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Congee

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    Posted: 06 September 2013 at 14:24
Let me begin by stating this post belongs in every Asian country's forum as it is a universally accepted Asian dish.  It is the rice porridge called Congee, Shi-fan or Jook in China, Okai or Okayu in Japan, Jott Jook in Korea, Chao Bo in Vietnam, Tukpa in Bhutan, Kanji in southern India and so on and so on and so on....

Congee is served everywhere as a breakfast dish but it is much more than that.  One is served the basic porridge and may then add whatever he or she likes to the soup in order to customize it to personal preference.  Various meats and/or fish and/or vegetables and/or eggs may be added almost always with sliced green onions and perhaps a drizzle of sesame oil.  A favorite is a thousand year or hundred century egg which is a preserved duck egg.

Congee is more than a bowl of rice porridge as it is served whenever one is ailing as it is easily digestible. Jook is a universally accepted Asian comfort food adored by billions of people daily.

Okai is so universally enjoyed my Japanese Zojirushi rice cooker has a rice porridge setting on it and that is how I always prepare it because it's just too easy.

I use a mixture of Japanese favored medium grain and sweet rice.  You can see the different
grain types in the bowl.



A closer look for those unfamiliar with sweet rice



Here I've added chopped white sweet potato to the washed rice.  This is a Japanese ingredient.



Set to the porridge cycle.



Ladle finished porridge with sweet potato into a bowl.
This came out a bit thicker than I usually like it but no matter.  It's all good.



Because this is breakfast congee, I've topped it with chopped scrambled egg, chopped sautéed fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced green onions (always sliced green onions), toasted sesame seeds and a drizzle of toasted sesame oil.


Congee


From oceanempire.com


Congee is also called rice porridge. In ancient times, people named the thick congee "Chan", the watery one "Chi" or "Mi". The characteristics of congee are that it is easy to digest and very simple to cook it. Congee is one of the traditional Chinese food and has thousands of years of history in China. The Zhou Book says "Emperor Huang Di was first to cook congee with millet as the ingredient", that may be considered the earliest record of congee.

The ancient people were very picky about congee, and there is a saying "the selection of rice comes the first, the selection of water comes the second, and the heat for cooking comes the third". Bai Ju Yi (a very famous poet in ancient China) said: In order to cook delicious congee, the fresh rice should be selected as the ingredient. The rice for congee should always be the fresh one. The ancient people were also very strict with the water quality for the congee cooking. For example, they thought that the rainwater at the beginning of the spring tonic, the snow water in the midwinter antidotal; those water can be used for congee cooking.

Great attention should be paid to the level of the heat for congee cooking. The heat may be categorized into two kinds: "wu fire" (quick and strong heat) and "wen fire" (slow and low heat). If the heat for cooking is too low, the aroma will not come out, if the heat is too strong, the aroma will decline. Generally, boil the water first, then put in the rice, cook it over "wu fire" (quick and strong heat) until it is on the boil, then switch to "wen fire" (slow and low heat) until the soup of the congee boiled away to well-done. In The Idyllic Recipe, Yuan Mei-a literati of the Qing Dynasty, concluded the standards for congee cooking: "the congee with too much water and too little rice should not be considered the first-class congee, and the congee with too much rice and too little water should not be considered the first-class congee either, as the so-called first-class congee, the proportion of water to rice should be carefully balanced, the water and the rice should combine to make a whole".

According to the Chinese tradition, people have vegetable congee in the spring, green bean congee in the summer, lotus root congee in autumn, and preserved meat congee in the winter.

***********************************************************

Congee: Asia’s Comfort Food

From Things Asian website.

Rice, the staple for more than half of the world's population, has truly shaped and defined the varied cuisines of Asia. Centuries-old traditions dictate its cultivation, harvesting and consumption. Asians celebrate rice from planting to harvesting in various colorful festivals. Rice is revered as divine all over Asia and it is typically eaten at least two or three times a day. A meal without rice is not considered a full meal and this important grain is often served in the plainest possible way.

Although Asian cooking styles often include elaborate methods of cooking, sometimes with unusual ingredients, the most impressive similarity between these ancient cuisines is the simplicity of some of their tastiest rice dishes. All over Asia there are various one-dish meals of thick rice soup cooked with plenty of water or broth that can be flavored with a variety of toppings and condiments. In China this dish is most often called Jook or Congee. It has several different names in other parts of Asia. But, by whatever name it is called congee is pure comfort food. It is easy to prepare and most satisfying at any hour in any season. There is no limit to what can be added to congee; this dish is most accommodating. Babies are raised on it and elderly and invalids prefer it for its nutritional value and ease of digestion.

Jook or congee is a dish relished in every corner of China. In old times this porridge-like food was not just the food of the peasant; it was enjoyed by all classes of people. It was even served at banquets among the Chaozhou people. A Qing dynasty manual on porridge by Huang Yungu lists 237 different ways of preparing congee. Other grains were mostly used in northern China where they grew abundantly. While in the south, from Shanghai to Guangzhou (Canton), rice is the preferred grain.

While some Cantonese prefer it sweetened with rock sugar, people of Shanghai like theirs served savory with cabbage. In Fujian, this rice porridge is often made with glutinous rice while that made with fermented red rice is a specialty of its capital, Fuzhou. Sweet Wine Rice Soup is a classic from Shanghai. In this region, Lotus Seed Congee is prepared with lotus seeds and glutinous rice and finished with addition of sugar and served as a snack. In Hong Kong congee can be served for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Congee is not just a dish served any meal; it is also a base for therapeutic treatment. It was prevalent in China as early as pre-Qin period (221-207 B.C.). Congee with asparagus is believed to be a diuretic and was also used to reduce cholesterol. Ginger congee was used to settle the stomach, and reduce nausea and considered a cure for indigestion and diarrhea. For ailments of the respiratory system and fever, one recommended medicine was Pear Congee. Congee with black sesame seeds was used to improve lactation in nursing mothers. Spinach Congee was used as a sedative, while Chicken or Lamb Congees were valued to strengthen a weakened constitution.

In Taiwan they enjoy Gour Bah, a sizzling rice soup. It is often made with baby shrimp. Gour Bah is the hardened rice layer left at the bottom of the rice pot. It becomes the base of any Gour Bah dish. A combination of the sweet small shrimp and tomatoes give the soup an added texture and taste. This soup is also be made with crab and other seafood.

In Korea their rice soup called Jott Jook uses ground rice pulverized to a silken texture before cooking. Ground barley or lentils may be added while cooking, and the soup is garnished with pine nuts and sliced pitted dates.

In Japan rice soup is made from both raw rice and leftover cooked rice. Okayu is the Japanese rice soup served to invalids. They use raw rice and cook it with plenty of water until the rice is very soft. Chopped scallions, carrots or Japanese fish cakes are added to the soup before serving. Japanese peasants as a way saving leftover rice created Zosui, rice soup with cooked rice.

In Philippines congee is cooked the same way as in China, however, they serve it with a salty topping of fried salted fish or cooked chicken. In Vietnam, their rice soup is Chao Bo and it is loaded with tender rice and ground beef. This soup is not only eaten at breakfast, it is also the last course in a Bo Bay Mon, beef-seven-ways-meal. They also prepare a sweetened version made with sticky rice and taro. It is called Che Khoai Mon. In Thailand, rice soup is called Khao Tom. Fragrant jasmine rice is used for their version and it is cooked in chicken broth flavored with fresh ginger and fish sauce. In Myanmar, China's neighbor towards the Himalayan rim, rice soup is made with toasted rice and fish. It is additionally colored yellow with turmeric. Garlic, lemongrass and ginger add enhanced flavorings. The Karans are native Burmese tribe who lives in lower Myanmar on the border of Thailand. They prepare a rice soup called Tata Pan. It has an interesting and imaginative flavor from toasting the raw rice in a dry skillet.

In Bhutan, located on the eastern ridges of the Himalayas, and to the west of China, rice soup is called Tukpa. It is loved for breakfast on cold mornings. In Sikkim close to Tibet and China, their rice soup is called Phitoo and is prepared by cooking rice with excess water along with boneless chicken pieces and crumbled farmers cheese.

In ancient India, fresh and fermented rice soups were popular for breakfast in several regions. Kashyapa Samhita, an ancient Sanskrit text, describes medicinal rice soup made with parched rice, long pepper, dried ginger and pomegranates. The sour rice gruel called Kanjika was made by fermenting rice porridge. It was popular among ancient seafaring Dravidians of South India who served it with deep fried lentil cakes called Vatakas. In Bengal, in eastern India the rice soup is served cold. They make it using boiled rice that is covered with cold water and kept overnight. In south India, the rice soup called kanji has a very similar sounding name to the word congee. In olden days, it was the preferred breakfast dish among farming and seafaring families and it is served warm with salt and cooked red beans and considered a staple food.

Congee is not just a staple comfort food and/or a breakfast food. It is also prepared and used for religious ceremonies and festivals. A Chinese congee, called Laba Zhou, is named to honor the eighth day of the twelfth moon, the day Buddha received enlightenment. On this day Buddhist temples prepare this congee with cereals, peas, dates, chestnuts, lotus seeds and dried fruits. When this dish is prepared on other days it is called eight-treasures-porridge. Thingyan Htamin- Water festival rice soup is prepared in Myanmar to celebrate Hint San, Burmese New Year. It is a time for cleansing the body and mind for the coming year.

In Kerala in Southern India, ancient agrarian practices depended solely on the movement of Sun. On the first day of the Lunar month of Medam they celebrate Vishu, that represents the passing of the sun from Taurus into Aries, a solar event that marks the beginning of a new astrological year. According to Indian astrology, this solar event is believed to be the ideal time for commencing rice cultivation. Vishu Kanji is a special rice soup traditionally served but once a year to celebrate this festival. It is made with a combination of parboiled and long grain rices and puliavarakka, a lima bean type legume with a slightly sour taste, and cooked in coconut milk. The beans give tanginess and a bite to this soup. In parts of south India, as girls attain puberty they are given a four-day coming-of-age ceremony called Thirandu Kalyaanam. On the third day, guests are served Paalkanji, a rice soup cooked in milk and sweetened with sugar. Feeding rice or rice soup to the poor is considered the ultimate good deed.

Rice gruel, a dish with ancient origins, remains popular in most of Asia. There are several myths about its consumption. Since it requires less rice than plain boiled rice to feed the same number of people, it is considered a poor man's meal in China. Because of this on the first day of Chinese New Year people eat cooked fluffy rice for all meals. To eat rice porridge on this day is thought to mean hard times for the future.

The range of ingredients used in preparing rice soup certainly varies with geographic locations. Overall, in China, eggs, chicken, pork, ginger, scallions, Chinese parsley and sometimes lotus seed add flavor and fragrance to their non-medicinal congees. Island nations such as Hong Kong, Taiwan and the Philippines, all flavor theirs with foods of the sea. In Korea, rice soup is enhanced with dates, pine nuts and sugar. The Japanese flavor it with mushrooms, scallops and shrimp while the Vietnamese prepare theirs with beef, root vegetables, fish sauce and roasted peanuts. In Thailand, they prefer theirs made with fragrant rice, shallots, chili paste and garlic. Rice gruels from the Himalayan rim countries of Myanmar and Bhutan show influences of Chinese and Indian and use garlic, ginger, shrimp paste, pork and bamboo shoots to reflect the Chinese influence and turmeric, black pepper and paprika to show the Indian connection. And, in India, rice soups incorporate dairy products, coconut milk and various spices. These differences not withstanding, in Asia, rice porridge remains the comfort food of millions with flavor differences, from one country to another.



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Effigy View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Effigy Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06 September 2013 at 14:46
My first thought is - Rice Pudding. My Gran loved the stuff and it was always her cure-all food.
The other two were...
Tapioca and Semolina. I might give this a try, not sure about the sweet potato, but I won't judge until I have tried.
Thanks GM.
I will need to find out how to do it without a rice cooker however
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gracoman Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06 September 2013 at 15:15
I'm afraid congee is nothing like rice pudding, tapioca or semolina.  This is the first time I used sweet potato and it threw the entire recipe off a bit.  I added extra water before cooking but not enough.  The rice should actually almost disintegrate and the whole thing should be soupier than the photo's I posted.

Congee is easy to make if you really want to give it a try.  There must be 1000 YouTube videos showing how to make congee on the stove top.  It really just "boils down" to overcooking rice in more water than you would ever think to use otherwise.

There is a standard Asian-American Thanksgiving joke where they only cook the holiday's required turkey so they can make jook with it afterward.  The type and number of toppings are only limited by your imagination.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06 September 2013 at 17:21
Great write up and pix, Gracoman.

Most of the congee I've had was about the consistency shown in your photos. Personally, I don't think I'd want it any soupier. But, of course, tastes differ.

I can see the flavor profile of the white sweet potato. But I think I'd have partially pre-cooked it first.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gracoman Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06 September 2013 at 18:56
Originally posted by HistoricFoodie HistoricFoodie wrote:


I can see the flavor profile of the white sweet potato. But I think I'd have partially pre-cooked it first.
Since this was my first time adding sweet potato that was my first thought. But in the end I decided to follow the recipe and it was perfectly cooked.  
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Effigy Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07 September 2013 at 00:39
On my comment regarding Rice pudding...

I should mention at this point that my Gran's method and what you have described are identical.
One of her best friends was a Chinese lady. Both of them were born in 1890. As a result I was taught to appreciate Asian food long before most New Zealanders.

I think this is a case of semantics - Rice pudding (after Googling) - is not something I am familiar with.

When I flippantly said "Rice Pudding" which is what I grew up knowing it as, I in fact meant "Rice Porridge" which is precisely what you are referring to.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gracoman Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07 September 2013 at 09:24
Originally posted by Effigy Effigy wrote:



I think this is a case of semantics - Rice pudding (after Googling) - is not something I am familiar with.

When I flippantly said "Rice Pudding" which is what I grew up knowing it as, I in fact meant "Rice Porridge" which is precisely what you are referring to.
I see.
 
Interesting. 

The rice pudding you googled is the rice pudding I grew up with.  It is a cheap and delicious dessert that is relegated to the area of comfort food for me ... as long as raisins are involved Wink
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07 September 2013 at 17:11
Gracoman, I noticed in the congee history you provided a reference to making it will millet instead of rice.

Are you familiar with that at all? I'm not. But I'd like to be, cuz I love millet. I wonder how common that was/is, and what the difference in approach might be.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gracoman Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07 September 2013 at 17:54
I thought congee was made only with white rice until I researched it and my research was far from extensive.  Congee can, and is, made from a number of different grains.  Brown rice, quinoa and barley popped up quite a bit.  Millet is quite a different story.

Millet is an ancient grain and, if memory serves, may be the first grain to be cultivated by human beings. There is evidence of it being used in China 10,000 years ago.  The Chinese were eating millet far before the cultivation of rice.

Millet is a highly nutritious grain and was once prevalent in Africa before westernization began replacing it with nutritionally inferior corn.  But I digress.

Recipes for congee vary in grain to water proportions.  1 part rice to 5 parts water is as common as 1 part rice to 10 parts water.  I would assume the same of all grains, millet included.  For fun I checked for recipes.  The few I saw all included sugar.

This one is from the Bob's Red Mill website:

SWEET MILLET CONGEE from Bob’s red mill website.


1 cup Hulled Millet

5 cups Water

1 cup peeled & diced Sweet Potato

2 tsp minced fresh Ginger

1 tsp ground Cinnamon

2 Tbsp Brown Sugar

1 cup diced Apple

1/4 cup Honey

1 cup cooked Bacon crumbles

Directions

Step 1

Rinse and drain whole grain millet.

Step 2

Combined millet, water, sweet potato, ginger, cinnamon and brown sugar in a deep pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring often, until water is absorbed, about 1 hour.

Step 3

Remove from heat and add apple, honey and bacon crumbles.

Notes

*Slow Cooker Method: Reduce water by 1 cup and cook on high for 2 to 2 ½ hours.


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07 September 2013 at 19:11
Wow, that one sounds awfully sweet for a porridge. More akin to rice pudding, I'd say.

I mean look at it. Brown sugar, honey, plus both sweet potatoes and apple. Sounds more like a dessert.

But, on the other hand, a fair number of folks load up their breakfast oatmeal with all sorts of sweeteners. So maybe I'm wrong.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gracoman Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07 September 2013 at 19:41
No disagreement here. 

I remember the first time I went the vegetarian route, some 20 years ago, I started in on with a millet foundation and I remember I didn't really like it much but then again my tastes ran in different directions back then.  

Perhaps this is more along the lines of what you are looking for.


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Melissa Mead Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 08 September 2013 at 13:44
Is savory oatmeal a type of congee/jook?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Effigy Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 08 September 2013 at 22:37
This is a fascinating topic GM
I am finding myself drawn to it because it is ringing my living history bells.

I think most cultures at some point developed a grain soaked and boiled porridge.
Considering the number of people who suffered from bad teeth and or lack of teeth - a soft mush with as much nutrition contained within it as possible, makes sense.

Also I know from living history camps that porridge set by a carefully banked fire overnight is the 'best' breakfast ever, mainly because it is there, cooked and ready, even before you need to build up the fire and put the water on for those who wake later.

I have done quite a bit of looking into this as you have set me on a path to write an article and demonstrate grain porridge at my next camp in October...

So do any of you have insights into what porridge  techniques were around in the Twelfth century (1100's) ?
I have a Russian millet recipe, and oat gruel, and of course pease porridge.

On another note
In my researching - I discovered the use of Goji berries in Congee, which is interesting because I randomly bought some Goji berry seeds and now have two healthy seedlings....

 ......A great ongoing topic

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 08 September 2013 at 23:10
 Considering the number of people who suffered from bad teeth and or lack of teeth 

There was a group of dishes called "mumbles" that addressed this very issue, Anne. If you care I'll provide the details of how I came to research it.

Suffice it to say (this should pique your interest), I got to one-up the OED as a result. And how often does that happen?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Effigy Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 08 September 2013 at 23:59
Please feel free to PM me  -  or we can start a thread that deals with feeding the toothless, your call.
Mumbles sounds interesting, sourcing it to the C12th will be tricky, but sounds like fun.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gracoman Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09 September 2013 at 08:37
Originally posted by Melissa Mead Melissa Mead wrote:

Is savory oatmeal a type of congee/jook?
Melissa, it fits the definition so I believe it is.  

Here are a couple of recipes for oatmeal congee:
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 September 2013 at 14:09
Great photos and write-up, GC - I especially like the one of the congee right out of the cooker with the swet potatoes - the colours are really nice.
 
I'll need to read again to digest the history etc., but very impressive!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gonefishin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22 October 2013 at 21:12
  WOW gracoman!  Thanks for the very informative post...lots of information here for us to digest.  I'll have to give this a try...it looks and sounds delicious!

  Thanks!
  Dan
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gracoman Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 October 2013 at 07:09
Thanks Dan.  Millions of people can't be wrong.

Please excuse my absence.  

The incredible amounts of damage caused by the recent flooding here in Colorado has made personal time scarce.  I am involved in residential and commercial construction and have been racing from one flood damaged property to the next trying to get folks moved back in to their homes.  This may go on for a while.

I have only completed 2 cooks of note, since this started, and neither really had a place here so I did not post.  

I also have not been following the online cooking course and hope it will remain accessible after it has ended.  The certificate is not important but I'd like to go through it for grins and giggles.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gonefishin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 October 2013 at 07:20
    No problem about your busy schedule, we all have things that come up from time to time.  It's certainly nice of you to be doing what you can to help people get back into their homes.  Going through and cleaning/rebuilding after bad flood damage is painstakingly slow.   My heart goes out to all the victims. 

    If my understanding is right, your thinking is spot on for the course.  After the course, homework turn in, etc has ended the course will stay open and in the archive section.  You can still go through and complete the course without the being eligible for the certificate.  The discussion groups and photo/video turn in will also be closed.  I think you should be good!
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