On chilly mornings across China, hoards of locals wake up with a steaming bowl of savoury rice porridge called congee.
It can be topped with anything from a simple sprinkle of sliced spring onion and ginger, to elaborate dressings of fried dough sticks (youtiao), century eggs and chilli oil.
Top yours however you like, but for the base, all you’ll need is rice, water and salt. I prefer to add some chicken stock and dried shrimp to bolster the savouriness of the porridge, so if you want to, do that when you put the rice on the night before.
Some other suggestions include shiitake mushrooms or slices of Chinese sausage called lap cheong. For a heartier breakfast, you could also add meat which will cook down and flavour the porridge.
There are also many variations of the dish across Asia but each begins with a base of rice and water.
How to make congee
The ratio is 1 cup rice to 10 cups water. Long or medium grain is fine. I find the congee needs more water in the slow cooker than on the stove as you won’t be stirring it so want to guarantee it doesn’t get too thick too early and burn.
Put rice, water and any extra flavourings in the bowl of your cooker, use stock if you prefer or season well with salt, then set on low for 8-10 hours. It’s flexible so if you want to leave it up to 12 or so it should be fine, just make sure if your cooker tends to evaporate the liquid to add some extra water.
In the morning, take the lid off and give it a really good stir to break up the big dormant rice grains, turn off the heat, then let it sit for 5-10 minutes before serving. It will thicken as it cools a little.
Top with whatever you like. I garnished mine with some sliced spring onion, chilli oil, and some extra dried shrimp. A soft-boiled egg, sliced ginger or spoonful of soy sauce don’t go astray either.
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