Did you ever have something you were sure you didn’t like; sure in the way that a three year old just knows she doesn’t like that very thing she ate last night? Well, that was me and congee. I just knew I didn’t like it. I have had ample opportunity to try it, both here and in China where I spent almost three weeks waiting for the processing and paperwork involved in adopting my daughter. Every morning there it was, that white gloppy mess, and I knew I wouldn’t like it. I have seen it roll by each and every time I’ve had dim sum (and that’s a lot) and confidently shook my head no. Well, like that three year old, I was just plain wrong.
Last Thursday I met my friend Sarah for breakfast at the Cube Cafe here in Philly. She got the meat congee and I got a sesame Hong Kong Waffle, which is a whole other post, but here is what that looks like, each of those ‘bubbles’ is about 1″ in diameter. Anyway, Sarah’s congee looked pretty good, but it was still hot last Thursday, so I went for the waffle, but I kept thinking about that congee. Friday was a cool day, and I was still thinking about congee, so I decided to go back to Cube and try it. First of all I need to say, this congee has to be the best breakfast deal in Philadelphia, if not the entire U.S. I got that bowl of congee and my choice of hot beverage for $2.50, which would have been a pretty good deal even if I didn’t love the congee, but I did!
I got the meat congee (on Sarah’s endorsement) and it was mildly meaty and topped with roasted peanuts, and fresh scallions. It was excellent, and I decided I would try to make it at home. I found a few recipes, did my typical hybridization, using the recipes as a guide for water/stock/rice ratio, as well as timing, and today for lunch I had my very own, very easy, very delicious chicken congee. I started with 1 cup of rice, and half a chicken, and ended up with about six (or more) cups of finished product (I ate some before I remembered to measure the yield). I am already hooked, and ready to start making all kinds of versions as soon as I finish this batch, which could take me all week.
I have always has a particular affinity for Chinese food in general, and breakfasts in particular. I’ve posted here before about my breakfast issues, and my disdain for that current breakfast hero oatmeal, and cereal of most sorts. But congee, or jook as it’s sometimes called is my answer to breakfast! It is warm and tasty, cooked with ginger and some chicken stock, and is almost soup, and I love soup! I was dubious about cooking the chicken in the porridge mixture, thinking it would be dry, but it came out tender, moist, and flavorful.
If you prefer sweet morning cereal (to that I say yuk, but that’s just me) you can make congee with coconut milk and the sweetener of your choice. It does take a while to cook, but it reheats well, just stir it with a bit more water, and top it with whatever you like. I am also going to try this in mt slow cooker. I drizzled mine with a bit of soy sauce and some scallions. I think peanuts are a nice addition, but who keeps peanuts around? If you haven’t tried congee I urge you to. It’s a nice alternative to other hot cereals, and I’d love to hear how you make it!