Someone once asked me how to make rice porridge. Just boil rice with water was my lightning fast response. I apologized. There is more to it than that.
Making rice porridge comes easily to me because I grew up with it as a staple in my diet. It therefore came as a surprise when people ask me how to make it. When I sat down to write about it, I realize it is more than that. So, let me take a step back and deconstruct the process and present a few ways to make Chinese porridge.
Before we dash off to the different ways of cooking rice porridge, let’s look at a few basic rules. These apply whether you are making Cantonese congee, Hokkien sweet potato rice porridge or Teochew fish porridge.
Wash the rice
It seems superfluous to say this but the first step is to wash the rice. I notice in many cooking shows the chefs do not wash the rice. They prepare it like they would pasta. But rice is not pasta. The Chinese always wash the rice, regardless the packaging.
Use a big pot. Add water to rice, stir the rice and water. The water should be murky by now. Drain. Repeat the washing until water is clear.
Do not throw rice water away. Store them in a pail and water your plants later.My late grandmother
Let the rice grains stand in the clear water for about 15 minutes (if you have the time).
Well-washed rice is important as you want to wash away any excess rice flour or grits which may affect the texture of the porridge
Rice to Water Ratio
The rice to water ratio for rice porridge depends on the consistency you want. Granny likes her rice porridge thick while I like mine of medium consistency. There are basically 3 consistencies:
- Thick : 1 cup rice to 8 cups water
- Medium : 1 cup rice to 10 cups water
- Thin or Watery : 1 cup rice to 13 cups water
You may have noticed that a lot of water is required. This means you need to use a pot big enough to contain all that water. Generally, the water level in the pot or rice cooker should not exceed the 70% mark to prevent messy boil overs.
So, instead of asking how much water to use, it is the amount of rice one should take note of. A cup of rice is sufficient to feed 4.
I came across someone who tried to cook congee for the first time with 4 cups of rice. This means she must use at least 32 cups of water! Predictably, her cooking experiment didn’t end well.
If you are cooking rice porridge for the first time, try with half a cup of rice. I know it looks very little but it will expand. And it wouldn’t take too long.
Use water and soup stock
Rice porridge can be eaten in 2 ways.
First, as a carbohydrate staple to go with a few side dishes. These are usually well flavoured dishes. I wouldn’t use a soup stock to flavour the rice porridge as its blandness acts as a balance to the other more strongly flavoured dishes. If you can, use filtered water.
Second, as a one-dish meal like the century egg and pork congee, For such, soup stock can be a great flavour enhancer.
How to Make Rice Porridge 6 Ways
1. Over the stove top using uncooked rice
Choose a deep thick base pot, something that will conduct heat evenly. Granny likes using a deep claypot. You can try that if you are cooking a small portion. If you do not have a Chinese claypot, you can try using a dutch oven although I think most dutch ovens are too shallow.
Bring the water to a boil and add the rice. When the water comes back to a boil, lower to medium heat and maintain a cheery simmer. Stir occasionally to prevent the rice from sticking together or to the bottom of the pot.
Someone suggested adding 2 metal spoons to the pot to prevent burning. The theory is that the spoons will be agitated by the bubbling and do the “stirring” for us. I might just try that some day.
Some visitors have commented that they were taught not to stir because the rice will stick and burn. I’m not quite sure why this is so. I came across a few Youtube videos that say not to constantly stir the porridge. I guess as long as the pot is at a cheery simmer where the grains are “dancing” in the pot, it is not necessary to constantly stir the pot.
Another suggestion is to add a whole chicken to flavour the congee. When the congee is done, the chicken is taken out, the meat is pulled off the bones and added back to the congee. I personally think it is easier to use the chicken to make a stock first and then use the stock to cook the congee. And while the congee is cooking, pick the meat off the bones for use later.
2. Over the stove top using cooked rice
There is a Chinese saying about each grain of rice representing one year of hard work.
锄禾日当午， 汗滴禾下土。 谁知盘中餐， 粒粒皆辛苦。
We Chinese gets very guilty throwing leftover rice away. I remember my grandmother cooking porridge for breakfast because we had rice left over from dinner the night before. Not only is this frugal, it takes less time to cook. Of course this also means 50% less stirring work. Although the congee may not taste as good as freshly made congee but with some condiments, it won’t be too obvious especially if you use soup stock to enhance the flavour.
If you find yourself with some leftover rice, try making rice porridge with it. It is healthier than frying it. Here’s how:
- Break up any rice lumps. Add some water if needed
- Bring water to a boil in a pot
- Add the cooked rice and let the water come back to a boil
- Lower the heat to cheery simmer and cook until desired consistency is achieved
3. Using an electric rice cooker
Some Chinese cooks insist that over the stove top is the only authentic way to cook porridge. We do not have to be so authentic. We can use the rice cooker.
A no-nonsense electric rice cooker can be used to cook congee as well as steam food. It is so easy. Here’s how:
- Add the ratio of water to rice of your desired consistency
- Place the water and washed rice into the rice cooker
- Close the cover, press the COOK button
- Check it after about 45 minutes to 1 hour
- Once the grains are broken and the congee reaches the consistency you want, turn off the cooker
- Let the rice porridge stand for 10 to 15 minutes if you are not a hurry to eat
Check whether your rice cooker is already bubbling at the side of the cover when you cook rice. If it does, it means you must reduce the amount of congee you make because it requires a lot more water. Too much water will cause a boil over and damage your rice cooker.My late grandmother
A visitor suggested leaving the cover ajar when cooking porridge to let the steam escape and release the pressure.
There are now multi-functional rice cookers with porridge as a menu option. Some even allow cooking time to be programmed. I can put the rice and water in the pot in the night and programmed it to start cooking in the late afternoon. The rice or congee would be nicely done by the time I come home for dinner.
Last but not least, it looks spunky and trendy.
4. Using a slow cooker
If you have a slow cooker, it can be used to cook rice porridge too. As the name suggests, it will take much longer than the rice cooker. To reduce cooking time, use hot water and cooked rice.
The slow cooker is great for cooking porridge with Chinese herbs. It is best to use a ceramic pot when cooking with Chinese herbs in case they react with metal pots. It is also fuss-free. Just add everything in at one go and let it cook on low. 4 to 5 hours later, you will find yummy herbal congee steamy hot in your cooker.
Here’s a video of someone making rice porridge in a slow cooker. He left it to cook overnight for a hot filling breakfast. The video mentioned sweet rice. This is actually glutinous rice.
5. Using a thermal cooking pot
Use boiling water and cooked rice when using a thermal cooking pot to make Chinese rice porridge.
- Use the inner pot to boil water
- Add the cooked rice, press with a ladle or wooden spoon to break up any lumps
- Bring back to a boil and let it boil for about 5-10 minutes
- Remove from heat and place the inner pot into the outer casing
- Close the lid securely. The porridge should be done in 40 minutes
The benefit of using the thermal cooking pot is that the rice porridge won’t burn. For a more flavorsome congee, use some soup stocks or stock cubes instead of water.
If you have a good coffee thermos or a vacuum food jar, you can try making small amount of rice porridge with it. Same principles as the thermal cooking pot. Experiment!
Question: Why can’t we use uncooked rice? Rice porridge requires a considerable amount of sustained heat. Thermal cooking can’t maintain a high enough cooking temperature as it is basically cooking via trapped heat.
6. Using a pressure cooker
I personally do not have a pressure cooker and am unfamiliar with pressure cooking. So, I was glad that Nancy from Instantpot shared that “a pressure cooker takes around 15-20 minutes on low pressure to make a basic congee. If you include heating up, cooling down, and depressurizing naturally, it should take about 30 minutes in total.
She also mentioned that since water doesn’t evaporate as much, water ratio should be about 65-75% of the amount used on the stove top. Lastly, do not fill the pressure cooker more than halfway or it may froth and clog the valve (and we don’t want that).
When is my rice porridge ready?
Rice is generally cooked when each grain become soft thoroughly. But when cooking porridge, the grains should be broken. The degree of brokenness depends on your preference.
1. Cantonese congee (juk or jook)
Congee has the highest degree of brokenness. It takes quite a bit of effort and stirring to achieve 100% brokenness. I sometimes cheat with a stick blender or whisk. Use it only after the grains have become soft otherwise you might get hard grits in your porridge.
Another way is to cook the congee twice. After cooking a big pot of congee either over the stove top or in the rice cooker, scoop a cup of congee into a smaller pot and continue to cook and stir, adding ingredients such as sliced fish or ground pork.
2. Hokkien or Teochew rice porridge (muay)
These are eaten with side dishes and have has medium degree of brokenness. You can still see the grains but there are splits. This is the easiest consistency to reach.
3. Thin rice soup
The rice grains are not broken at all. It is more like cooked rice with hot soup poured over it. For people who have digestive issues, it is best not to consume too much thin rice soup. It is tempting to swallow the rice with the soup without chewing and that adds stress to the stomach.
The Teochew fish porridge 潮州鱼粥 (chao zhou yu zhou) is a good example of thin rice soup. See how it is done at home.
Recently, another type of thin rice soup has landed in Singapore. It is known as 泡饭 (pao fan) in Mandarin.
This is basically soaking rice in a very flavoursome broth usually made with seafood. It is one of those things that I will pay to eat instead of making it myself. Too much work haha. You can see how it is done by Dr Leslie Tay, one of Singapore’s most famous food bloggers.
What type of rice to use?
After this post was published, I received a few queries about the type or brand of rice to use for porridge. I must apologize for assuming that my visitors know what rice I’m referring to. I am also humbled by the many types of rice available when I finally looked around to describing the rice I use.
So, here it is. Medium to long grain white rice grown in Thailand. It is commonly known as fragrant rice or jasmine rice 香米 (xiang mi) in Singapore. I don’t think you can find the same brands at your locations so I won’t mention the local brands here.
Some of you have asked about using brown rice for cooking porridge. This is possible but the grains will take longer to cook and require more water. Alternatively, soak overnight to shorten the cooking time. Again, use medium grain brown rice. The texture may still not be the same. It might be better to mix the brown rice with some white rice. Experiment!
A quick word about Hong Kong style congee (juk)
Many people who ate congee in Hong Kong or Hong Kong style restaurants rave about its smoothness and awesome flavour. Most home cooks find it hard to achieve the high degree of brokenness, thickness and creaminess. Here are a few suggestions:
Choice of rice
Use short grain or medium grain rice or mix the 2. Short grain rice like Calrose has more starch which helps make the congee smoother. However, too much starch can cause a thin film to form on the surface when the congee cools. If the film gets mixed back into the porridge, it becomes a gooey lump. Not nice! Never use basmati rice if you want creamy congee.
Pre-blend or pre-mill the grains
By breaking down the rice grains before cooking with an electric mill or blender, it shortens the cooking time. However, if the broken grains are insufficiently cooked, it may present as tiny bits in the thickened soup which reminds me of instant rice porridge in a cup. Although sometimes, this is what people are looking for.
Post-blend the congee
You can puree the congee after it has been cooked, just like a creamy pumpkin or tomato soup. A stick or wand blender works best here. A standard blender is also fine as long as the quantity isn’t too much. Again, if the grains aren’t cooked thoroughly, there might be tiny bits. But don’t tell a Cantonese cook you did this. You might get an earful from them.
Cooking a base batch
Many restaurants cook up a huge pot of plain rice porridge as a congee base 粥底 (zhou di). When customers order a certain congee like the century egg and minced pork congee, they take some of the congee base and cook it in a separate pot together with the added ingredients. This technique is known as 生滚粥 (sheng gun zhou). I have no idea how to translate this into English. (^ _^;). The second cooking breaks the grains down even more and upped the smoothness factor.
Marinating the rice
Saw this suggestion at a Chinese website. I haven’t tried it before so experiment away! Marinate 1 cup of washed short grained rice with 1 tablespoon of cooking oil and half a century egg. Mixed them up well and leave to stand overnight. Cook with 10 cups of soup stock the next morning for about 20-30 minutes.
Cook at a roaring boil for 45 minutes
A friend suggested bringing the water to a boil before adding the rice grains and then continue to cook at a roaring boil for at least 45 minutes. At a roaring boil, you really can’t leave the kitchen. 😛
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