Take a Sick Day and Make Congee

Even if you are sick, even if you are in a pit of despair, even if you were woken up at 7am by the builders working on the neighbor’s roof, I promise you this: you can make congee.

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Congee is a rice porridge popular across Asia. I first had it several years ago when, laid up with the flu, I implored my boyfriend to get me something to eat. He combined what looked like not enough rice and way too much water in a pot, and an hour later I was eating the most delicious, warm, filling sick food I’d ever had.

Since then, we’ve had congee with his family at dim sum many times. It comes in many varieties: plain, of course, but also infused with meat, fish, or seafood, and topped with grated ginger, cilantro, and green onion. I love ordering it in a restaurant, because you can also ask for a side of youtiao, or “congee donuts,” deep-fried sticks of dough meant for dipping into the congee. For health purposes, of course.

But you needn’t have access to fancy ingredients or even leave the house to have congee. You can make it at home, right now, and have a heaping bowl of it in front of you within the hour. Here’s what you need:

Equipment:

  • Large sauce pot or stock pot with lid

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup long grain white rice*
  • 6 to 10 cups water
  • Salt

Optional:

  • Chicken or vegetable stock (homemade or concentrate, whatever you’ve got)
  • Green onion, chopped finely
  • Ginger, grated or chopped finely
  • Cilantro

A note on rice: there are a million brands of long grain white rice, and everyone has their favourite one. We buy whichever jasmine rice is on special at the market when we need it, which isn’t often – it comes in a 18lb bag and lasts ages. Experiment with different brands and see which one you like best.

Now that you’ve assembled your ingredients, here’s what you do:

  1. Start by rinsing your rice. Why rinse? Imported rice is often coated with a substance such as talc prior to shipping, and you probably don’t want this to end up in your final product. To rinse your rice, measure it out into a bowl (or the pot you’ll be cooking it in). Run cold water over the rice, swish it around with your fingers, and drain out the water. You’ll notice it likely looks quite chalky at this point. Repeat until the water runs clear.
  1. Place the rice in your large pot and fill it ¾ of the way up with water – anywhere between 6 to 10 cups, depending on the size of your pot and the amount of congee you want to make. The measurements are very flexible, which is great when you’re sick and have lost count of how much water you’ve added to the pot.
  1. Add salt and/or stock, if using. Stir to combine, then bring to a boil over high heat.
  1. Reduce the heat to a simmer (the occasional bubble should just be breaking through the surface), cover most of the way with the lid (leaving a little gap for steam to escape), and go do something else. (Don’t have a nap, though – congee does benefit from being stirred every now and then, as it helps the rice break apart and thicken the liquid, so check on it a few times during cooking and give it a stir.)
  1. After about an hour, the rice will be puffy and extremely soft, and the cooking liquid will have thickened significantly. It’s basically ready when you are – if you prefer a soupy consistency, you can have it straight away; if you want it more oatmeal-like, turn off the heat and let it sit a while. It will continue to thicken as it cools, so help yourself whenever you’re ready.
  1. Add any toppings you like – the classic options are soy sauce, green onions, cilantro, and ginger, and you can also add boiled or poached eggs, shredded meat, cooked or pickled vegetables – anything you want. Congee is a blank canvas – plain and hearty when you’re feeling sick, but easily jazzed up if that’s what you’re feeling.

To store the congee: let it cool thoroughly and keep it in the fridge for up to 5 days. You can reheat it on the stove or in the microwave (be sure to cover your bowl) – if it’s too stiff, add a bit of water or stock to loosen it up again before heating.

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