Why It Works
- Cooking rice in chicken stock until it breaks down and thickens results in a porridge with a creamy, silken texture.
- Garnishing the congee with crispy shallots as well as the oil they were fried in provides a rich, savory boost.
Before I moved to Singapore, I had never eaten a bowl of congee, or rice porridge. The name "congee" sounded so foreign to me and it looked unappealingly goopy (even though I eat my fair share of goopy oatmeal and—eek!—Cream of Wheat). Whenever I ate at Asian restaurants in the States, even if congee was on the menu, it was never something my friends and I thought about ordering. I had never tried it until I moved here.
Which was a shame, because it was love at first slurp.
You can't get away from congee in Singapore, as it's sold in almost every hawker center. This soupy savory porridge is made from rice that's been simmered until it's completely broken down, soft, and creamy (a slight amount of texture remains). Though I feel it's mostly associated with Chinese culture here in Singapore, congee is cooked throughout all of Asia. Served plain, rice porridge is mild, a nice contrast to the intense flavors of many of the dishes here. Common "add-ins" include sliced pork, century egg, sliced fish, hot chiles, and even frog (I haven't gotten the nerve to try frog yet). Folks wolf down big bowls of it for breakfast, all through the day, and into the night.
I'm particularly fond of the porridge at my local hawker center, Maxwell Food Center, which just so happens to stay open almost 24 hours a day. Greasy french fries after a night of imbibing? Not here. How about a bowl of pork congee with crispy and oily shallots, chiles, and maybe a raw egg popped into the bottom of the bowl to let cook (slightly) under the heat of the steamy porridge?
Congee is traditionally made with broken rice (rice that's unfit for steaming because the sticky starches will leach out), but you can make it with whole rice if you cook it long enough and mash it while it cooks. You could also make it from cooked rice, which makes it a great meal out of leftover rice. For my recipe, I started with whole rice and a mix of chicken broth and water. I also added a piece of ginger to the pot to help flavor it. Once cooked, I added my favorite "add-ins": pork, crispy fried shallots, green onions, and white pepper (a must in my book). So if you find congee on the menu, try it! Or better yet, add it to your repertoire of wonderful Asian meals to cook.
1 cup rice
6 cups homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken stock
1-inch piece ginger, sliced thick
1 to 2 cups water
4 shallots, sliced into thin rings
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
8 ounces ground pork
1 bunch green onions, sliced for garnish
White pepper to taste
In a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat, bring rice, chicken broth, ginger, and 1 teaspoon salt to simmer. Reduce heat to low and gently simmer, stirring and gently mashing occasionally, until rice is softened, broken down, and mixture is creamy and the consistency of porridge, 60 to 75 minutes. Add water to adjust consistency as it cooks. (See notes.)
While rice is cooking, prepare shallots and pork. In a skillet, heat oil with shallots over medium heat. Cook, stirring, until shallots are golden and crispy, about 5 minutes, adjusting heat so the shallots don't burn. Pour shallots and oil into a bowl.
In the same unwashed skillet, cook pork with 1/4 teaspoon salt over medium heat until cooked through and browned, breaking up the pork into small pieces as it cooks, about 4 minutes.
When porridge is ready, stir in pork and season to taste with salt. Ladle into bowls and top with shallots (and shallot oil to taste) and green onions. Sprinkle with white pepper to taste.
You can also start with cooked rice, adding chicken broth and adjusting the amount of liquid to achieve the desired consistency. Make sure to stir while rice is cooking so it doesn't burn on bottom of pot. When the rice has swelled, I mash it a bit to help it break down.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 3 to 4|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 32g||41%|
|Saturated Fat 6g||30%|
|Total Carbohydrate 24g||9%|
|Dietary Fiber 2g||9%|
|Total Sugars 5g|
|Vitamin C 10mg||49%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|