Rice congee is a popular Chinese breakfast and frequently eaten as a late supper dish (if you are living Hong Kong, you would be able to pop out to a food stall and easily get some as a late night snack), and you will also find it served at Dim Sim. It is rice boiled in a lot of water for a long time until the rice breaks down into a creamy consistency like a thick soup. The consistency of rice congee varies depending on the amount of water used - it can be quite watery or more soupy with a texture similar to lentil soup, or be thicker with a texture like Western oatmeal porridge.
Rice congee is another one of my favourite comfort foods. I often have rice congee when I am sick and love eating it when the weather is cold. My fondest memories of rice congee are whenever I had major dental surgery like when I had to get braces to realign my back teeth or when I got my wisdom teeth out and I could not eat solid food. My mum would cook rice congee for me everyday and I would eat it for three meals a day….and I just felt content. During those times I didn’t care that I could not eat any other food as long as I could continue eating my rice congee.
Rice congee is great food therapy when you are unwell. If you are ill or recovering from an illness you usually have a poor appetite. Rice congee is warm, hearty, nourishing and easy to digest. Having it when you are sick helps to improve your appetite and provides you with much needed nutrients.
Because rice congee is soft and easily digestible, it is one of the first solid foods served to young infants, it is also commonly eaten by the elderly for the same reasons.
Rice congee is very versatile and you can add in anything you want.
I like the congee that my mum makes which contains dried scallops, century duck eggs and pork bones.
I made some rice congree on the weekend with my pressure cooker. I inherited my parents old pressure cooker (because they bought a bigger one) when I moved out and it has been sitting in my cupboard unused for over a year. I have always been a bit freaked out by the thought of using a pressure cooker because it makes a hissing noise and sounds like it could explode at any moment. When my mum first started using a pressure cooker, she would take the pressure cooker pot outside and put it in the middle of the backyard before turning the knob to release the pressure and let the steam out to avoid any explosions in the kitchen! My mum gave me a big lecture on how to use the pressure cooker properly when she handed it over to me. Pressure cookers have a reputation as a dangerous method of cooking with the risk of explosion! However, modern pressure cookers typically have two or three independent safety valves, as well as some additional safety features. Not all pressure cookers are the same so make sure you follow the manufacturer’s instructions to reduce the risk of explosion!
A pressure cooker cooks with steam and pressure. A quantity of liquid is brought to a boil in a sealed airtight pot that does not permit air or liquids to escape below a preset pressure. As the liquid boils, the steam increases which fills the pot and raises the pressure. This pressure forces the steam and its intense heat into and through any food that is in the pot, tenderizing and cooking at the same time. As the pressure rises, it increases the boiling point of the water and the pressure built up inside the cooker allows the liquid in the pot to rise to a higher temperature before boiling. The higher temperature causes the food to cook faster, cooking times can typically be reduced by about 70 percent. Pressure cooking is often used to simulate the effects of long braising or simmering in shorter periods of time.
Rice Congee with pork, dried scallops and century duck egg
• 2.5 litres of water (how much water you add, depends on the consistency you want to achieve – you can always add more water during the cooking process to your desired consistency)
• 1 ½ cup of uncooked rice, washed
• 4-5 dried scallops
• 750g soft pork bones, chopped into pieces and par-boiled
• 1 or 2 century duck eggs, chopped into pieces
• 1 tablespoon fish sauce
• 1 teaspoon salt
• garnish with coriander and spring onion
• fried break sticks (you can buy these at Asian groceries)
(Chopped pieces of soft pork bones with excess fat trimmed off)
(Par-boiled soft pork bones – simmered in boiling water for around a minute and then rinsed with cold water)
(Century duck egg – made by preserving duck eggs in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, lime, and rice hulls for several weeks to several months. It has a very strong odour and is an acquired taste)
(Fried bread sticks, I pop them into the oven for around 7-8 minutes at 200C until they are crispy and then cut them into pieces with scissors. They are kind of like the Chinese version of croutons.)
Method for pressure cooker (total cooking time around 35 minutes)
Bring to boil the water and dried scallops in the pressure cooker pot (just have the lid on but don’t have it locked to the pressure cooker function or use a different lid). Then add in rice and soft pork bones. Turn the pressure cooking function on and cook for 10 minutes.
Turn off the pressure cooker, open and use a spoon to break up the dried scallop into pieces and add in the century duck egg. Check the water level and add more water if necessary.
Turn the pressure cooking function on again and cook for another 10 minutes.
Turn off the pressure cooker and season with fish sauce and salt to taste, then simmer without the lid on for 10-15 minutes.
Scoop some congee into bowls and serve with some freshly ground pepper and garnish with coriander and spring onion. Top with pieces of fried bread sticks.
Method for cooking in a pot (total cooking time around 2 hours)
Bring to boil the water and dried scallops, then add in the rice and soft pork bones. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for around 2 hours, partly covered. After half an hour of cooking, add in the duck egg and after an hour of cooking use a spoon to break up the dried scallop into pieces.
Stir the pot occasionally to prevent the rice sticking to the bottom of the pot and skim away any froth at the top. Add in a little boiling water every now and then to keep a runny consistency, if necessary. About 15 minutes before serving, add fish sauce and salt to taste.
Rice congee is cooked until the rice is thoroughly soft. I like mine to have a medium to thick consistency.
Eventhough only pork bones are used in the rice congee, there is still quite a bit of meat left on the bone and I like to gnaw at it – the meat is very tender and delicious.