Monday, January 30, 2012

the loving spoonful

If you are lucky enough to be loved by Millie Chan, you may have received a container of this when your spirit or body was overwhelmed. Millie is a Chinese chef who grew up in Texas, and she is as likely to blow your socks off with spring rolls as pecan pie. It’s a powerful combination of skill-sets, let me tell you.

I am lucky enough to have known Millie almost my whole life. Millie and her husband introduced me to mine. I have seen a lot of pots of congee pass from her kitchen into my family’s kitchens, and when I was asked to make a meal of exceptional gentleness and appeal for a friend in need I went straight to Millie’s book.

There are not many ingredients involved here, and the process could hardly be simpler. If it is Monday, chilly, gloomy or taxing in your world--or the world of a loved one--actually or metaphorically, this may be just the ticket. Enormous reward-to-effort ratio makes it even more satisfying.

rice congee

Adapted from Millie Chan’s Kosher Chinese Cookbook

serves 4; doubles easily

10 cups of water

1 cup long-grain white rice (I used jasmine rice, but any long-grain white will do)

2 t kosher salt

1/2 of a boneless chicken breast

1 t cornstarch

½ t kosher salt

to serve:

sesame oil

tamari or soy sauce

very finely minced fresh ginger

coarsely chopped cilantro

maybe some minced scallions

Combine the water and the rice in a large heavy pot. Bring to a boil, stir quite thoroughly, then turn the heat as low as it will go and simmer gently, covered, for an hour and a half. Really. Stir occasionally to make sure the rice does not stick to the pot. When the congee is done, it will look like a thick, smooth gruel with barely visible rice kernels (think oatmeal) and you will wonder what the hell I am having you do. Stir in the salt. Now you have plain congee, and you can stop there and go straight for the garnish.

If you want chicken congee, then while the rice is simmering, finely sliver the chicken breast (a very sharp knife and a partially frozen piece of chicken will simplify this task immeasurably.) Don't try to make it perfect, just chop it as best you can. Toss the chicken in a small bowl with the cornstarch and salt. The attempt to toss will lead to a worrisome clump, but mix as well as possible and it will work out fine in the end. When the congee is done, stir the chicken in and keep stirring, to separate the chicken pieces, until the chicken meat turns white.

Ladle into bowls and garnish with a sprinkle of ginger and cilantro, a light drizzle each of sesame oil and soy sauce, and if you are feeling the need for some heat, a little black bean and garlic sauce from the Asian section of your local Gourmet Shoppe.

Note: Millie says you can also substitute fish for the chicken, by slicing 1/2 a pound of a mild white fish quite thinly and seasoning it with a teaspoon of salt, a dash of pepper and a dash of sesame oil. Portion the seasoned, raw fish among the bowls, and ladle the hot rice over it. This will cook the fish.


  1. I have always wondered what congee is! Now I can visualize it properly when a fictional character eats it and I can make it for myself and feel like a fictional character.

  2. This is the best thing ever, the ultimate comfort food! I was served Millie's congee the morning after Thanksgiving, complete with leftover turkey, and it was just what the doctor ordered.

  3. This makes me cry because I know who got to eat the leftovers for lunch. There was even a bit of cilantro left. Ben licked the tiny container of chili paste you sent. I had lime pickle to use today as a substitute- that kid has the constitution of a boiler- he likes lots of hot things.
    I look forward to meeting Millie one day and thanking her for this recipe in your life. And of course for introducing you to Mr. E. I would certainly like a gander at this cookbook too.
    xo Thank you friend,


This site has moved to

See you over there!