Congee – Chinese Rice Porridge for Health & Well Being

congeeCongee (pronounced KON gee), also known as jook or juk, is a classic Chinese breakfast dish; I like to think of it as the Chinese version of oatmeal and more.  It can also be used during convalescence from illness or during acute diseases, eaten at any time of the day.  It’s a very nourishing and easily digestible food which can help enhance immunity, strengthen digestion and prevent illness depending on what additions and garnishes are added.  Basic congee is also excellent for a delicate stomach or bowels and will help normalize them.  Congee is a rice porridge that is bland in taste and can act as a base with many additions/garnishes to achieve different purposes and appeal to different tastes.

Congee can be cooked in a large pot on the stove with enamel, glass or stainless steel pots (avoid aluminum and iron), in a slow oven (250 degrees), in a slow cooker (Crock-Pot) or in an Instant Pot.

This is a basic recipe for congee that you can add to as desired.  It makes approximately 6 servings.  There are no rules about what to add.  See below for suggestions.

  • 1 cup white rice (or ½ cup rice and ½ cup barley)
  • 6 cups water (or stock or a combination of the two)
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Bring the rice, salt and water to a boil in a large pot.  Add any additional desired ingredients after bringing the rice to a boil, before turning down the heat to medium low.  Cover and cook on medium low heat, stirring occasionally, until the rice has the thick creamy texture of porridge (1 ½ – 2 hours on the stove top or in a slow cooker, 4+ hours in a slow oven).

For an Instant Pot, combine rice, water and salt in the bowl of Instant Pot.  Close and lock the lid.  Press Porridge and then + twice to set it to cook on high for 22 minutes.  When it is done cooking (about 45 minutes later) allow the pressure to release naturally. (Note: Congee is very starchy and, if the pressure is manually released, it may foam and clog the pressure release valve.)  Unlock the lid. Serve congee warm.  This recipe works in a three quart Instant Pot or larger.

Congee can be stored in the refrigerator for 4 to 5 days. Reheat in the microwave or on the stove to serve. The congee may thicken as it sits, so you will likely need to stir in some water or broth before reheating.

Optional additional ingredients to modify the basic congee:

chicken, beef or vegetable broth

Optional garnishments to add to the finished congee:

shredded lotus root
shredded ginger
thinly sliced green onions
soy sauce
hard cooked eggs
sautéed mushrooms
tofu, cubed
cooked meats, fish, and vegetables
crushed nuts

On a cold winter day, there is nothing quite like a hot bowl of congee to warm your body.  Add garlic, fresh ginger and diced onion to the congee while cooking.

White rice?
You may wonder why this is promoting white rice when much has been written to indicate that brown rice is a superior healthy nutritional alternative.  In some cases that may be true.  Traditional Congee, which aims to fortify the constitution, uses white rice as it is more digestible; if you are trying to nourish a deficient body, it does not need or have the strength to fight through the dense qualities of brown rice to get benefit.  Ultimately I think we need to remember the truism that everything can be beneficial in moderation which would imply here that white rice in congee is not harmful as long as we consume it in reasonable portions and reasonable frequencies.

Modern Interpretations
Experimental chefs today are playing with the congee basic formula to use brown rice and other grains.  You can search the internet for other ideas of how to play with this nourishing porridge.  Just keep in mind what you are trying to accomplish.  Taste and physical health/wellness don’t always follow the same path.

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