CONGEE: of Emperors and easy digestion
What’s wrong with your rice?
Congee is rice that has been boiled in many times its weight in water until soft, plain and easily digested. It’s supposed to look like that. The watery disintegration and mild flavourlessness won’t catch your breath the way a piece of KOREAN FRIED CHICKEN might, however, like a cholesterol-fuelled heart attack, this isn’t something to be ignored.
I like fried chicken, and heart attacks.
Well that’s just tasty and irresponsible, and still not reason enough to ignore this versatile dish. Congee can be eaten anytime, anywhere, on its own or with more side dishes that you could possibly conceive. A soft texture and mild nature allows for transitioning babies from liquids to solids and as a comforting get-well dish for the intestinally vulnerable. Eaten all over the world in various forms and with numerous names, congee is loved by many. The Cantonese know it as JOOK and usually eat theirs with youtiao (fried dough) and Sri Lankans call it KANJI and eat it with lentils and chutney. Bengalis keep it plain, thick and gingery and call it JAOU. Further east in the Philippines, LUGAW is typically thicker and served with crispy fried garlic whilst the Japanese kick it OKAYU-style with less water, less cooking time and with negi (green onion) and roe.
Did you say something about Emperors?
Yes, I’m getting to that, and it’s actually just the one Emperor. No one really knows how congee came about; the most likely theory is that during times of famine and hardship, this cooking technique was a ways and means to help stretch the rice supply. Legend has it that Manchurian Emperor Yong Zheng (1678-1735) ordered his officials to distribute congee to starving people after a famine broke out during his rule in the Qing dynasty. After discovering that corrupt officials were skimping on rice, Yong Zheng demanded that the congee be so thick it could support TWO upright chopsticks. Any officials failing to meet this standard would find themselves beheaded. Legend also has it that Yong Zheng tampered with imperial records, imprisoned his brothers and murdered his ailing father, all in the extremely devious name of seizing the throne. The main thing to remember is; anything will sound cool if you say it happened in the Qing dynasty.
Why would I want to cook it?
Why wouldn’t you? It’s ridiculously easy AND good for you.
More importantly, you can add things to it. Tasty things, fried things, things that taste like yolk.
(adapted from The Kitchn)
Ingredients for CONGEE
1 cup uncooked jasmine rice (rinsed twice)
9 cups chicken stock, vegetable stock or water
Congee: Add the rice and stock/water to a large, heavy bottomed saucepan. Bring to the boil then turn the heat down to a low flame and gently simmer for 1 ½ hours. Stir occasionally to prevent the congee from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
Ingredients for TOPPINGS, should you wish to use them
4 shallots (finely sliced)
1 thumb ginger (finely sliced)
3 large cloves of garlic (finely sliced)
4 tablespoons oil (flavourless: sunflower, groundnut, vegetable)
1 chicken EGG
1 tablespoon ginger and spring onion sauce (recipe coming soon…)
Crispy shallots, ginger and garlic: Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed pan (not too large otherwise the oil will be too shallow) until hot but not smoking. Add the sliced shallots, ginger and garlic. Lower the heat to a medium flame and fry until just golden brown (approx. 5-6mins). Stir frequently to prevent burnt bits. Drain off excess oil (keep for frying egg) and place onto a plate lined with kitchen tissue. Once cooled, salt to taste (approx. ½ tsp). These will keep in an airtight container for up to a week but will not be as crisp as the day they are fried.
EGG: fry, preferably sunny side up.