Sunday, February 7, 2010

Congee Comfort

Congee has been a staple of my diet since I was a wee tot. Because it can be made as complex or as simple as you like, it is the perfect food for children, the aged, and everyone in between. It is the comfort food of the Asian family. The uniqueness of congee is in the perfect blooms of rice which flower only after an extended cooking period. From this, comes that melt in your mouth consistency and creaminess that warms the tummy and the spirit.

Growing up, congee was always made with white rice, and when eating congee at a Hong Kong diner, this is the way it is made. At home I have always made it this way, but these days, with trying to incorporate more whole grains into my diet, I am making congee with brown rice. (It's also because I don't often have white rice on hand at home, and when the congee craving comes, whatever is in the fridge and cupboard is what is used.) I am getting comfortable with this new congee paradigm. It is just like the usual congee, only slightly grittier and darker in colour. And if you like your congee plain to add garnishes to later, the porridge really serves as a conduit for the added flavours, and the grittiness is hardly noticed. A way to complement the texture is to add pearl barley. It's not considered a whole grain but is super nutritious, and has triple the amount of dietary fiber compared to long-grain white rice. Below is my recipe for brown rice and pearl barley congee. Really, you could put most anything in with the rice, cook it with care, and get a meal that is delightfully comforting.

Brown Rice and Barley Congee (makes 4 hearty servings)
  • 1/3 cup pearl barley
  • 1/3 cup brown rice (short or long grain)
  • *10 cups water
  • 1/2 cup diced onion
  • 2 cloves chopped garlic
  • 2 Tbsp finely sliced ginger
  • 1 cup diced carrot
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • *1/4 cup finely sliced shiitake mushroom or mushroom stem
  • 1/2 lb. of (extra) lean ground chicken, turkey (milder flavour) or pork (richer flavour)
  • soy sauce, salt, and white pepper to taste
  • splash of cider, red or balsamic vinegar (optional)
*You can use vegetable or meat stock in partial quantity with the water. I used 8 cups water and 2 cups mushroom stock. If you use dried shiitake mushrooms, you need to soak the caps overnight to get them nice and soft. Mushroom stems need longer. Once the mushrooms are fully bloated they are ready to use. The soaking water makes great stock.

Bring all ingredients to a rolling boil, then turn the heat to low. Simmer on low for approximately an hour and a half. If you like your carrots and onions a little crisp, add them during the last 20 minutes of cooking. Once done, add any of the following garnishes: sliced green onion, cilantro, fried shallots, salted duck egg, or century egg (my absolute favourite). Enjoy!


A said...

Hey Jen,

I tried a version of this and it was great! Michael, Sascha and I all loved it. It didn't exactly turn out like congee the way I made it, more like a stew but it was delicious. Thanks for the recipe.

I always enjoy reading your blog.

Ann H.

Jen Low said...

Hi Ann,

I'm so glad you tried the recipe and altered it with your own creativity, and that it turned out so well! I love congee because it's so versatile and it really is like a rice stew!

Take care,