However you call it, congee or rice porridge, don’t ever call it gruel! Just like tofu, I think there’s a bit of a misconception on what congee is here in America. A staple for breakfast and lunch in most Asian countries, congee is rice and water (or broth) cooked down into a thick porridge. This might not be the most exciting sounding dish if you never had it before, but the great thing about congee is it’s a base to add almost anything you want. You can make it vegetarian – Chopped Romain Lettuce Congee, Mix Mushroom Congee, Kale Congee. You can add meat – Chicken and Ginger Congee, Roast Turkey Congee (this is one of my favorite ways to use leftover Thanksgiving turkey), Offal Congee, Salted Pork with Salty Egg Congee. You can also add seafood – Abalone Congee, Fish Fillet Congee, Mixed Seafood Congee. There’s even congee hot pot! One of my favorite congee is Watercress Congee. It’s my go-to food when I want something light after one to many heavy overindulgent meals. This is a seafood version of it.
To cook a perfect pot of congee, it’s all about knowing the right water to rice ratio. Everyone does it slightly different. Jook, Cantonese congee, typically has a higher water to rice ratio than okayu, Japanese congee. Jook is also cooked with long grain rice while okayu consist of short grain rice. While jook is cooked mainly with water, congee in most Southeast Asian countries, like Vietnam, Cambodia, and the Philippines, use broth or a combination of broth and water. Cooking time also varies – jook takes at least an hour while okayu takes usually half an hour.
This Salmon and Watercress Congee is sort of a hybrid version of jook and okayu combine. Unlike jook, instead of long grain rice I’m using short grain rice, which is what okayu is cooked with. Short grain rice tends to be stickier than long grain rice because of its high level of amylopectin starch. If you want to learn more about the different types of rice starches, Linda Larsen’s Rice Science article is a good read. Unlike okayu, I’m using a higher water to rice ratio and the cooking time is longer, just like jook. One thing I love about okayu is how creamy and silky it is. Because of its high level of amylopectin, short grain rice takes on a velvety texture after it’s cooked for a long period of time. So after a few trials and errors, this is my go-to congee ratio – 12:1. 12 parts water, 1 part short grain rice.
Salmon and Watercress Congee
1/2 cup short grain rice, washed
6 cups water
10 oz salmon fillet, skinless
3 oz watercress, roughly chopped
10 slices of ginger, about 1 inch by 1 inch, julienne
1 1/2 tsp olive oil
1/4 tsp table salt
1/4 tsp white pepper
1/2 tsp shaoxing wine
Cut skinless salmon fillets evenly into one inch cubes about half inch thick. Place in a large bowl and add the olive oil, salt, white pepper, shaoxing wine, and a third of the julienne ginger. Mix well and set aside in the fridge.
In a large pot, add the water and the washed rice. Cover the pot with a lid and bring it to a boil. This should take about 10 minutes. When it starts boiling, turn it down to a simmer and cover the pot. 15 minutes later, stir the rice making sure it’s not sticking to the bottom. Cover the pot again and stir the rice one more time 15 minutes after the first stir. Cover the pot one last time and simmer for 30 minutes. When the congee is done, it should look creamy and silky.
Take the salmon out from the fridge, turn the flame to medium high and add it to the congee. Stir and cook for about 5 minutes until the salmon is done.
Add the watercress, stir, turn off the flame, and season the congee with salt to taste.
Serve the congee in bowls with the remaining julienne ginger on top and lightly drizzled with sesame oil.