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A breakfast and lunch staple in many Asian countries and a mainstay at the dim sum hall, congee is rice and water (or broth) cooked down into a thick porridge. If you've never had it before, it probably doesn't sound particularly exciting. But just as a bowl of oatmeal can be as simple or as exciting as you want it to be, so too does congee form a soft, comforting canvas to which you can add your flavors and seasonings of choice.
You can make it vegetarian: chopped romaine lettuce, mixed mushrooms, or kale, if you'd like. You can make it meaty: chicken and ginger, roast turkey congee (this is one of my favorite ways to use leftover Thanksgiving turkey), or offal (for the more adventurous). You can also add seafood: fresh salmon, canned tuna, or mixed shellfish. There's even congee hot pot, where you dunk raw ingredients into a simmering communal pot of porridge before fishing it out and eating it along with the rice.
But one of my favorite combinations is best in late summer, when corn is at its sweetest: ground pork and fresh corn kernels. Easy to make, this congee is my go-to food when I want a light meal. And don't worry if you don't eat pork—ground turkey, ground chicken, or even no meat at all will work just fine.
Knowing the right water-to-rice ratio is the key to cooking a perfect pot of congee. Everyone does it slightly differently. It can be cooked using different grains of rice, different kinds and amounts of liquid, and different cooking times. Every choice can affect the final flavor and consistency. For instance Cantonese congee, known as jook, typically has a higher water to rice ratio than okayu, Japanese congee. Jook is also cooked with long grain rice while okayu is made with short grain rice. While jook is cooked mainly with water, congee in most Southeast Asian countries, like Vietnam, Cambodia, and the Philippines, use broth or a combination of broth and water. Cooking time also varies—jook takes at least an hour while okayu usually takes half an hour.
I prefer a sort of hybrid version, and after much trial and error, I've arrived at the ideal recipe for a congee that's silky and comforting while not being sludgy or overly heavy.
Unlike okayu though, I cook the congee with a higher water to rice ratio and the cooking time is longer just like jook. One thing I love about okayu is how creamy and silky the texture is. Short grain rice tends to be stickier than long grain rice due to its high level of amylopectin starch. Because of this, short grain rice takes on a velvety texture after it's cooked for a long period of time. It's a time-consuming process, but it's an easy one: all it takes is a few stirs now and then to make sure the rice isn't sticking to the bottom of the pot and burning.
While the rice cooks, I get my stir-ins ready. I combine ground pork with a bit of grated ginger and garlic, along with some basic Chinese seasonings: Xiaoshing wine, sugar, salt, soy sauce, and a touch of cornstarch, which can help prevent the meat from turning tough as it simmers.
Next, I cut sweet corn kernels off of the cob.
Once the congee is cooked, I add the meat, stirring it in and letting it simmer for just a few minutes until it's cooked through but still tender.
In order to add some texture to the dish, I add the corn in off-heat, making sure that it doesn't lose its crunch.
A dash of salt and a sprinkle of scallions later, and you've got one of my favorite simple meals. In Asia, it's usually eaten for breakfast, but let's be honest here: I wouldn't turn down a bowl any time of the day.
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