Congees have been in my orbit lately. My husband has been cooking them in our Instant Pot with duck. Beata and I were just having a conversation about making congees with millet, and I’ve just spent a weekend with 12 women acupuncturists, and what did we eat for breakfast? A warming congee made with chicken and garnished with peanuts, scallions, tiny anchovies, and pickled veggies.
What is Congee?
Congee is basically a rice gruel with meat, fish, vegetables, and maybe beans added. They are also referred to as Zhou or Jook. When Cooked with a nourishing broth, congee is a restorative food. It feels comforting when you are sick, in a chicken soup kind of way; Nourishing and building when you are recovering from an illness.
Not only are all kinds of congees comforting, but they can also be a way to take herbal formulas. At Six Fishes, we use decoctions, pills, extracts, and powders. One way you can take herbs is to cook them as part of a meal to eat. One of the most enjoyable ways to do this is to prepare a medicinal congee.
When deciding what to put into the congee, the possibilities are limitless: You can use nearly any kind of rice. Although different types of rice have slightly different healing qualities, it’s not necessary to overthink this. Use what’s around and keep things simple. You can also use other grains, such as millet alone or combined with rice. You can make them with water or broth. You can select the other ingredients based on the seasons, your health, or what leftovers you are trying to use up. Recently, we’ve been enjoying the congee from our local Vietnamese restaurant, where they serve the steaming bowls with all the accompaniments we usually add to a bowl of pho.
The basic recipe for all congees is simple: cook white rice with water or broth in a 1:10 ratio. We have a rice cooker with a terra cotta lining. I really like to use it, so I don’t have to watch it or worry about it burning.
We like to crack the rice in our mini chop Cuisinart. You can use a coffee grinder, or this step can be skipped. Congee is the most forgiving dish to make. Other than burning it, nothing can really go wrong.
Recently, I was hosting a doctor from China, I prevailed on him to treat my husband, who has chronic digestive problems. After carefully questioning him and palpating his abdomen, he recommended the formula Wǔ Líng SǎnPoria Five Powder. This is a classical formula with a wide range of applications, all centered on treating excess fluids in the body. Unlike a drying diuretic, the formula strengthens digestion so that fluids are disseminated throughout the body.
Wǔ Líng Sǎn Poria Five Powder
fú líng Poria
zé xiè Alismatis Rhizoma
zhū líng Polyporus
bái zhú Atractylodis Macrocephalae Rhizoma
guì zhī Cinnamomi Ramulus
The formula has a relatively mild, yet sweet and spicy flavor from the cinnamon twigs. Since its name lets us know that it was originally taken as a powder, we ground the herbs and tried cooking them with the rice. This was not pleasant: even ground and well-cooked, it was like eating bits of wood. So we opted to decoct the herbs to make a tea and then use that as the broth to cook the rice. This was a total success, and Eric’s belly really feels better. Congee has become a regular part of his diet.
Basic Congee Recipe
1 cup of rice. You can use white, basmati, sweet, long, or short grain.
9-10 cups water or stock (chicken, beef, pork, fish or veggie)
Salt to taste
Crack the rice in a coffee mill or food grinder. Just pulse it. You don’t want powder. In a heavy pot, bring the rice, liquid, and optional salt to a boil, then turn it down to a simmer and cover loosely with a lid. Cook gently, stirring occasionally, until the rice is thoroughly cooked, and the porridge has become thick and creamy about 1 1/2 hours.
We love adding ginger and scallion.
If you want to use an electric pressure cooker, use the porridge setting and reduce the liquid to 7 cups and set the timer for 20 minutes. Use a natural release and voila!
From there, be creative! Add mushrooms. Fry an egg throw that on top. Shred some seaweed and mix it in. Dice up the last of that ham. Add gingko nuts. Add almonds or walnuts. Drizzle sesame oil, soy sauce, fish sauce. The food writer Mark Bittman wrote a great piece using oatmeal in a savory congee-like way. Recently, there was an article on the savory oatmeal in the Philadelphia Magazine.
Here’s 10 congee’s you can make at home
1.Aduki Bean: Diuretic; helpful for edema and gout
2.Carrot: Digestive aid, helps to eliminate gas
3.Celery: Cooling in the summertime
4.Chicken or lamb Broth: Recommended for wasting illnesses and injuries
5.Duck or Carp Broth: Reduces edema and swelling
6.Fennel: Harmonizes stomach, expels gas; useful for reducing hernias
7.Ginger: Warming; used to warm digestion.
8.Leeks: Warming; good for chronic diarrhea
9. Mustard Greens: Expels phlegm; clears stomach congestion
10.Pine Nuts: Moistening to heart and lungs; harmonizes large intestine; useful for constipation
11.Radishes: Aids digestion.
There are several recipes for Eight Treasure Congee. Intended to be eaten on special days and holidays as a winter tonic. Eight is a lucky number in China. Here’s a very nice one
Here’s a sweet recipe that children love
¾ cup millet
¼ cup rice
¼ cup peanuts
2 Tbs walnuts
2 Tbs pine nuts
2 Tbs Aduki Beans
½ oz Haw fruit
5 Chinese red dates
Cooking Instructions: Put all nuts and beans in a ceramic pot with 3 cups of water. Cook over low heat for one hour, then add millet and rice and continue cooking at a low temperature until everything is well cooked and smooth. Then add rock sugar, red dates and hawthorn fruit at the end and continue cooking for another 10-15 minutes.
Want to learn more? Here are two books with recipe ideas:
The Book of Jook: Chinese Medicinal Porridges–A Healthy Alternative to the Typical Western Breakfast by Bob Flaws, Blue Poppy Press
Ancient Wisdom, Modern Kitchen, Recipes from the East for Health, Healing and Long Life by Yuan Wang, Warren Sheir and Mika Ono
- Cara Frank, L.OM., was raised by beatniks in a health food store in Brooklyn, NY. When she was 8, she cartwheeled 5 miles from Greenwich Village through Soho and Chinatown and across the Brooklyn Bridge. For nearly 40 years, she has had the same crazy passion for Chinese medicine. At 17, she had her first acupuncture treatment. At 20, she enrolled in acupuncture school. 1n 1998, she went to China to study where she fell deeply in love with herbs and has never recovered.