Soft, smooth, creamy, and warming, congee shares the same traits as many other comfort foods around the world, such as polenta, mac and cheese, grits, oatmeal, and chileatole. We love them because they bring a positive energy to our bodies and souls, and make us feel rejuvenated.
Although many varieties of congee exist, and some may be made with other grains such as millet, sorghum, or barley, my favorite is the Cantonese-style rice congee, the smoothest and creamiest among all. To achieve the desired consistency, short grain rice is simmered in large amount of liquid (water or stock) over a long time, until the rice grains break down completely.
Congee can be cooked on a stovetop, in a rice cooker with congee setting, or with a slow cooker. The ratio of liquid to rice can be 10 to 1 or higher, if you want a very soupy congee. Or reduce the ratio to 8 to 1 or less for a thicker consistency, which I prefer.
There is no limit to what can be added to congee. Just like making a soup, you can add meat, seafood, vegetables, or anything that makes it taste good. If you go to a Chinese restaurant specializing in congee, such as Congee Village in New York City, you will see a dazzling array of choices on the menu.
One of the ingredients you find often in congee is dried scallops, also known as conpoy. Dried scallops play a very important role in Chinese cuisine. They lend intense aroma and savoriness (umami) to stocks, soups, stews, and sauces. A great example is the famous XO sauce.
The recipe I’m sharing with you here is inspired by a classic congee recipe using dried scallops and ginkgo nuts. After simmered with rice for an extended time, the dried scallops break down into threads and imbue the congee with their distinctive flavor. I’m replacing ginkgo nuts with fresh bay scallops, which, together with the dried ones, bring a whole spectrum of “scallopness” to the dish.
Congee with fresh and dried scallops
Makes 2 servings
½ cup short grain rice
4 cups water
12 fresh bay scallops
12 dried scallops, about 1/3 oz (10 g)
1 teaspoon Shaoxing wine, divided
1-inch piece ginger, half finely grated and the other half cut into very thin matchsticks
1 scallion, thinly sliced
A few drops of Zhenjiang (Chinkiang) vinegar
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
- Steam the dried scallops in a bowl with ½ teaspoon of Shaoxing wine and ¼ cup of water for 20 minutes. Break down the scallops into smaller pieces.
- Add the rice, dried scallops with the cooking liquid, and 4 cups of water to a deep pot with a cover. Bring to a boil and reduce to a gentle simmer.
- Simmer over very low heat until the rice grains break down completely, about 1 hour. Leave the cover ajar during cooking helps keep the liquid from spilling over. Stir from time to time to prevent the rice from sticking to the bottom. Add more water if the congee is getting too thick.
- Right before the rice achieves the desired consistency, combine the fresh scallops with the grated ginger, pinch of salt, and the remaining Shaoxing wine, to marinate briefly.
- When the rice is ready, add the scallops to the mixture. Stir gently until the scallops are just cooked, about 2 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and a few drops of Zhenjiang vinegar.
- Garnish with the sliced scallion and ginger. Service immediately.