Congee, or ‘粥’, conjures up memories of… being sick as a child. Fevers, colds, stomach bugs, and everything in between. For me, it is food that I still turn to when I’m sick, run down, or just need a hug in a bowl. A basic-bitch congee is made from rice and water which is easy for your body to digest, especially if you’re unwell. A bit like tea and toast, but way better.
It’s also super cheap to make – as a poorish undergrad student (I really had no excuse, I had a part-time job) I once reported to my mum that I’d made some congee because I was a bit skint. She asked me what I’d eaten with it (gods forbid I ate it plain) to which I responded ‘a pork chop’ – sliced and cooked in with the congee. Obviously not *that* poor that I couldn’t afford to buy myself some meat. LOL.
粥 is a staple in many Hong Kong markets, often eaten for breakfast with salted pork and century egg (my personal favourite) with a side of delicious 油炸鬼 (fried dough sticks – literally translated to ‘fried oil ghosts’) or fried egg noodles. I love a bowl of congee whenever I go back to Hong Kong – even in the 30+ degree heat. The ingredients and flavours are so simple which is probably what makes it so comforting.
It was a bit odd when I came to write down the ‘recipe’ as it occurred to me I’d never weighed or measured any of the ingredients – like boiling rice, it’s all about eyeballing. However, I measured my ‘eyeballed’ amounts and it went something like this:
1/2 cup rice (I use Thai Fragrant rice because I’m a snob)
5 cups of water or stock
Pork (1 chop/steak’s worth!) – optional, depending on how skint you’re feeling…
Makes 2 portions. Cooking time: around 20 minutes.
- Wash your rice and soak overnight – you can skip this part, especially if you’re impulse cooking, but I find that this makes the consistency smoother when it comes to cooking the rice.
2. Drain the water and put your soaked/unsoaked rice in a saucepan. Add 5 cups of water and bring it to the boil. MAKE SURE THE LID IS RESTED ON THE SIDE OF THE PAN OR IT WILL BOIL OVER. Once it comes up to the boil, reduce the heat to a gentle simmer for 10 minutes (again with the lid rested on the side of the pan to prevent boiling over). You can use stock if you’re feeling fancy but I’m not a huge fan of drinking synthetic stock. Stir occasionally.
3. Slice your pork thinly (you can use pretty much any cut – my favourite is shoulder) and add to the congee – cook for another 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. You can also salt your pork the night before by sprinkling about a tablespoon of salt onto the chop and rinse off before using. This helps create a lovely stock while it cooks.
4. Your congee should end up looking a bit like the picture below. If it’s too thick for your liking, add some more water but make sure you bring it back up to the boil once more before serving to ensure it’s piping hot throughout. Add salt to taste.
5. ‘Garnish’ and eat! I added some preserved vegetables and chilli oil to mine, with a dash of soy sauce.
Storage: you can keep congee overnight in the fridge – just make sure that it’s properly cooled before you pop it in. To re-heat, pop it in a saucepan with some additional water (it will thicken up overnight) and bring it to a boil slowly. Or, and don’t tell my mum I do this, you can microwave it – make sure that it is piping hot before eating.
There are so many variations of what you can cook in or serve with the congee – a delight when you are not sick! Pork or chicken is always a winner as they help create the stock while cooking. I always add soy sauce, and sometimes I plop in some preserved bean curd for some savoury umaaminess. For vegetarians or vegans the addition of some preserved veg or spicy preserved hot turnips, and a side of stir fried green leafy veg is very appetising and nourishing.
Ok, now off you go and make yourself some congee. It’s not just for sick people!