What Is Congee? The Medicinal Chinese Rice Porridge That Soothes an Upset Stomach
I eat a bowl of chicken soup after every cold or stomach bug. The smell of the broth, noodles, carrots, and celery is such a comfort that it soothes me before I even have a spoonful. But thanks to a friend, I’ve added something called congee to my “healing foods” repertoire — and I may never go back.
To give you an idea of how important it is, research expert Tobie Meyer-Fong tells The Washington Post, “Congee is usually the first non-milk food given to babies.” But what is it, exactly?
What is congee?
In Asian communities, congee (often called jook) is a dietary staple and a form of Chinese medicine. It’s a simple rice porridge that varies from culture to culture, and it’s eaten as comfort food after an illness — especially after stomach upset. The ingredients are typically gentle enough for an unsettled digestive tract, but flavorful enough to satisfy even the pickiest eater. (I should note: Congee can be made with just about any grain, but most congees these days are rice based.)
Traditionally, congee is prepared based on your ailments. If I have a cold, for example, I might add scallions, fresh ginger, and a little wasabi. If I have stomach or digestive tract upset, I might add ginger and cardamom.
How To Make Congee
My favorite congee is a simple, yet delicious chicken-based recipe from Made With Lau. I often use this recipe as a loose guide, following the tips and instructions, but will add my own ingredients based on what’s in my kitchen.
For instance: Lau’s recipe uses water, then adds chicken bouillon for flavor. I used water, Zoup’s Chicken Bone Broth (Buy from Amazon, $7.40), and a little homemade chicken stock instead. The bone broth provided extra nutrients, and the homemade chicken stock added extra flavor.
To make chicken congee, here’s what I used.
Ingredients (makes 6 servings):
- 1 ½ cups white rice
- 4 cups bone broth (one jar of Zoup’s)
- 2 cups homemade chicken stock
- 6 cups water
- 1 to 2 cups leftover chicken
- 1 to 2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
- Scallions, for garnish
Note: Homemade chicken stock and bone broth is optional. Replace either with equal parts water. Use about 1 ½ teaspoons chicken bouillon as a flavor replacement.
Additional ingredients (If you prefer to use fresh, raw chicken in place of leftover chicken, and marinate it):
- 18 ounces chicken
- 3 teaspoons cornstarch
- 1 ½ tablespoons oyster sauce
- 3 tablespoons water
- ¾ teaspoons chicken bouillon
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- Wash rice in a bowl, drain.
- Boil bone broth, chicken stock, and water in pot.
- In the meantime, mince fresh ginger and slice scallions.
- If you are using raw chicken, cut chicken into thin slices. Add to bowl with cornstarch, oyster sauce, water, chicken bouillon, and vegetable oil.
- Once bone broth/stock/water boils, add in rice. Set on high heat and bring everything to a boil once more.
- Partially cover pot and let cook on medium heat, 25 minutes.
- At 25 minutes, remove cover and whisk quickly, 2 to 3 minutes.
- Let cook for another 10 to 20 minutes. (Taste rice to check consistency. If it’s soft and ready, skip this step.)
- Set the stove on high heat. Add chicken. (If adding raw chicken, add in slowly over the course of 30 to 60 seconds, stirring as you go.)
- Stir for 1 to 2 minutes. Bring to a boil.
- Add ginger. Serve and add scallions for garnish.
My Thoughts on Making Chicken Congee
The instructions for this recipe seem a bit extensive at first, but they felt straightforward as I worked. I’d liken it to creating any sort of soup. And while I didn’t need to hover over the pot constantly, I had to check it frequently. Sometimes, the heat would get too hot and the broth would boil over.
In the end, it was absolutely worth it. It filled the kitchen with an incredible, homey smell, and the flavor was delicious. I didn’t even have an upset stomach, and I found this recipe very soothing!
I can’t wait to try making chicken congee again, but with other flavor combinations. The next time you’re recovering from an illness, keep this one in your back pocket.
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