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Regarded as the ultimate comfort food in many Asian cultures, congee is a type of porridge made by cooking rice in large amounts of liquid. It can be eaten on its own but it is also typically served with other ingredients such as meat, fish, and vegetables. While it is often eaten as a savory dish, there are sweet congee dishes as well.
Congee has a thick, smooth consistency when cooked. The grains do not fully disintegrate but they have a mushy, velvet-like texture when eaten, allowing them to easily melt in the mouth. With many kinds of rice available in the market, it can be confusing to know which ones are the best for congee.
In essence, congee is rice overcooked in liquid. Congee was made as a result of needing to stretch out the inventory of rice or grain in times of low harvest back in the day. Over the years, congee has leveled up with various ingredients incorporated in it, adding a lot of flavor and nutrients to the dish.
Rice is the hero ingredient of any congee dish in the world, and that includes Chinese congee. There is no single “best” type of rice to use when making congee. Many congee recipes use different types of rice, and each is different when it comes to preparation, cooking time, and water-to-rice ratio. Here are some of them.
The standard congee recipe uses Japonica rice as the main ingredient. The grains can either be short or medium and they look round and translucent. Congee recipes that utilize Japonica rice include lotus seed congee, pork and century egg congee, and Taiwanese savory congee. It is usually cooked at a ratio of 12:1, where 12 cups of water should be used with one cup of rice.
Believe it or not, congee dishes can also be made with brown rice! It should be noted though that the mouthfeel of congee made with brown rice is different from ones made with white rice. This is because brown rice has a distinct texture that comes from the bran and the germ is still intact in the grains.
Aside from the mouthfeel, cooking congee recipes using brown rice has an additional step to it. Before cooking, it’s best to soak brown rice first in cold water for one hour or more before being boiled for congee.
While not exactly a type of rice, millet is gluten-free grains that look like tiny corn kernels. Millet grains are packed with calcium, iron, and numerous vitamins. In traditional Chinese medicine and food therapy, millet is utilized to strengthen the kidneys, alleviate internal heat, and act as a diuretic. When making congee using millet, it’s best to use cold water and boil it before adding the millet grains into it.
Glutinous rice is sold in both short-grain and long-grain rice types. Long-grain glutinous rice is softer and has a stickier texture, making it unsuitable for congee. Instead, short-grain glutinous rice is preferred when making congee as it is not as sticky as its long-grain counterpart. Before boiling glutinous rice, it should be soaked in cold water for over an hour in order to achieve the best results.
Sweet congee recipes that make use of glutinous rice include lotus seed congee or sweet winter melon congee with beans.
Black rice is widely used in sweet congee recipes in China as it is believed that black rice enriches the blood and strengthens the spleen. Before making congee with black rice, one should soak the rice grains in water for at least an hour. Doing so produces a congee with a granular mouthfeel and authentic flavor.
One of the most iconic Chinese sweet congee recipes is Ba Bao Zhou or Laba Congee or Eight Treasures congee.
Technically not a type of grain, Job’s tears are more commonly known as Chinese pearl barley. Some use them in Chinese congee as they are high in protein, vitamins, and minerals. Job’s tears must be soaked in cold water for an hour before being boiled with brown grains.
Basmati rice is a type of long-grain rice. And while some suggest using it for congee, it is not ideal to do so. Basmati rice doesn’t have as much starch content as short-grain types. As a general guide, the shorter the grains are, the higher the starch content.
There are numerous congee recipes out there and some of them, Cantonese congee in particular, make use of beans to add texture, flavor, and nutrients to the dish. One of the most common beans used in Cantonese congee is mung beans.
According to traditional Chinese medicine, mung beans are a magical ingredient that is perfect to consume in summer as they can relieve heat symptoms. Mung beans also contain protein, iron, calcium, phosphorus, and carotene. It is said that mung beans can lower blood cholesterol and blood pressure levels.
Mung beans must be soaked in cold water for one hour if you intend to cook them in congee.
Aside from the popular mung bean, red beans are also incorporated into Cantonese congee. Red beans are high in iron and, according to the Chinese, they are great for supplementing the blood. Red beans are often used in sweet congee.
To use them in Cantonese congee, they should be soaked in cold water for at least 5 hours and steamed with water for about 2 hours before boiling with other congee ingredients.
Congee has a silky-smooth and creamy consistency when cooked right. There are several tips that you can adopt to ensure that you have a creamy congee.
Some Chinese congee recipes use beancurd skin to make sure that it has a silky-smooth texture. Adding beancurd skin helps make the grains mushy and therefore, makes them easier to cook down to a smooth consistency.
Congee is a kind of comfort food that is eaten all year round in many Asian cuisines. Using the right kind of rice matters when cooking congee as the grains dictate the texture and consistency of the dish. Once you figure out the correct grain to use, you’ll find it easy to make congee in the comfort of your own home.
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