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Congee, or conjee, juk, jook and various other names is a rice porridge served in Asian countries usually as a breakfast dish. I’ve been hooked on it since the first time I tasted it in Vietnam at a hotel I was staying in while in Hanoi. I love oatmeal, so was keen on trying this porridge-y soupy new-to-me dish one steamy July morning.
What a revelation! Rather than sweet it was savory, warming and hearty, with shredded chicken and mushrooms nestled in an earthy and salty slurry. On top of this blank canvas I dribbled chili sauce and soy sauce, sprinkled peanuts and sliced green onions, and tried just about every other savory nibble that I saw on little plates encircling the squat black pot that held the congee on the buffet table. It was so satisfying that I looked forward to having it every morning, fortifying myself for the long hot days exploring the busy city.
Congee is celebrated for its nutritional content and has been called congee of the immortals and the most nourishing food in the world. According to Unfamiliar Chinese congee is a year-round dish, said to improve complexion when eaten in the spring, relieve internal heat when eaten in the summer, nourish the body when eaten in the fall, and warm the stomach when eaten in the winter. As can be seen, congee is a nutritional food no matter what time of the year one consumes it.
When I discovered this recipe for slow cooker congee I was surprised, believing congee required hours of labor and ingredients that were hard to find. The hours required are in its cooking which happens overnight while you are dreaming in bed, and the ingredients are simple to assemble and few. I have made this congee with homemade chicken stock instead of water as I had discovered some forgotten stock stashed in the freezer and wanted to use it, but don’t feel as though you have to. And you are not limited to chicken, but can use lamb, duck, beef, pork, mushroom…
Of course you can make this for lunch or dinner, but I encourage you to try it for breakfast and enjoy waking up to the savory smells as the congee bubbles in wait.
For the congee:
8 cups water or chicken stock (preferably homemade), or half and half
Place all the ingredients for the congee in a 5-quart or larger slow cooker. Cover and cook until very creamy and the rice is completely broken down, 8 to 10 hours on the LOW setting or 5 hours on the HIGH setting.
Transfer the chicken and ginger to a plate. Stir the congee with a wooden spoon, making sure to scrape against the bottom and sides of the slow cooker to incorporate congee that’s sticking there.
Shred the chicken, then stir the meat back into the slow cooker, discarding the bones, skin, cartilage, and ginger pieces. If you would like a thinner congee, add additional water 1/4 cup at a time until you reach the desired consistency. Taste and season with more salt as needed. Serve hot with the toppings.
Storage: The congee can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. It can also be frozen for up to 2 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and reheat over medium heat, stirring occasionally.