If the title of this post suggests that I might have some special wisdom to share on the topic of Chinese rice porridge, or "congee" (we also call it "jook" in Cantonese), I apologize because that's actually very far from the truth. Unfortunately, I am not a knowledgable Chinese cook (I'd give that crown to my mother). My Chinese cooking is relegated to basic stir-fries and recipe-following with tips I picked up growing up. I get by and it suits me for now.
|There are so many variations of Chinese rice porridge - this one has beef and dried scallops
Growing up, I remember seeing my grandfather have plain congee (made with just rice and water, maybe a pinch of salt) for breakfast and it was so thin, I thought of it as more like boiled water with some rice floating in it. He'd open up a jar of some kind of black fermented beans to have with it and that made breakfast. My mother makes a mean congee, too. Her's is on the thinner side (maybe I should just say it's more on the "normal" side) but she'll thicken it up if she knows I'm coming. But there's really no right or wrong way to do it. It's all a matter of preference and adjusting the water to rice ratio accordingly.
So congee is something of a staple and a comfort food for us, often eaten for breakfast. You can usually find it when you go for dim sum at Chinese restaurants. I started making congee at home some time after I got married. For the longest time, I'd just "eyeball" things in a pot and I never measured the ingredients. I just had to make sure I used the same pot each time! So a while ago, I finally did a little measuring (so I could start using different pots and write things down here) and realized that I make my congee in a ratio of about 1:7. That would be 1 cup of rice to 7 cups of water. Typically, the ratio is more in the 1:10 range for medium thick porridge, and for a very thin consistency, as much as 13 cups of water could be used for one cup of rice!
|Rice porridge with pork,preserved duck eggs, and dried oysters
|A side of noodles with congee makes for a complete Chinese-style breakfast
We might have congee for lunch or dinner but it's a fun change for breakfast. We get to break out our chopsticks and shake things up from our usual pancakes and eggs!
As I was writing this post, I realized I have so many memories wrapped around this dish. For instance, I'm reminded of how much I liked my sister's congee growing up. I don't think she made it for me more than a couple of times but it stuck with me. She made a meat version (I think it was beef) but she somehow turned them into meatball-like bits in the porridge. The little meatballs were so juicy and full of flavor from her marinade. I remember biting into it the first time and how they practically burst with flavor in my mouth.
It's funny because my sister didn't cook for me that much growing up but the few times she did left an impression. Being 7 years older than me, she was (unfortunately, for her) responsible for me through a good chunk of my childhood. I wanted to tag along with her during much of my pre-teen and her teenage years. As you can imagine, that must have been awkward (not to mention, annoying) for her! So here's the funny thing: sometimes she would leave me home (those were the days when we stayed home on our own a lot younger than we'd let our kids do now) and to make me feel better, she'd cook congee for me or buy me some donuts from our local donut shop! Clearly, she knew that food was the way to my heart and good disposition! I always chuckle when I think about that now.
And occasionally, she would make lunch for us to have together and one of my other favorite thing was her spaghetti. I remember she'd toss it in the big wok we had in the house and with a good pound of spaghetti in there (just for the two of us), she would need my help to lift and transfer it to the big serving bowl! We would eat her Asian-style spaghetti (I'd insist on adding ketchup to it while she implored me to at least try it without first...) and then cap it off with some Rocky Road ice cream. Sometimes we even toasted ourselves with pink cherry 7-Up in champagne glasses! Those were the days! : )
Recipe notes: I'm keeping things simple and leaving my loose recipe for beef congee below. As with most savory cooking, you have a lot of discretion as for how you can adjust it. You can use more or less meat, or substitute the beef for chicken or pork. I like my porridge thick but if you prefer a thinner consistency, add more water to yours at the start (10 cups of water to 1 cup of rice seems to be good medium ground). My congee cooks up rather quickly but if you're using more water, you can give it a chance to simmer longer.
Congee thickens as it sits. It's best eaten fresh; after it's cooked, let it sit for 10-15 minutes, then serve. Should you need to reheat it, add some warm water to it as you heat it up on the stove, stirring occasionally and not too vigorously. I find it tends to separate and break down too much if you stir it too hard and often.
Thick Beef Congee (Chinese Rice Porridge)
- Approximately 6 servings -
This recipe makes a thick porridge. If you prefer a thinner consistency, use more water (about 10 cups water to 1 cup rice for medium-thick). Cook until rice blooms and you have a creamy texture.
8 ounces flank steak, thinly sliced against the grain
1 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 cup white jasmine rice
7 cups water
Salt and white pepper, for seasoning
Optional finishes/garnishes: Maggi seasoning, finely chopped scallions, white pepper, sesame oil
Marinade beef by tossing it with the soy sauce and sesame oil. Let sit for half an hour, or overnight.
In the meantime, place rice in a medium size pot (I like to use a Dutch oven/enamel cast iron pot). Rinse the rice 2-3 times under cold water. Then add 7 cups of cold water and let sit for 15-20 minutes.
Over high heat, bring rice and water to a boil. Lower heat to medium-low and give it a light stir. Let cook with the lid on but slightly ajar, checking on it and stirring occasionally. Once rice begins to bloom, in about 10-15 minutes, add beef. Turn heat down to low and continue to cook until rice is fully bloomed and the porridge has a creamy consistency, about another 15 minutes or so. During this time, stir the mixture occasionally to make sure it isn't settling/sticking at the bottom of the pan.
Taste, and adjust with salt and season with some white pepper. I like to stir in a small splash of sesame oil as well. Turn the flame off, cover, and let porridge sit for about 15 minutes (it will continue to thicken slightly during this time) and serve.
The rice porridge is best eaten fresh. If you need to reheat it, place porridge in a pot with a few splashes of water (depending on how thick it is), and warm over medium to medium-low heat, stirring occasionally.