Congee, Khichdi, Porridge- call it what you want, they’re all close relatives. Usually considered comfort food for babies, the sick and the elderly, but if you have come to appreciate a steaming bowlful of grain, dal and spices over time, you’re going to love congee. It’s just as versatile as khichdi, and can be made with a world of different grains and beans. The best thing about basic congee is that it is made with stock- the very same enriching bone broth that the western world has been obsessing over for some time now. I pressure cook my congee, and you can do this with just the stock or with whole chicken pieces. I’ve made this batch of congee using nutrient-packed red rice, which imparts a nice nutty flavour.
This dish of congee then acts as a blank canvas for literally anything you might want to eat it with, so I present a host of condiments alongside it for dinner. Guests can choose between chilli oil, scallions, boiled eggs, peanuts- think about things you’d regularly serve with khow suey. In this case, I’ve topped my congee with homemade XO or seafood sauce that’s jammy, crunchy, salty and spicy with that funky kick from the dried shrimp. Far from being just rice soup, it’s a whole meal if paired with the right thing. I’ve made congee a second time this week and swirled in that most Chindian of sauces- schezhuan into it, thrown in a poached egg, chopped coriander, and it still tastes out-of-this-world good.
Red Rice 1 cup
Chicken Stock 4 cups
Hot Water 1/3 cup, from a kettle
Salt 1 tsp
White Pepper 1 tsp
Homemade XO Sauce
makes 1/2 cup
Vegetable oil 1/2 cup
Sesame oil 1/4 tsp
White onion 1/2 cup, finely diced
Flour 1 tsp
Red chilli powder 2 tsp
Small Dried Shrimp 2 tbsp, roughly chopped
Sesame Seeds 1 tsp
Almonds 1 1/2 tbsp, toasted and chopped finely
Garlic 1/2 tbsp, fried in a bit of oil
Soy Sauce 1/2 tsp
Sugar 1/2 tsp
Salt 1/4 tsp
Garlic 1 tbsp, chopped
Start by making the XO sauce. Combine the sesame oil, vegetable oil and onions in a heavy bottomed vessel with high sides. Cook the onion on low for 20 minutes till it is golden.
Stir in the flour, red chilli powder, dried shrimp, sesame seeds, almonds, garlic, soy sauce, sugar and salt and cook this over medium flame for 8-10 minutes being watchful so that nothing burns.
Stir in the garlic and cook this mixture for a few more minutes. Remove from the heat and you may drain some of the oil. Store in a container and let it sit outside till cool. Then transfer to the refrigerator. This sauce keeps very well.
For the congee, wash the red rice three to four times and let it soak for half an hour at least. In a pressure cooker, combine together the soaked red rice, the four cups of chicken stock and latch the cooker. Place over high heat and let the pressure build. Count 4-5 whistles and reduce the flame to low and let it cook for another 30 minutes.
Take it off the heat and let the pressure release by itself. Once the cooker has opened, if the congee feels too dry, use the 1/3 cup of boiling hot water to loosen it, then use a wooden churner to churn it with your hand, or use a hand blender. Once you have received a thick cloudy, sticky consistency with a few broken grains still visible, your congee is ready. Add in the salt and white pepper and serve into bowls. Top with condiments of your choice (fried onions, fried garlic, poached egg, scallions, peanuts), the XO sauce and serve.