Chinese Congee 粥
By Ellen L. Published: 2013-04-22What's the Chinese equivalent of "chicken soup"? Why congee, or 粥, of course, that delectable, nourishing and soothing rice porridge cooked by the Chinese since time began. Recently I've been making a lot of chinese pickles, both the rice vinegar pickle and the soy sauce or hua gua pickle and, duh, suddenly realized that having tons of chinese pickles means congee heaven. So I've started making congee a lot and it's not only easy and fun to make (you can throw most everything in and make delicious congee) but also a serious nourishing the soul kind of food as well as being very, very good for babies, kids and persons feeling under the weather. Did you know that Chinese moms always feed their babies congee? Little old chinese ladies used to stop us on the street and in the shops to ask us if we were making pork bones congee for our little girl when she was one or two years old. And when we replied ashamedly "Umm, no...", those poor ladies always appeared very distressed and anxious. Ah well, it's better late than never.
And now...introducing a favorite food item in our family, the Daliang Buffalo Cheese, or 大良牛乳, the hard to find (except in Daliang 大良, of course) and perfect topping for congee. This cheese has been around since the Ming Dynasty when an Italian missionary taught the Chinese in Daliang to make cheese. The Chinese modified it, naturally, until it now no longer looks or tastes like any cheese I've ever had. It comes in a jar in perfectly round pressed flakes that are quite delicate. (Don't shake the jar too much on the way home like we did!) They are beautiful to look at, reminding me of wax seals on olden time letters or the embossed seals on certificates of achievement. If you try to eat the Daliang Buffalo Cheese plain you will probably end up giving up on it as it is very, very salty. But if you carefully pluck a single flake from the jar and place it over a hot bowl of congee, then mix it in just before eating, you will find that it really is the perfect complement to congee. The salt perfectly flavors your congee and a delicate milky aroma will permeate your rice porridge. Yum, yum, yum!!
Another really great thing about congee is that you can use up your leftover rice. If you cook chinese food often you will understand about leftover rice. There is always some bit of rice leftover in the rice pot that you can't really throw away, but yet, what are you going to do with it? Well the answer, my friends, is make congee! Ah, nothing to waste, doing it just like my dear grandma taught me...
If you really want to make your congee right you shouldn't use metal pots to make it as the metal will impart a metallic taste to the delicate rice porridge. The best pots according to old timers is the Chinese Clay Cooking Pot . Be sure to get one with the metal ties on the outside. Much sturdier than those without. We've had one for ages that cooks up just delicious. It seems to add flavor to your food somehow. I think that the clay absorbs flavor over time and thus starts adding flavor back after you've used it for a good while. Kinda like what they say about clay teapots. Apparently a really good chinese clay teapots will, after long tea making use of course, make delicious tea if you just add some hot water to it!
Note: The third pickle in the photo up top is chili bamboo shoot, or 紅油筍竹, which I did not make, just bought a jar of it. Fabulous, addictive stuff. Try the ones made in Taiwan. I'm going to try to make that at home soon so look out for it. Sigh...I just love pickles, don't you?!
Tip: Make your own super duper delicious salted egg at home! Trust me when I say it's easy to make and waaay tastier than any salted duck egg you could buy!
(makes approx 5 rice bowls of congee. I used ingredients available in my fridge. Feel free to experiment. FYI, salted egg and thousand year egg is always an excellent addition to congee.)
1/2 rice bowl leftover rice(or 1/2 cup of uncooked rice, just increase the cooking time approx 15-20 minutes)
3 cups water, plus 3-4 cups water
1 salted egg(鹹蛋), cooked, peeled and diced (optional)
1 cup of pumpkin, diced (optional)
In small pot, throw in the rice, salted egg, pumpkin and approx 3 cups water. The water should cover the rice and fill no more than 1/3 of the pot. Heat over medium high til boiling and turn down to gentle simmer for 30 mins at least until the rice grains break down and the porridge is thick. Add the additional 3-4 cups of water into pot as the porridge is cooking, one cup at a time: turn heat up until congee boils again and turn down to simmer. Stir occasionally to keep the bottom from burning. If there's not enough water the bottom will scorch.
You will need to watch the pot when you have the heat high as boiling rice has a tendency to foam up and over the sides of the pot suddenly. The congee should be thick and fragrant and textury (ie. not liquidy, excuse the non words), but not sticky. If sticky you need to add more water. The rice grains should clearly be broken into bits.
Scoop the congee into rice bowls and top with one slice of Daliang Buffalo Cheese each. Arrange your pickles in different small bowls on the table. When eating congee, first mix the cheese into your congee then get a bit of a pickle for each mouthful of congee. You can use chopsticks or a spoon, or both as you like. The contrast between cold and hot, crunchy and velvety soft, tangy and delicate is absolutely yummy tasty congee heaven!
Chinese pickles go great with congee! See our delicious Chinese vinegar pickle and Hua Gua pickle recipes!
More Pickle recipes at The Hong Kong Cookery:
Chinese Radish Salad 紅蘿蔔沙拉
Chinese Hua Gua Pickles 花瓜
Chinese Pickles 酸瓜