Combined prep and cooking time ~2 hours 30 minutes.

Congee is not considered a gourmet food. It falls more into the category of comfort food for invalids as the rice is cooked to the point of destruction, and is easily digestible. There are few hard and fast rules, and probably as many congee recipes as cooks in Southeast Asia. While there are a number of regional variations, basically a congee is nothing more than a rice porridge made using a meat or fish stock as a base instead of water, perfumed with appropriate aromatics and a small amount of meat or fish for protein added back in after the cooking is complete.

Traditional recipes usually start with the preparation of the stock, which also yields the protein which will later be reincorporated at the end of cooking. It don't usually follow the traditional method for several reasons. Most call for simmering the meats for several hours, and boiling tends to change the flavor of meats, particularly chicken. Boiling also alters the texture of meat, and I don't think for the better. Also, the traditional approach turns the preparation, which already requires quite a bit of attention over the last half hour to forty-five minutes, into an all day multi-pot affair.

So, here is my quick and dirty recipe:

Bring six to eight cups of chicken stock, preferably your own homemade from the freezer, to a boil. When the stock reaches a boil, add three skinless half chicken breast fillets. Immediately reduce the heat and poach the chicken breasts for fifteen to twenty minutes regulating the temperature so that the poaching bath remains between 160°F and 180°F.

At the end of the poaching time remove and reserve the chicken. To the poaching stock add 1/2 tsp. salt. 3 or more Tbsp. rice wine. (left over saki is fine) 3 slices of fresh ginger cut 1/4" thick (or 3/4 tsp ground dried ginger) 3 to 4 green onions sliced in 1/8" rings, or 1/2 well washed leek. With either the onions or the leeks you can include the soft green tops. Finally add one cup of rinsed and well drained long grain white rice. Cover the pot and bring it slowly to the gentlest possible simmer allowing it to cook for 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 hours. DO NOT allow this to boil! During the last 1/2 hour to 45 minutes you will need to stir the pot fairly constantly or the rice will burn and stick on the bottom. We are not making nice fluffy rice here. We are making an aromatic porridge that should be the
consistency of oatmeal when finished.

While the rice is cooking, take one of the half breasts and cut it into 1/4 to 1/2" die. This will be blended back into the rice mixture once cooking is complete. Refrigerate and reserve the other two half breasts for chicken salad or other poached chicken recipes.

At the end of cooking, stir the diced chicken back into the congee. Chicken congee should be served hot, and may be garnished with one of more of the following: fresh grated ginger, sliced green onions, chopped cilantro or sesame oil.

Congees can also be made using leftover cooked beef, pork or even firm fleshed fish instead of poached chicken, and can also be a way to use up leftover vegetables. The cooking stock for the rice, and the aromatics added, though, should be selected to compliment the flavor of the meat or fish as it was originally prepared, as should the garnish. Proportions are not critical except for the rice to
stock. Too little rice and you wind up with gruel, too much rice, or too much heat, and the mass in the pot can solidify. 1 cup rice to 6 to 8 cups of stock is, however, a pretty safe ratio.



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