Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Chicken Congee

Most Cantonese people I know think of congee as comfort food.  Up until last night I thought of congee as old people food.  When I was a child I hated anything that was the consistency of gruel or porridge.  I couldn't stand oatmeal, cream of wheat, grits, or congee.  I was convinced that all of those things tasted like wet cardboard and were just gross.  But then I went off to college and discovered that I actually liked grits.  And then about two years ago I discovered that I really like oatmeal.  I have to make a disclaimer when stating that I like oatmeal.  I like my oatmeal flavored with brown sugar and topped with lots of fruit.  So it's not like I inhale bowls of plain oatmeal every day for breakfast.  Now that I know that I actually like oatmeal and grits when they have some flavor, I decided to go back and try congee again.  But I wanted to make my own so I knew exactly what went in it and I could make it flavorful enough to override my initial dislike.  So I poached some chicken breasts with ginger and scallions to start a stock and then took a shortcut to making real stock by adding some chicken bouillon.  In my defense, I didn't have the time to make a real stock, or the quantity of chicken parts.  Then I slightly undercooked my congee so that my rice wasn't as gruel-like and mushy as the congee that I remembered from growing up.  I also took another shortcut before cooking the rice of rinsing it and soaking it.  Rinsing the rice helps to remove the extra starch (so that it wasn't quite as crazily thick) and soaking the rice helps it to cook faster.  What resulted was a really flavorful and comforting bowl of chicken congee that I would be happy to eat any day.  It was the perfect sick food - warm, lightly seasoned with ginger and scallion, and hearty.  I served my congee with scallions, cilantro, fried shallots and sesame oil for garnish (basically the same things that I garnish my Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup with).  I know that other people use different garnishes, but that was what I wanted (and what we had in the apartment) so that was what we used.  And since it was delicious, that is probably what I will stick with in the future.

Hurray for discovering foods that I didn't think that I liked, but actually like quite a bit, and that I can make good congee at home for myself!  Maybe I will try out my recipe on my mom sometime and see if it gets her approval.  If she likes it then I know I have a winner on my hands!

Recipe after the jump!

Chicken Congee

2 bone-in, skin-on chicken breast halves
10 cups water
2-inch piece ginger, peeled, cut in half and lightly pounded with the side of a cleaver
2 scallions, white and green parts, trimmed and lightly pounded with the side of a cleaver
2 chicken bouillon cubes
3/4 cup basmati rice (any long-grain rice will work)
kosher salt
2 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced

1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped
fried shallots, for garnish
sesame oil, for garnish

Place chicken breasts in a large heavy-bottomed pot (we used our large Le Creuset).  Cover with water.  Add ginger and scallions.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to simmer and simmer, partially covered, for 20 minutes.  Remove chicken from cooking liquid and set aside on a plate to cool.

Meanwhile, place rice in a medium mixing bowl.  Add enough cold water to cover the rice by about an inch and swirl around with your hand.  Drain and repeat.  Add cold water to cover rice and let rice soak while the chicken is cooking.  When you remove the chicken from the cooking liquid, drain and set aside.  After the chicken has cooled enough to handle, shred it with your hands or a fork.

Bring cooking liquid back to a boil.  Add bouillon and rice.  Bring mixture back to a boil and stir.  Partially cover the pot, reduce heat to a medium simmer (somewhere between a gentle simmer and a roiling simmer), stirring periodically, for approximately 45 minutes.  Note that after 30 minutes the rice should have tripled in size and soaked up some of the broth.  Continue simmering until the congee is at a consistency where you like it - some people like to basically cook the rice until it dissolves into a porridge (which takes about 60 minutes if you soak it first).  I like my rice to be nice and pillowy soft, but still maintain some integrity, so I cook it for about 45 minutes.  Season to taste with salt.

Remove the scallions and ginger from the congee.  Add half of the shredded chicken to the congee and stir to combine.  Ladle congee into bowls and top with remaining chicken.  Serve with scallions, cilantro, fried shallots and sesame oil.

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