Learn how to make rice porridge in 6 different ways. Include tips for Cantonese congee and using leftover rice.
Someone once asked me how to make rice porridge. I thought what do you mean how? Just boil rice with water. Cooking rice porridge comes easily to me because I grew up with it as a staple in my diet. It therefore came as a surprise when people ask me how to make congee.
When I sat down to write about it, I realize it is more than that. So, let me take a step back and deconstruct the process and present a few ways to make Chinese porridge.
I mentioned in what congee is that there are many regional differences. Here, I am covering home cooked rustic Chinese rice porridge, not fine restaurant fare.
Before we dash off to the different ways of cooking rice porridge, let's look at a few basic tips. These apply whether you are making Cantonese/Hong Kong congee or Hokkien sweet potato rice porridge or Teochew fish porridge.
3 Basic Tips
Tip 1. Wash the rice
It seems superfluous to say this but the first step is to wash the rice. I notice in many cooking shows the chefs do not wash the rice. They prepare it like they would pasta. But rice is not pasta. The Chinese always wash the rice, regardless the packaging. The Japanese is even more fastidious about washing rice.
Use a big pot or plastic bowl. Add water to rice, stir the rice and water vigorously. Rub the rice grains using the palms of your hands. The water should be murky by now. Drain. Repeat the washing until water is clear.
Granny says, "Do not throw the murky water away. Store them in a pail to water your plants."
Let the rice grains stand in the clear water for about 15 minutes (if you have the time).
Well-washed rice is important as you want to wash away any excess rice flour or grits which may affect the texture of the congee.
It all depends on the consistency you want to achieve. Granny likes her rice porridge thick while I like mine of medium consistency. There are basically 3 consistencies and it corresponds to the rice-water ratio.
Thick : 1 cup rice to 8 cups water
Medium : 1 cup rice to 10 cups water
Thin or Watery : 1 cup rice to 13 cups water
This ratio is for cooking porridge over the stove top where more evaporation takes place. Reduce slightly for slow cooker and rice cooker. Generally, the water level in the cooker should not exceed the 70% mark. I can't tell you by how much. It all depends on the size of your pots. Experiment! Begin with less water because it is easier to add water if needed.
Cooking porridge isn't baking, so nothing needs to be exact. If anything, it is the amount of rice one should take note.
I came across someone who tried to cook congee for the first time with 4 cups of rice. That's too much rice. She also skimped on the water because her pot is probably too small to accommodate 32 cups of water! Predictably, her patience ran out before the congee is done.
If you are cooking rice porridge for the first time, try with 1/2 cup of rice. I know it looks very little but it will expand. And it won't take too long.
Tip 3. Should I use a soup stock?
Rice porridge can be eaten in 2 ways. First, as a carbohydrate staple to go with a few side dishes. These are usually well flavoured dishes. I wouldn't use a stock to flavour the rice porridge as its blandness acts like a balance to the other more strongly flavoured dishes.
Plain rice porridge with potato and pork stew and stir-fried cabbage. Photo by Phoebe Lim
Choose a deep thick base pot, something that will conduct heat evenly. Granny likes using a deep claypot. You can try that if you are cooking a small portion. If you do not have a Chinese claypot, you can try using a dutch oven although I think most dutch ovens are too shallow.
Add the water and uncooked washed rice grains. Bring the water and rice to a boil before lowering the heat to a cheery simmer. Stir occasionally to prevent the rice from sticking together or to the bottom of the pot.
Stirring is important because rice grains, being much heavier than water, will inadvertently settle to the bottom, stick to the pot and burn. The disadvantage of this cooking method is that you must keep an eye on the congee.
Someone suggested adding 2 metal spoons to the pot to prevent burning. The theory is that the spoons will be agitated by the bubbling and do the "stirring" for us. I might just try it the next time I make congee.
Some visitors have commented that they were taught not to stir because the rice will stick and burn. I'm not quite sure why this is so. If the congee burn when you stir it, then don't stir.
To achieve the Cantonese congee creamy consistency, the rice must be at a roaring boil for at least 45 minutes. A whole chicken is sometimes added to flavour the congee. When the congee is done, the chicken is taken out, the meat is pulled off the bones and added back to the congee.
I personally think it is easier to use the chicken to make a stock and then use the stock to cook the congee. And while the congee is cooking, I pick the meat off the bones for use later. But then, that's my personal preference (^_ ^) and because I don't have a huge stock pot that can accommodate both congee and chicken at the same time.
2. Over the stove top using cooked rice
There is a Chinese saying about each grain of rice representing one year of hard work.
锄禾日当午， 汗滴禾下土。 谁知盘中餐， 粒粒皆辛苦。
We Chinese gets very guilty when throwing leftover rice away. I remember my paternal grandmother cooking porridge for breakfast because we had rice leftover from dinner the night before. Not only is this frugal, it takes less time to cook.Of course this also means 50% less stirring work. Although the congee may not taste as fresh as freshly made congee but with some condiments, it won't be too obvious especially if you use soup stock to enhance the flavour of the congee.
If you find yourself with some leftover rice, try making rice porridge with it. It is healthier than frying it. Here's how:
Place the cooked rice and water in a big pot
Press with a ladle or wooden spoon to break up any rice lumps first
Bring water and rice to a boil and lower heat to cheery simmer and cook until desired consistency is achieved
3. Using a rice cooker
Some Chinese cooks insist that over the stove top is the only authentic way to cook porridge. We do not have to be so puritan. We can use the rice cooker. *wink *wink
A no-nonsense electric rice cooker can be used to cook congee as well as steam food. It is so easy. Here's how:
Add the ratio of water to rice of your desired consistency
Place the water and washed rice into the rice cooker together
Close the cover, press the COOK button
Check it after about 45 minutes to 1 hour
Once the grains are broken and the congee reaches the consistency you want, turn off the cooker
Granny says, "Check whether your rice cooker is already bubbling at the side of the cover when you cook rice. If it does, it means you must reduce the amount of congee you make because it requires a lot more water. Too much water will cause a boil over and damage your rice cooker."
A way to prevent boil over is to reduce the amount of water by about 2-3 cups in the beginning. Add more hot water when the congee is about done. Stir to mix well. A visitor also suggested leaving the cover ajar when cooking porridge to let the steam escape and release the pressure. Good idea!
BECAUSE fuzzy logic allows the rice cooker to "think" and adjust the cooking temperature through the different stages of cooking. It can also cook risotto, pilaf, oats, cousous and polenta.
Some even allow cooking time to be programmed. I can put the rice and water in the pot in the night and programmed it to start cooking in the late afternoon. The rice or congee would be nicely done by the time I come home for dinner.
Last but not least, it looks spunky and trendy.
4. Using a slow cooker
If you have a slow cooker, it can be used to cook rice porridge too. As the name suggests, it will take much longer than the rice cooker. To reduce cooking time, use hot water and cooked rice.
The slow cooker is great for cooking porridge with Chinese herbs. It is best to use a ceramic pot when cooking with Chinese herbs in case they react with the metal pots. It is also fuss-free. Just add everything in at one go and let it cook on low. 4 to 5 hours later, you will find yummy herbal congee steamy hot in your cooker.
Here's a video of a guy making rice porridge in a slow cooker. He left it to cook overnight for a hot filling breakfast. The guy in the video mentioned sweet rice. This is actually glutinous rice. It is optional but if you have some lying around, you can add it.
5. Using a thermal cooking pot
Use boiling water and cooked rice when using a thermal cooking pot to make Chinese rice porridge.
Use the inner pot to boil water
Add the cooked rice, press with a ladle or wooden spoon to break up any lumps
Bring back to a boil and let it boil for about 5-10 minutes
Remove from heat and place the inner pot into the outer casing
Close the lid securely. The porridge should be done in 40 minutes
The benefit of using the thermal cooking pot is that the rice porridge won't burn. For a more flavorsome congee, use some soup stocks or stock cubes instead of water.
If you have a good coffee thermos or a vacuum food jar, you can try making small amount of rice porridge with it. Same principles as the thermal cooking pot. Experiment!
Question: Why can't we use uncooked rice? Rice porridge requires a considerable amount of sustained heat. The thermal cooking can't maintain a high enough cooking temperature as it is basically cooking via trapped heat.
6. Using a pressure cooker
I have been told that a pressure cooker can cook congee in record time. I personally do not have a pressure cooker and am unfamiliar with pressure cooking. If you have experience with it, do share it with me. I'm interested to know how long it takes and when to release the pressure.
Update - September 2015
Nancy from Instantpot shared that "a pressure cooker takes around 15-20 minutes on low pressure to make a basic congee. If you include heating up, cooling down, and depressurizing naturally, it should take about 30 minutes in total. She also mentioned that since water doesn't evaporate as much, water ratio should be about 65-75% of the amount used on the stove top.
Lastly, do not fill the pressure cooker more than halfway or it may froth and clog the valve (and we don't want to do that).
When is my rice porridge ready?
Rice is generally cooked when each grain become soft thoroughly. But when cooking porridge, the grains should be broken.
The degree of brokenness depends on your preference.
It has the highest degree of brokenness. It takes quite a bit of effort and stirring to achieve 100% brokenness. I sometimes cheat with a stick blender but if you blend before the grains become soft, you might get some hard grits in your porridge.
Another way is to cook the congee twice. After cooking a big pot of congee either over the stove top or in the rice cooker, scoop a cup of congee into a smaller pot and continue to cook and stir, adding ingredients such as sliced fish or ground pork.
Plain white rice porridge
This is to be eaten with a few side dishes has medium degree of brokenness. You can still see the grains but there are splits. This is the easiest consistency to reach.
Thin rice soup
The rice grains are not broken at all. It is more like cooked rice with hot soup poured over it. For people who have digestive issues, it is best not to consume too much thin rice soup. It is tempting to swallow the rice with the soup without chewing and that adds stress to the stomach.
Here's a video on how to cook the Teochew fish porridge. Her porridge looks so good my tummy growls when I was watching her cook.
What type of rice to use?
After this page was published, I received a few queries about the type or brand of rice to use when cooking porridge. I must apologize for assuming that my visitors know what rice I'm referring to. I am also humbled by the many types of rice available when I finally looked around to describing the rice I use.
So, here it is. I use medium to long grain white rice grown in Thailand. It is commonly known as fragrant rice or jasmine rice 香米 in Singapore. I don't think you can find the same brands at your locations so I won't mention the local brands here. The closest I can find online is the Dynasty Rice Jasmine.
Some of you have asked about using brown rice for cooking porridge. This is possible but the grains will take longer to cook and require more water. Alternatively, soak overnight to shorten the cooking time. Again, use medium grain brown rice like the Gourmet House - 100% Organic Long Grain Brown Rice.
Having said that, the texture would be better if the brown rice is mixed with the white rice. Experiment!
A quick word about Hong Kong style congee
Many people who ate congee in Hong Kong or Hong Kong style restaurants rave about its smoothness and awesome flavour. Most home cooks find it hard to achieve the high degree of brokenness, thickness and smoothness. Here are a few suggestions:
1. Choice of rice
Use short grain or medium grain rice or mix the 2. Short grain rice like Calrose has more starch which helps make the congee smoother. However, too much starch can cause a thin film to form on the surface when the congee is cooled. If the film gets mixed back into the porridge, it becomes a gooey lump. Not nice! Don't use basmati rice if you want creamy congee.
2.Pre-blend or pre-mill the grains
By breaking down the rice grains before cooking with an electric mill or blender, it shortens the cooking time. However, if the broken grains are insufficiently cooked, it may present as tiny bits in the thickened soup which reminds me of instant rice porridge in a cup. Although sometimes, this is what people are looking for.
3. Post-blend the congee
You can puree the congee after it has been cooked, just like a creamy pumpkin or tomato soup. A stick or wand blender works best here. A standard blender is also fine as long as the quantity isn't too much. Again, if the grains aren't cooked thoroughly, there might be tiny bits. But don't tell a Cantonese cook you did this. You might get an earful from them.
4. Cooking a base batch
Many restaurants cook up a huge pot of plain rice porridge as a congee base 粥底 (zhou di). When customers order a certain congee like the century egg and minced pork congee, they take some of the congee base and cook it in a separate pot together with the added ingredients. This technique is known as 生滚粥 (sheng gun zhou). I have no idea how to translate this into English. (^ _^;). The second cooking breaks the grains down even more and upped the smoothness factor.
5. Marinating the rice
Saw this suggestion at this Chinese website. I haven't tried it before so experiment away! Marinate 1 cup of washed short grained rice with 1 tablespoon of cooking oil and half a century egg. Mixed them up well and leave to stand overnight. Cook with 10 cups of soup stock the next morning for about 20-30 minutes.
6. Cook at a roaring boil for 45 minutes
In general, I ask people to bring the water and rice to a boil first, then lower to a cheery simmer to continue cooking till done. Here, a friend suggested bringing the WATER to a boil before adding the rice grains and then continue to cook at a roaring boil for at least 45 minutes. At a roaring boil, you really can't leave the kitchen. :P
Wow, this is a long page. I hope you had fun reading it as much as I had fun writing it. If you are ready to try making some rice porridge, head over here for some recipes.