It’s not usually my style to hammer all the points of a thing I like in hopes that you’ll like it for all the same reasons. I air always on the side of less rather than more when it comes to detail. I like the openness in the ellipses of a thing not fully exposited. I like that every set of ears and eyes that finds it can fill in its own gaps. I can’t tell you how to be. I can only show, usually in very quiet glimpses, what being is to me. So, perhaps uncharacteristically–but genuinely, emphatically, and lovingly all the same–here is my ode to congee: a song with words I hope to sing with you.
If you can make oatmeal, you can make congee. While a long-simmered broth would make a delicious pot of congee, plain old water works just as well. You can find the basic ingredients at almost any grocery store, and you can make it infinitely yours. You don’t have to plan far in advance, although you certainly could, and maybe take advantage of a slow-cooker on a night whose morning after you know won’t provide a willingness to cook?
When I found out a gaming buddy of mine came from the Philippines, I immediately asked him if he was familiar with congee (or lugaw, as it’s known regionally). “Ugh yeah, that’s the stuff we feed to the pigs and old people,” he reeled off without missing a beat. My face turned red (not that he could see from behind a monitor half a world away) and I wondered if I was just some idiot white person who’d fallen for a faddish food trick. But I realized there’s nothing tricky about simple food. It’s the realest shit in the world. And I think, on reflection, what I got from his statement was really that pigs and old folks in the Philippines are sensible people with solid taste. Fine enough company for me.
Not into tofu? Try some browned tempeh or a soft-boiled egg. Drizzle a little toasted sesame oil on top to complement the ginger and scallions, or ditch all that for fresh jalapeño slices with cilantro, crushed peanuts, and sriracha sauce. Switch up the cooking fat–untoasted sesame oil would be delicious as a base flavor. If you cook meat, leftover fats skimmed from bone broths work well, too. Play with the rice-to-water ratio for a thicker or thinner consistency.
I mean, that bowl of silky, savory goodness with fresh toppings soft, crisp, fiery, and bright probably speaks for itself. If that’s not enough, consider this: there aren’t many meals that feel so right and good as congee. Morning, noon, or night; rain, or sun, in any season. But you can’t know it until you try it. And that, it is known, you should.
- 1 cup long grain white rice
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil
- 1 onion, finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
- 8 cups filtered water
- salt and pepper to taste
- scallions, sliced
- soft tofu, gently heated
- freshly grated ginger
- tamari/soy sauce
- chili paste
- rinse the rice in a bowl or fine mesh strainer; drain.
- place a good-sized soup pot over medium-high heat. add coconut oil and onions. stir; cook until soft--five minutes or so. add garlic and cook another minute or two till the garlic smells cooked. add the drained rice and stir to coat the grains with oil.
- add 8 cups water. stir; bring to a boil and immediately reduce heat to a simmer. cover and cook for 45-90 minutes, stirring occasionally to lift the sticky grains of rice from the bottom of the pan. you might need to reduce the heat as it cooks.
- when the grains of rice are soft and swollen and the broth is silky and starchy, salt and pepper to taste. it should taste mild, but just flavorful enough to eat on its own (don't skimp on the salt). ladle into bowls and top with cubed soft tofu, chopped scallions, freshly grated ginger, a splash of tamari, and some chili paste.
possibilities are infinite with toppings and stock bases here. fried shallots would be amazing, especially with a hard-boiled egg and maybe a squeeze of lime?