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When Making Congee, a Little Rice Goes a Long Way

There’s a raging debate in our house about whether congee — also called jook — is a breakfast porridge or a dinner-worthy soup.

The answer, of course, is both.

At its most basic, congee is made from nothing more than rice and water, simmered long and slow until the grains burst and release their starch, which turns the cooking liquid into a soft and velvety broth.

Growing up, I always ate it at dim sum parlors for breakfast, dressed with soy sauce, scallions, ginger and diced thousand-year-old egg. But it also makes a supremely comforting dinner, especially when bulked up with meat, seafood or vegetables.

No matter how and when you want to serve it, making it couldn’t be easier, and you can use your stove, slow cooker or electric pressure cooker.

Start with ½ cup of any kind of rice for four servings. Some cooks prefer short-grain rice, some like long-grain rice, and either will work. I used sushi rice when I simmered up a pot, and my congee was creamy and thick.

Wash the rice in several changes of water, swishing the grains around with your hands and rinsing well, then put the rice in a pot with 6 cups of liquid, either water or broth or a combination.

You can also throw in a few aromatics, if you like. I added a couple of dried shiitake caps and a chunk of fresh ginger. A friend of mine recommends ground white pepper and some smoky bacon, and I’m going to try that next time. Or you can leave it plain and add your seasonings at serving time.

Bring everything to a simmer, and let it cook until the rice breaks down. On the stove, this will take 1 to 2 hours, and you’ll need to stir it every 20 to 30 minutes so it doesn’t stick. (Stir more often at the end as it thickens.) You don’t have to stir much in a slow cooker, but it needs to cook for 8 to 10 hours. And you can’t stir it in a pressure cooker, but it will only take 20 minutes at high pressure, followed by naturally releasing the pressure.

If the congee is too thick for you, loosen it with a little water. If it’s too thin, boil it for a few minutes to condense it. Season it with salt to taste after cooking.

Garnish it as you like for serving. You can keep things minimal with just a drizzle of soy sauce and sesame oil and some scallions, or go all out by adding pickled vegetables, fried shallots or garlic, lots of chile oil or sauce, fresh cilantro, sesame seeds. If you want to add meat, ground pork or turkey, or a couple of chicken thighs, can go right in the pot with the rice as it cooks. Seafood and vegetables can be added toward the end of cooking.

Then serve your congee for breakfast, and eat the leftovers for dinner. Or vice versa.

This is part of a series in which Melissa Clark teaches you how to cook with pantry staples. See more.

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