Tuesday, November 09, 2010

food glorious food

Joe texted me this morning that Cal woke up tired and out of sorts, complaining about some vague thing or another, but since he didn't have a fever and manifested no objective signs of illness, it was off to school for him anyway.

Fifteen minutes later, I got another text that Cal barfed in the car, and so it was back home for him for a day of this:

Couch napping, fluids, episodes of "Planet Earth" narrated by the esteemed Sir David Attenborough. (I know this is yet another example of forcing upon my kid things that I loved as a kid, but Cal enjoys the natural sciences and hearing David Attenborough speak still puts me in a happy place of meditative Zen. He knows so many things about biomes!)

Luckily I was on call last night and able to get home early to the kids (there was no mystery where Cal got his bug, as Mack was basically pooping water for the past two days) and so this seems like as good a time as any to share my recipe for congee.

Let's make it clear that I cannot cook, though I do have a limited catalogue of mostly one-pot comfort food wonders that I tote out once in a while when the occasion calls for it. Congee is basically a Chinese rice porridge, and it is very simple to make, because in it's most stripped down form, it really only requires rice and water. You probably want it to have some, you know, flavor though, so usually I will do some variation on the below.

(Also let's be clear that calling this a "recipe" is perhaps generous, as I do not measure anything--consider it more of a rough blueprint, as most of the ingredients listed below are added to taste.)

At minimum, you will need:

- Rice
- Some form of clear liquid (I use a combination of water and chicken stock)

In what proportions? That is debatable. I think it somewhat depends on what kind of rice you use (I prefer an Asian new crop rice) but the closest I can come is one part rice to nine parts clear liquid. It's going to seem like too much clear liquid when you start boiling, but believe me, it is not--in fact, you may find yourself adding another can of chicken stock at the end if your congee ends up too thick.

Also at minimum, you need:

- Some ginger (at least a good, thumb-sized chunk, sliced)
- Scallions (Trader Joe's sells them as "green onions," which so far as I can tell are the same thing)
- Salt and pepper to taste

That's really all you need, but if you want to get fancy (or perhaps overly baroque in your opinion--I don't know if you're a congee purist) you can also add:

- Mushrooms of some sort (I got those baby Bellos--probably shitakes or those dried mushrooms they have at the Chinese People Grocery Store are better and more flavorful but it'll work with what you have)
- Peanuts
- Some kind of animal protein (I put in two frozen tilapia filets--they cook and get soft and then flake apart into smithereens, so it's really more of a fish chum infusion by the end than actual fish chunks. Alternatively you could use chicken or whatever.)

Put all the ingredients in a big pot. Use a big pot, because like polenta, this stuff grows. Put it on high until it starts to boil, and then put the heat all the way down. Simmer the shit out of it for two or three hours, until the rice breaks down, stirring occasionally. Like I said, you may need to add more water at the end, depending on how thick you like your porridge. Save the scallion tops (they are edible) and slice them for a garnish on top if you're so inclined.

Serve rice gruel to your kids like some cruel Dickensian orphan master. Tell them to eat it, it's good, and stop complaining that it's weird, they're half Chinese for chrissake. (You can probably skip that last part.)


  1. Everyone loves the Attenborough. It is a crime under British Law not to want him for your grandad (FACT)

  2. I know, he's like Mr. Rogers in that way.

  3. congee (or chao in vietnamese) is my favorite sick day (or hungover) food. it's all that sodium in a bland, but comforting broth. my mom also used to make a sweet version that i loved (rice + water + sugar?).
    i will definitely be feeding chao to my (future) kids so they better appreciate their sick day care as much as i appreciated my mom's.

  4. OH, good ol' 'zhook' - the Chinese equivalent of Chicken soup for various ailments...

  5. Anonymous7:19 PM

    Aww poor baby! :/

    Where did he get the bug?

  6. Rice porridge is my favourite (FAVOURITE) meal... I can eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner... its the half asian in me. (Even though my Asian mother actually HATES it so therefore I only get to eat it when I'm sick! BOO!)

  7. Anonymous11:06 PM

    I forget do you speak chinese? do the kids?

  8. talking about your child pooping water followed immediately by a picture of peanuts, mushrooms, and onions in some bubbly frothy mix is probably not the best way to advocate the consumption of congee....

  9. Anonymous5:59 AM

    i can't see you congee below all your ingredients! very different from what i'm used to, but possibly a lot more tasty. you could use shredded chicken or duck for taste too!

  10. Anonymous6:38 AM

    Some tofu and siracha sauce sounds good in the mix.

  11. Anonymous11:57 AM

    How is Cal feeling now?

  12. biscuitx8:22 PM

    this may be my favorite recipe ever just for the "simmer the shit out of it" instruction.
    Hope the guys feel better soon!

    (loved the spam/pineapple/rice dish, so I will try this too!)
    XXX from Atlanta

  13. Kandice8:24 AM

    do you know if you add a little bit of oil and salt to "marinate" the uncooked rice (after washing, with some water) >30m before the actual boiling the congee will be more "meen" instead of little rice pieces, like the ones in the good congee shop :P

    also if you put a ceramic spoon at the bottom of the pot it will stop the congee from sticking. the traditional chinese ceramic spoon. congee is amazing with roaste pork heads chopped up (with the other roasted pork bits) - the ones left over from wedding banquets :P

  14. Thanks everyone! Cal better now, back to school today, but now Joe is sick. Virulent little sucker, this thing.

  15. Hm. I've never had congee before, but I love soup and I love porridge, and this sounds really good! I think I'll try it -- I wish I'd read this post yesterday, I would have made it as part of my traditional Sunday afternoon cooking binge!

  16. Anonymous6:55 PM

    Looks sooo yummy.