you may need to add more water to reach the desired consistency. I also added 2 tablespoons soy sauce and 2 tablespoons freshly minced ginger about mid-way through cooking. Using 5 cups cooked rice, it took about 30 minutes to reach a thick consistency. It’s important to lightly simmer and stir often. Once the rice seems softened, I run a whisk through the congee which quickly breaks up the rice.

Typically, I would use chicken broth which adds much more flavor. Here is the naked version before toppings are added:

I boiled a few eggs and sliced for the top. I also added some leftover roast pork from last night’s dinner. For a bit of veg, I blanched baby bok choy and drizzled with sesame oil. A bit of chili pepper gives it a nice splash of color and spice!

It made for a nice warm breakfast this morning. Unfortunately, we didn’t have my favorite accompaniment on hand. It’s a long fried salty donut called Yao Tiew — SteamyKitchen has a great pic of them. You slice it up and dip it into the congee — YUM!

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  • Kevin March 16, 2008, 1:41 pm

    I recently tried a congee for the first time. I really enjoyed the cream texture. That congee with the toppings looks good.

  • SteamyKitchen March 16, 2008, 3:41 pm

    love the photo of rice steaming…

  • Peter G March 16, 2008, 4:34 pm

    I often have this in my travels through Asia. It’s great that you made it at home and your guide is quite easy to follow. I was told that it can take up to 24 hours for congee to be made so have avoided it. Thanks for the tips Allen.

  • Allen March 16, 2008, 5:41 pm

    Kevin: You’ll have to try making it but use some stock. Also, I sometimes throw in leftover chicken bones/meat. Jaden from SteamyKitchen has her recipe/pics for making a turkey congee.

    SteamyKitchen: Thank you for stopping by! Your site always gives me hunger pains :-)

    Peter G: You’ll have to give it a try — see the link above to another recipe for congee, this one using uncooked rice. I really wish I’d had the Yao Tiew (donuts) this morning — I usually buy them frozen from our local asian market and you toast them up in the oven.

  • canucklehead March 17, 2008, 5:02 pm

    Allen – your version reminds a little of ‘chuichow’ style congee – where the rice is remains a little more whole than traditional Cantonese style. The ‘chuichow’ style is mixed with savory ground pork and preserved vegetables.

    In Vancouver – it is now popular at certain dim sum restaurants to have this more soupy version – ‘pow fan’ or soup rice. Really delicious!

    In the summer, my mother would make a lighter congee to keep in the fridge. You would then mix in roast pork stir fried with spicy peppers. Eaten cool – it is perfect hot weather food.

  • Geggie March 18, 2008, 8:32 am

    I am a jook fan…learned from a Japanese friend who grew up in Hawaii. Enjoy!

  • Allen March 18, 2008, 10:36 pm

    Canucklehead: Thanks! Joe’s mom is from the Swatow/Chiu Chow area and he also likes his congee with preserved mustard greens / olive leaves.

    I wasn’t aware of a cold version — this does sounds like a perfect hot weather food! Will have to give this a try :-)

    Geggie: Glad to see there’s another jook fan!

  • Anonymous March 20, 2008, 7:27 pm

    How do you get the smooth and creamy jook? It always turn out like the chiuchow jook which is grainy. I prefer the Hong Kong type – like creamy soup. Someone said that the rice needs to be grounded – is that true? Allen – this is Rachel again…..

  • Allen March 20, 2008, 7:44 pm

    Hey Rachel — I hope things are good down in Austin! I’ve been meaning to write you an email — will make sure to do it tonight.

    The creaminess comes as the rice breaks down in the water/broth and releases its starch content. Although this congee photo looks like the chiuchow style, it’s actually pretty creamy. I could have cooked it a bit longer but I was ready to eat. :-)

    I started by using leftover cooked rice. As it cooks, the rice will naturally break down — the more it cooks, the more creamy it will become and the smaller the rice bits will be. If it becomes too thick, just add more water to reach the consistency you want.

    Also, using a whisk helps the rice to break apart into smaller bits. Near the end of cooking, I run it roughly back and forth in the pan every few minutes and it breaks up the rice. The more you whisk it, the smaller and smaller the rice pieces will become.

    As the rice breaks up, the starch is released and the congee becomes creamy. Continue cooking until the rice has broken down to the desired consistency.

    When I started cooking congee a few years ago, I would start my congee with uncooked rice. I would grind about 1/3 of the rice in a coffee grinder until each piece of rice was broken into a few pieces (but not into flour!). I would then put all of the rice into water and cook. It takes a bit longer and seems to have the same result. Due to this, I try using leftover rice because it is much quicker.

    Granted, all of this congee cooking advice is coming from a caucasian :-) However, most recipes I’ve seen seem to support my cooking method.

  • asianewbie May 16, 2008, 9:48 am

    I was served congee for the first time on a flight in Asia. There was a small foil package served with it that we thought was a topping for the congee. Inside was a white-ish noodle/worm looking substance. What was this and was it topping? THANKS!

  • Phoebe June 17, 2008, 1:54 am

    Hi Allen,

    I like the way you describe how the creamy rice porridge is made. Your photos of the porridge are so flattering. So much better than mine.

    I maintain the http://www.homemade-chinese-soups.com website and I have a couple of pages dedicated to the Chinese rice porridge. They include a page on the various methods of cooking rice porridge and in its varying consistencies as well as a handful of recipes.

    I would be happy if you could visit and let me know what you think….Phoebe

    BTW, the white-ish noodle/worm looking substance asianewbie asked about is probably deep-fried rice vermicelli. It is a common congee topping. It adds a bit of crunch to the creamy consistency. Unfortunately, as plane food, it would have probably gone soft.

  • Lam August 5, 2009, 2:30 pm

    Freezing washed and drained uncooked rice for two hours before simmering is quick method if there’s no pre-cooked rice on hand. Freeze it in a metal bowl and use that bowl as a double boiler to break up the frozen rice.

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