January 22, 2024

Basic Congee with Dried Scallop and Tofu Skin 腐竹瑤柱粥

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There are tons of recipes for congee out there, and I can totally understand why.  Rice cooked into a soupy mess is delicious, filling and soothing to the soul.  But honestly a lot of the recipes labeled as congee are not really congee.  Rather, they are recipes for delicious rice porridge.  This is a recipe for traditional Cantonese style Chinese congee 粥, a different creature altogether from rice porridge.

Traditional congee or 粥 is thick and creamy and perfect for showing off the simple yet aromatic flavor of rice.   It is so popular a part of the Cantonese eating repertoire that there are dedicated restaurants that serve delicious congee all year round in HK.  Which is saying a lot considering the super high rents in this functional city.  

But it's actually pretty easy to make traditional congee at home.  The most basic congee you can make is with just rice, water and salt.  Today, however, we're kicking it up a notch or three by introducing the more sophisticated classic Basic Congee with Dried Scallop and Tofu Skin 腐竹瑤柱粥, a deliciously creamy congee, ever so delicately flavored with beancurd and scallop.

Note: By basic congee we mean "白粥" or "white congee".  A basic congee is the equivalent to a bowl of rice.  For example, you could eat a Chinese dinner with a bowl of basic congee instead of a bowl of rice.  Basic congee can also be used as a base to prepare more complicated congees that are served with various meats, seafood, etc in them.  

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The delicate flavoring of this basic congee will mostly come from that delicacy of the sea, dried scallops 幹瑤柱 or 幹貝.  When fresh, scallops are sea sweet and tender.  When dried, their flavor intensifies resulting in an slightly sweet/ slightly salty concentrated umami that is highly prized in Chinese cooking.

Look for dried scallops at dried seafood shops such as the shops that line Dried Seafood Street 海味街 in Sheung Wan.  Or you may find them sold at your local wet market.  Or if not in HK, look for them in your asian grocery marts.  Or you can find them sold online here.  

As dried scallops are on the expensive side, to save on the bucks we suggest to go for the smaller sized dried scallops.  Also many shops will sell the broken up dried scallops at a cheaper price, we usually grab those.  As we break them up anyways, who cares if they're whole or not when we buy them as long as they taste the same amount of goodness (which they do!)

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The other magic ingredient is the tofu skin 腐竹.  This tofu skin is simply the thin layer that is formed on top when soy milk boils.  This layer is skimmed off and dried.  It is usually used to flavor many Chinese dessert such as Tofu Skin Gingko Nuts Sweet Soup 白果腐竹糖水, melting into the soup to produce the most delicious creamy texture.

For this congee we use the tofu skin 腐竹 in the same manner, using its super melty power to melt into the congee and help make the creamiest congee you ever did have!

Be super careful when buying tofu skin because the English names for tofu/soy products that are often inaccurate.  Be sure to check that the Chinese name is correct: 腐竹.  If you get the wrong thing it ain't gonna melt, ever!  

If buying in HK I recommend this shop, 樹記, which my hubby says is the best of its kind in HK.  Not a paid plug, mind you, just my 老公 always going on about it and we like to support authentic, traditional food companies.  Or if not in HK look in the Chinese grocery shops or buy it online here.

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Easy peasy to start this congee.  Lotsa water, a wee bit of rice, break up the scallops and tofu skin and toss the lot into a large deep pot.  Don't worry about the scallops if you can't break them up too much, we've got an easy trick to shred them later on in the game.  

The deep pot is good because the congee has a very determined tendency to rise (due to the starch) and boil over.  So a deep pot is a useful deterrent to such naughty behavior.  I was too lazy to unearth my deep pot so I settled for a shallower pot and babysitting duties, i.e. a stool and a book next to the stove so I could watch my pot closely.  If the rice started to boil up I just lowered the heat.  So cozy!

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This is the pot of congee after maybe 15 minutes of cooking.  You can see that the rice has absorbed water and expanded in size.  

You can see that the dried scallops and the tofu skin are still in big pieces.  The tofu skin will eventually melt.  As for the dried scallops, once you see that they are softened all the way through (the color will lighten) use a spatula to press them against the side of the pot.  This will easily separate the dried scallops into thin shreds.  With the dried scallop in thin threads, they will distribute evenly throughout the congee.

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This is the rice grains after another 15 minutes of cooking.  The tofu skin has started to melt but the rice grains are still whole.

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This is the congee after cooking for an hour and a half.  This long cooking time is required to break down the rice grains and is the secret to creating the creamy luscious texture that is the hallmark of a great congee.

Note: Sadly a lot of congee shops themselves don't go the whole hog in the making of the congee these days, ending up with so-so basic congee.  If you make the congee at home you'll actually find that you can very easily make a far superior congee than you can get at congee restaurants.  Ironic, no?

A low heat while cooking helps to avoid scorching the rice at the bottom of the pot.  This happens easily while cooking congee so be sure to give the congee a good stir every once in a while and once it thickens up be sure to add more water.  Only when you’re happy with the texture should you let the congee cook down to your desired final thickness.

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Here’s a scoop of the final texture of our congee.  The final thickness is up to your preference.  We like it on the thicker side.  Some like it thicker and some like it thinner, more souplike.  Adjust by carefully cooking down (low heat please!) or adding a bit of boiling water.

Look at our lovely congee!  See how the rice grains have broken done to bits?  The tofu skin has disappeared into the now creamy texture of the congee.  The shreds of dried scallops can be seen distributed throughout the scoop.  Yum…perfect texture!

So what can I say?  This is the perfect bowl of Cantonese style congee.  So smooth and velvety...yum...

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Basic Congee with Dried Scallop and Tofu Skin Recipe 腐竹瑤柱粥
(makes 4 bowls)  Prep time: 2 min. Cook time: 1 1/2 hour



Rinse the rice under running water until the water runs clear.  Strain out water and mix rice with oil and let marinate.

Break up the dried scallops as much as you can.  Break the tofu skin into small pieces.

In a deep pot add in the rice, water, dried scallops and tofu skin.  Stirring occasionally, heat the pot until the water boils and then turn heat to medium.  The starch in the rice will cause the pot to boil up high.  Adjust the temperature as needed to keep the pot from boiling over.  

Let cook for half an hour and then use a spatula to shred the dried scallops.  Do this by pressing the softened scallop to the side of the pot with the spatula.  The dried scallop should easily separate into shreds.

Cook for another hour or until the rice grains are broken into small pieces, the tofu skin completely melted and the mixture is very creamy.  Stir once in a while to check thickness.  If at any time the congee becomes quite thick, immediately add an extra cup of water.  Only when your desired texture is reached, ie the rice grains broken down enough, should you allow the congee to cook down to the final texture desired.   Be careful though cause once the congee to thick it’s easy to burn the bottom, so watch the pot as this stage!

Add salt to taste.  Serve hot and creamy...enjoy classic!


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