Mushroom congee

March might be my least favorite month. It tricks you by offering a few days of warmth and sunshine and singing birds. Then as you start to get comfortable with the idea of spring, March snaps back with icy winds and below freezing temperature to let you know that winter isn’t over yet.

The temperature has barely risen above freezing the last three days in New York, after nearly a week of beautifully mild weather. To say I feel misled is an understatement, but I’m coping by making warm, winter-ready recipes to thaw body and heart.

Maybe the easiest and most consoling is congee, the grandmother of all comfort foods. Congee is a Chinese rice porridge, though many Asian countries have their own version (jookokayu, lugaw).

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From what I can tell, there is little consensus about the “right” way to make congee. The only real unifying characteristic of the many variations of congee is that it is made by cooking rice in a lot of water over a very long period of time.

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Congee is served with everything from dried shrimp to liver to squash, which means you’re free to improvise with whatever you can find in your kitchen.

I happened to have beef bones in my freezer leftover from another recipe, so I added this to the rice for a more robust flavor. Congee is great for making use of “throwaways” like bones, leftover stock, or even meat scraps like turkey necks. I wanted to really build up the earthy, hearty flavor of this congee so I also added dried shitake mushrooms.

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Mushroom congee

servings              4-6
difficulty             easy
cook time           2 1/2 hours

Another key part of serving congee are the accompaniments. Congee is most typically served with crispy fried shallots or garlic, minced ginger, finely chopped green onions, or peanuts.

A note about the rice – though some recipes call for sushi rice, I used jasmine rice and just about any variety will work.

Ingredients
CONGEE

1 cup / 175 grams rice
6-8 ounces / 175 – 250 grams cut beef bones
¼ cup / 6 grams / ¼ ounce dried shitake mushrooms
2½ quarts / 2.5 liters chicken broth (I used water + equivalent boullion)
½ teaspoon sesame oil

FOR SERVING

optional: thinly sliced scallions / green onions, soy sauce, fried shallots, fried garlic, minced ginger


  1. Rinse the rice in cold water and drain. Repeat until the water runs clear, about 3-5 times.
  2. Put the rice, mushrooms, and bones in a medium stock pot with the broth and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Once boiling, reduce heat and cover halfway.
  3. Simmer on low for 2 – 2½ hours, until the rice has broken down and the congee is the consistency of thin oatmeal. Stir the congee every 10-15 minutes, scraping from the bottom to make sure the rice doesn’t burn.
  4. Before serving, stir in the sesame oil. Note that sesame oil is a very strong flavor so be conservative with the oil.
  5. Serve congee topped with green onions. Put any accompaniments in small bowls and serve alongside the congee.

Congee will last for several days and can be reheated over the stove or in the microwave. It will thicken with each reheating, so add water as necessary to maintain the consistency.

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