Growing up, we always knew what was for lunch on Sundays, no questions asked: Congee (or “jook” in Cantonese) is the oatmeal of Asian cuisine, the most basic of basic foods.
At one point in my teens, I stopped eating it. I claimed it was because I had grown tired of having the same food every week, but perhaps it was actually an attempt to express my coming-of-age, of having outgrown a childhood staple. In any case, I have since welcomed it back into my food rotation.
Congee is so simple: essentially it’s just rice and water simmered together for hours. The fact that it’s so easy to cook makes it the perfect hands-off meal in a bowl for cold weather. Also, with this ultimate simplicity comes endless possibilities for customization; you can eat it plain or improvise by adding ingredients as your taste buds desire. Traditional toppings such as scallions and toasted sesame oil are delicious, but feel free to add your favorite foods even if they aren’t necessarily authentic. I’ve included some fun new combinations for inspiration below.
The real beauty of congee is that there is no wrong way to make or eat it. You cook it to the consistency you prefer: a shorter cooking time yields rice grains that retain some bite in a loose soup, while a longer cooking time equals thicker, creamier porridge.
I prefer the latter for true comfort, but I encourage you to experiment and try different timings to find your favorite. This is a great way to use up leftover rice as well, simply reduce the cooking time and liquid.
1 cup white or brown rice
21⁄2 quarts water or vegetable stock
2 tsp sea salt
1. Add rice, water or stock and salt to medium stock pot.
2. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
3. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the rice becomes creamy (at least 1 hour for white rice and 11⁄2 hours for brown rice).
Common traditional garnishes
chili bamboo shoots
chopped roasted peanuts
toasted sesame oil
kimchi, sweet potato and cilantro
fresh corn, smoked paprika and fried rosemary
roasted pear, coconut cream, toasted almonds and balsamic vinegar