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
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- To serve, ladle congee into a bowl. Top with a scatter of peanuts, green onion, and dash of sesame oil, if using.