Freshers' Flu Remedy: Congee

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By Daniel Bargioni, Deputy Food Editor

Our Deputy Food Editor introduces his congee recipe: the perfect remedy for freshers’ flu!

Freshers’ flu, the unavoidable inevitability strikes again and this time it’s the fiercest it’s ever been. Coughs echo through halls of residences and haunt university staff in seminars and libraries. There is a plethora of modern-day medicine which, sure, can help mitigate the illness - but there are certain century-old truths that provide more holistic remedies we can't afford to ignore.

When the flu comes along, congee is always the answer. ‘Congee’ or ‘rice porridge’, or ‘bubur ayam’ in Malaysia and Indonesia, is simply rice cooked in more than double the amount of liquid than usual for more than double the amount of time than usual. The extra liquid, usually chicken stock, and cooking time allows the rice grains to break down their starch which combines with the stock to create a satisfyingly gloopy texture that will soothe you towards the road to recovery, guaranteed.

Chicken stock bubbling away Epigram / Daniel Bargioni

The difference between ‘okay’ congee and ‘great’ congee is the stock, you have to make it yourself; cubes may be used as a supplement but they cannot be relied upon as they simply don’t pack enough deep chicken-y flavour. This is a dish whose sum is greater than its parts, as much as the rice porridge itself serves as the basis for this dish. Respect and consideration for the accompaniments will bring everything together: the shredded chicken, the spring onion, the ginger and the vinegar all compliment and challenge each other - cooking is a team sport after all.

Cooking is a team sport after all.

My recipe below is mostly influenced by my Malaysian nenek (grandma) and mum whose recipe remains undefeated in flavour and nostalgia. The version below is authentic to my experiences and is not tied to any region of Asia but has been created to ensure maximum deliciousness. I implore the reader to venture beyond the confines of this recipe, to utilise your own pantry and palate, to be creative and audacious, to not treat this as a recipe verbatim but as a guiding hand introducing many of you to this magical dish. Therefore, the essential takeaways of the recipe are the ratio of rice to stock (1:7+) and making your own stock, everything else is optional to a certain extent. As a high quantity, low-cost dish I like to prepare a large pot and sit down with my flatmates for a hot and healing meal which they will truly appreciate.

Spices and aromatics Epigram / Daniel Bargioni

3 hours total cooking time, mostly passive.

Ingredients:

Congee:

Rice

Stock (ratio rice 1:7+ stock)

Salt and white pepper to taste

1 large thumb of ginger

Fish sauce

Chicken and stock:

1 whole chicken

Chicken stock cube/pot

1 large thumb of ginger

3-4 whole red chillies

1 head of garlic

1 onion

3 cardamom pods

1 cinnamon stick

4 cloves

2 star anise

Tablespoon of coriander seeds

2 whole spring onion

Handful dried chilli

To serve:

Splash of sesame oil

Splash of Chinese dark vinegar

Sliced spring onions

Squeeze of lemon

Crispy shallots

Sriracha

Congee after rice has boiled for 45 minutes Epigram / Daniel Bargioni

Method:

  1. Prepare the ingredients for the stock. Cut the garlic across its equator, don’t worry about the skin as we'll drain the stock afterwards anyway. Cut the ginger in thick ½ centimetre strips and the onion into chunks.
  2. Put the chicken into a big pot of boiling water, bring it back up to a boil then simmer, skimming off the impurities with a spoon until the stock is clear. Then add the remaining ingredients into the pot as well as extra sliced ginger and continue to simmer for two hours in total on a low heat. *Pro-tip: toast the spices beforehand to maximise their flavour in releasing their essential oils.
  3. After two hours of simmering, remove the chicken and immediately drizzle with sesame oil while it cools then drain the stock into another pot.
  4. Add two cups of washed, good quality rice to the hot stock and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour. It is essential that you regularly stir the rice so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot. If the rice is drying up, add more boiling water incrementally, I find it better to go more wet than too dry.
  5. Once the chicken has cooked, shred with clean hands or two forks.
  6. Once the texture is of a starchy, gloopyness add a few splashes of fish sauce, salt and white pepper to taste. Serve in warm bowls, adding a splash of Chinese dark vinegar, a squeeze of lemon, a sprinkling of crispy shallots, sliced spring onion and sriracha as you please and enjoy.
The finished bowl of congee Epigram / Daniel Bargioni

Featured image: Daniel Bargioni


When will you try making congee?

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