I love congee in the middle of winter, made in a Chinese clay cooking pot, cooked on a lazy Sunday afternoon. A large batch is sometimes cooked, and stored in the fridge. In this way it is available night and day, for late night suppers or early morning breakfast. Congee was once a very popular dish but it has fallen out of fashion. We have been making it since 2003, and thankfully it has not fallen out of fashion in our household.
There are lots of congee recipes around – almost every Asian cookbook you pick up has one in it. I first cooked it as I loved the late night congee in Sydney’s China Town. So good. Short grain rice is best. One cup of rice made a huge amount – enough for 4 – 6 bowls of it. So be careful the first time that you make it to ensure that you are not making enough for your whole suburb!!! Congee can be eaten at any time of the day – it has become a popular breakfast food for Southern Chinese and midnight snacks for Singaporeans & Malaysians. So eat it first thing, last thing, or anywhere in between.
Congee is eaten throughout Asia, from Japan right down to Indonesia. Each one varies a little from the others, but all are made with boiled rice, lentils or beans. However, the name for this dish originated in India – from the Tamil kanji. Perhaps also from the Telugu and Kannada gañji, the Malayalam kanni and the Urdu ganji. All meaning, more or less, boiling. The earliest reference can be traced back to the Zhou dynasty (circa 1000BC). It is also mentioned in the Chinese Record of Rites (1st century AD) and noted in Pliny’s account of India circa AD77.
This recipe is one of the vegetarian recipes from our first blog which was in existence from 1995 – 2006. You can explore more of the Retro Recipes series, our vegetarian recipes from that first blog.
Preparing and Using your Chinese Clay Pot
If you decide to purchase a Chinese clay cooking pot from your Chinese grocery, there are a few things you should know. They are delicate cooking pots, but they do make a difference when cooking congee. They add a warm earthiness to the dish which is not possible with other cookware.
Firstly, soak the pot in water for 24 hours before use. I will soak in a filled kitchen sink overnight, then during the day when the sink is in use, I leave it filled with water and the lid sitting upside down. Then I soak in a filled sink again overnight. If it has not been used for an extended period, soak it again using this same method.
Secondly, never ever ever subject the pot to high heat (and that includes dish washers – I have found them far too tough on these clay pots). Use your lowest burner on a medium heat to bring to a simmer, then a low heat to cook. If you see congee recipes advising 45 minutes on a rapid boil, then use a saucepan rather than a clay pot.
The beauty of low heat cooking is that you can leave the rice to cook for an extended period (checking the water levels periodically). I am known to leave it bubbling away for hours on a Sunday afternoon.
|1 cup rice – short to medium grain||6 – 8 cups water (if your pan is small, add 4 cups first, then top up during cooking)||salt to taste|
|1 cardamom leaf, or piece of pandanus leaf or banana leaf (if available). For Japanese flavourings, use kombu or wakame (all optional)|
flavourings (choose your combination)
toasted sesame oil
Chinese black vinegar
Chinese Red Sauce
garlic paste or ginger garlic paste
sweet chilli sauce
chilli jam or chilli paste
Rinse the rice really well. Put it into a heavy pot – choose a deep thick base pot, something that will conduct heat evenly. One of the Chinese clay cooking pots is ideal. Add the water and the flavourings if using. Bring to the boil and simmer over the lowest heat for 1.5 hours – 2 hours. Stir every 10 – 15 minutes to prevent sticking and add more water as necessary.
Cook until the desired consistency is reached – creamy, disintegrated rice, or medium thickness with some grains remaining, or thin like a soup with rice grains.
Now it is time to flavour your congee. You can eat congee with anything – I love to add some soy sauce, toasted sesame oil and red sauce and/or black vinegar. Either stir through or drizzle over the top.
Make a Congee Bowl
toppings (choose your combination)
pickled ginger slices
crispy garlic slices
crispy ginger slices
crispy fried onions
unsalted peanuts (raw peanuts are best)
slices of young ginger
sliced spring onions
fresh chillies sliced
dried shiitake mushrooms, sliced
Once you have made your congee and added your favourite flavourings, layer the top with crispy, crunchy and softer elements to create beautiful and delicious congee bowls.
Using Other Lentils and Grains
Congee can be made from a variety of grains and lentils – try combinations of barley, quinoa, mung lentils, adzuki beans, black barley, black or red rice, various types of millet, oats, walnuts, amaranth.
It can be cooked on the stove top, or overnight in a low (100C) oven.