Sunday, November 30, 2008

Friday Dinner: Slow Cooker Congee

One of my all-time favorite comfort foods is jook, which is a Cantonese rice porridge. It's also known as "congee." It came about because the Chinese hate waste, and families would use leftover rice (including the kernels that stuck to the rice cooker and couldn't be easily scooped out) by soaking it in water overnight. This rice would then be used to make congee.



I've tried several times to make it at home, with results that were satisfactory, but not exactly right. My goal was always to get it to be the consistency of restaurant congee, which is a perfect in-between mix of thick soup like chowder and thin soup like broth. While the congee I made at home was definitely edible and even good, it wasn't that perfect consistency.

Every recipe I found online for congee involved cooking it on the stovetop, for an hour or so. Using this method never yielded results I wanted -- the rice didn't break down enough, and the congee was always too thick. Plus cooking it on the stovetop requires a watchful eye, with constant stirring to make sure the rice doesn't stick and burn (mine always burned a bit). It was obvious to me that I'd need a way to break down the rice further, but that required more time, and more time meant more liquid, and of course, more time meant more time taken up watching it.

That's when it occurred to me that using a slow cooker would be the perfect method of making congee, if I could get the right ratio of ingredients. A slow cooker would enable me to cook the congee for a long time without fear of it burning. Yet searching online for a slow cooker recipe for congee proved difficult. I read about people asking for such a recipe, I read posts alluding to such recipes, but never actually found a recipe.

Therefore for this week's Friday dinner, I had to compose a recipe, which still needs some perfecting, but was considered a success for both me and Trix. (Trix and I had congee in New York, which was the first time she'd ever had it, and enjoyed it greatly.) The slow cooker did its job well, breaking down the rice without us needing to watch it constantly. It did take some time though, so this isn't one of those recipes you can throw together without any forethought (though it is convenient in the sense that you can toss everything together and not spend a lot of time in the kitchen, making it the perfect winter food). If you make your own broth that will take more time also, of course, but using canned broth will also work.

Congee is very personal -- some like it thick, some like it thin, and some like it somewhere in between. My preference is somewhere in between, where the rice and its starch have broken down enough to thicken the broth or water, but not so much that all the liquid's been soaked in and it turns into something like thick oatmeal. The ingredients you use are also very much to preference, though traditional congee tends to be "meat" oriented -- beef, fish, pork and preserved egg -- nothing that lets out too much liquid on its own. You can also have plain congee. Trix and I found out that cooking it is also very personal, dependent on your own slow cooker, so the recipe is just a guideline. If you decide to make yours on a stovetop, be sure to use extra liquid, as more evaporation takes place. If you're using leftover cooked rice, use less liquid. I don't have an exact proportion, as I haven't tried that method yet. If you're making plain congee, try adding half a pig's foot, which will give the broth some extra dimension.

For this particular attempt, I used duck broth, as I had leftover duck from making Duck L'Pomegranate. The duck broth ended up coloring the congee brown, though traditional congee is white, made with water and/or chicken broth. This made it no less delicious, however. I also used shredded duck meat, shiitake mushrooms, and preserved eggs.

My next experiment with congee will definitely involve making plain congee, with mostly or all water. As much as I love making congee with broth, it not only makes it a little more work, it's also a cheat -- anything tastes good made with a good, deep broth! If I can get plain congee to taste good, then I'll really know I have the right recipe.



Slow Cooker Congee

Ingredients

  • 8 cups of broth (preferably duck, chicken, or pork), water, or a mix
  • 3/4 cup medium- or short-grain white rice, uncooked, washed twice
  • 1 cup shredded duck or pork, cooked
  • 2 century eggs, diced
  • 4-6 shiitake mushrooms, reconstituted, thinly sliced
  • 2 thin slices of ginger
  • salt to taste- white pepper to taste

Optional Post-Cooking Ingredients

  • green onion, thinly sliced, for garnish
  • peanuts, for garnish
  • dash of sesame oil

Method

  1. Wash the rice. Measure it out to a small container and fill it will water. Swish it around and rub it between your hands. The water will be cloudy. Drain the dirty water and repeat.
  2. In a slow cooker, put the rice, broth, and ginger. Cook on low for 12-16 hours. If you're pressed for time, you can put the slow cooker on high for less time.
  3. Half an hour before serving, add the shredded meat and eggs. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove the ginger slices when the cooking is done.
  4. To serve, ladle congee into a bowl. Top with a scatter of peanuts, green onion, and dash of sesame oil, if using.

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi. Great post, but how should I read your "3/4 cup medium- or short-grain white rice"? Did you mean three-quarters of a cup, or between 3 and 4 cups?

Thanks.

Sarea said...

I use the generally accepted format for numbers in recipes. 3/4 means three-quarters. 3-4 cups (plural) would have meant 3 to 4 cups. In this case, using 3 to 4 cups of rice with the specified amount of water would yield, basically, steamed rice, maybe a little more moist than normal, but not congee. Congee requires a much larger liquid-to-rice ratio. Hope that helps.

suz said...

Thank you for this! I love 'jook' and because I live in UK it's not as readily accessible here as it is in Asia =( So I have been looking for a recipe for it online to learn how to make it in my slow cooker. It's so hard to find!!! I love your use of duck broth! I would never have thought of it, I'm making it now using a pork stock =)

Thanks again.

Sarea said...

suz, I'm sure it will be delicious! I live in a part of the U.S. where good Chinese food (especially "jook cuisine") is in short supply, so I empathize. I used to live in L.A. where good Chinese cuisine was in abundance! Good luck with your congee, pork stock will work great.

Anonymous said...

Great recipe! Can other types of rice be used (i.e. brown rice, quinoa, etc..) to make it more low carb?

Sarea said...

Honestly, I don't know about other types of rice, because I've never tried it! I would never say "it wouldn't work" out of hand, but since I am very particular about my congee I don't think I'm adventurous enough to try. I'll take it carbs and all. However, I would totally encourage you or anyone else to try it -- the result may well be something you'll enjoy a lot, without all the extra carbs!

Djon Ma said...

I found your blog by googling for a slow cooker congee recipe!

I've never had congee before, but I've heard lots of people rave about it, so I thought I'd try it!

I'm vegetarian, so I'll be using veggie stock, and probably some marinated tofu.

I'll give it a try towards the end of next week and let you know how it went!

kkw said...

Hi Sarea,

I accidentally used 1 cup rice instead of 3/4 cups rice and made a thicker congee. I set the slow cooker to 'high' for 3.5 hours, and that seemed quite sufficient. While I prefer the thicker congee, I will try 3/4 cups next time.

Thanks for sharing your recipe!

Kev

Sarea said...

Djon Ma - would love to know how your veggie congee turned out.

Kev - if you prefer a thicker congee, stick with your version! It's all a matter of personal taste, anyway, my recipe is really just a guide. :-)

Anonymous said...

I just made this last night! It was delicious! I felt so proud of myself for making a dish that I grew up eating.

I just added some slices of ginger, chicken thighs, and a mix of water + chicken broth. At the end, I added some fresh cilantro and scallions.

Thanks so much for this!

Suz said...

Will this keep? For how long?

Jen said...

Hey Suz, I'd say this keeps as long as you might keep soup/broth, about a week.

Sarea

Katherine said...

A quick comment to the person who asked about using other types of grains for congee...

Brown rice and quinoa definitely won't work for the same reason that they're poor substitutes for risotto, for example. You need a short/med grain rice for successful congee because you need the starch to develop that lovely silky/creamy texture.

Sonia Clemens said...

I go to school for Chinese Medicine and our doctors are always telling us to "prescribe" congee to our patients for various ailments. From the TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) perspective, the longer a food cooks, the more nourishing it is because it takes less energy for the body to digest. It's the perfect food for anyone who's convalescing, or for someone who wants to find a filling food that will also help them lose weight! If you need other congee ideas, I'd highly recommend some of the TCM dietary therapy books out there. Me, I'll be following your recipe and using my slow cooker! Do you mind if I link to this recipe later on?

Sonia Clemens said...

I go to school for acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and the doctors are always telling us to "prescribe" different types of congee to our patients for their various ailments. From a TCM perspective, the longer a food cooks, the more nourishing it becomes because it takes the body less energy to digest. It's the perfect food for someone who's convalescing or trying to lose weight, and there are myriad ways to tweak it according to your condition or personal taste. I'll definitely be using your recipe and my slow cooker! Do you mind if I link to your recipe in a future blog post?

Jen said...

Sonia - Thanks for the interesting note on the thinking behind congee in terms of TCM! And of course, feel free to link to this post. :-)

Quonset said...

Thank you so much for this post! Question: Does the meat always have to be pre-cooked before cooking it with the broth? I see you mentioned cooked, shredded meats, then someone else mentioned chicken thighs and somewhere else you mentioned using pig's foot but these didn't say wheter they needed to be cooked or not--if they do need cooking first, how would you cook them? Saute? Obviously, not having to cook them first would be easier.

Thanks,
Quonset

Jen said...

Quonset -- Sorry for the confusion! The pig's foot, which is mostly gelatin, can be added raw from the beginning. At least, I did, and it turned out fine. That's really optional. If you're already using a good, flavorful broth, you won't need to add it.

As for other meat, I think it would depend on the meat. If you're using chicken or duck, it would probably be fine to add it raw from the beginning. However, the slow cooker would probably overcook the meat, changing the texture into something mushy. Also, all the flavor from the meat would be released into the congee, so that the meat itself would be rather flavorless (kind of like when you make chicken broth, you've extracted all of the chicken flavor into the liquid, so the leftover chicken meat is kind of flavorless, if you've cooked it a good, long time, which you would be doing here in a slow cooker).

I would not recommend cooking raw beef or pork with the congee. Both of those proteins can be pretty bloody (they'll release blood even after rinsing), and if you cook it with the congee raw, the blood impurities will cloud the congee, and you'll have congee with bits of dark brown stuff in it. And there's the same problem with the meat being overcooked in the slow cooker and being flavorless after it's done. (With the pig's foot this isn't an issue because you're using the pig's foot for its essence, not because you're going to eat it, and it's not bloody like a cut of pork muscle.)

As for how you'd cook your meat, there are many ways you could go about it. You definitely don't want it to be overly complicated, or it renders the ease of making congee in a slow cooker moot. I think leftovers here work really well -- Chinese roast duck, those grocery store roasted chickens, etc. With beef I know there's a specific way it's prepared for congee, to tenderize it, but I haven't tried it myself.

To be honest I'm fairly lazy... if I'm making this congee I just use whatever I have around that is convenient. At the least I always have century eggs, and if that ends up being the only protein I use, that's totally fine with me. If you need to have other protein sources in it but also want ease, I'd definitely either purchase pre-cooked meat at your local Chinese BBQ place, or bake a few chicken/pork pieces with salt and pepper, then shred/chop the meat into bite-sized pieces.

MeSoHorny said...

When do you add the sliced shiitake mushrooms? At the start with the rice or during the last half hour with the meat and century eggs?

Jen said...

I added it with the shredded meat and eggs -- so half an hour before serving. :-)

Ross said...

Your post was #1 on a google search for slow cooker conjee. I am new to slow cooking but I look forward to good success now that you have shown me the way. The very nice recipe book that came with the cooker ( a Fagor brand) was no help at all even though it has a rice cooker function.

I have spent many hours on a gas stove low flame stirring And scraping the bottom of the pot to prevent scorching. My new slow cooker now will find a new use. Thanks for your information

Anonymous said...

We tried it in the slow cooker. We adjusted proportions as per our needs. It worked very well for us, guests loved it. Good guidance. Thank you for sharing.

congee experimentor said...

Hi Sarea,

Thanks for your recipe. I found a short grain organic brown rice that i am now cooking on low in the slow cooker with only water.It has been cooking on low for 7 hrs. It is still very thin.
I have noticed before when steaming this particular short grained brown rice that it is a little sticky, but nothing like short grain white rice. I love sticky white rice but i can't stop with just eating a little & it is quite high in calories.

So this is actually an experiment to see if I can make a half decent congee with this brown short grain rice. The amount of rice to water was 1 cup brown short grain rice to 6 cups water. I can see that i will probably have to leave it on overnight as it is already 7 p.m. here where i live. I could of course turn the slow cooker up to high, but since i am not in a big hurry i will just leave it on low for now.

If this does't turn out (i also like an inbetween congee neither too thick or too thin)....i may try again, starting it on high & lowering it to a simmer ...but really don't know if that would make a difference ...i think it would be just faster in the long run?

congee experimentor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
congee experimentor said...

Hi Sarea,

Good news it is now just shortly after 8p.m. & the brown rice congee is thickening up & is very creamy...WOW ... quite excited ... looks like I might not have to leave it to cook overnight after all. I have done some research on line since & have come across a few recipes for congee using long grain & jasmine brown rice.
Really great as this will be a little more nutritious than using white rice.

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