Forgive the nerdiness of what I’m about to ask, but have you ever watched a pot of congee as it cooks and been completely awestruck by what transpires? The contents go from hard, disparate rice grains floating in cloudy cooking liquid to creamy, glossy, bright white satin that hugs a spoon. The site alone is belly-warming.
That soothing consistency, combined with the dish’s inherent thrift and simplicity, is why congee and other forms of rice porridge made across East and Southeast Asia are a fundamental part of the diet. It’s breakfast. It’s fast food at lunch and late at night. And thanks to its neutral profile, it’s both gentle, hydrating nourishment for babies, elderly folks, and anyone who has a cold; as well as an ideal platform for a flavor-packed meal. Thin-sliced scallions, black vinegar, chopped peanuts, chili oil, and cilantro. A tumble of umami-packed stir-fried ground pork. Jammy eggs. Chili crisp. Leftover chicken, shrimp, or mushrooms.
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The only thing that holds me back from making it is time: That remarkable transformation from raw rice and liquid to soothing porridge takes a good 45 minutes. This allows for the grains to thoroughly break down and release their starches into the cooking liquid. Only when that happens does the liquid thicken and take on that glossy, pearly sheen.
But there’s a faster way. If you make congee with raw rice that was rinsed, drained, and then frozen for at least 8 hours (or up to 3 months), that transformation will happen in about 20 minutes. Even after draining the rice, there will be a small amount of water left clinging to the grains that they will absorb—and when that water expands as it freezes, it cracks the grains so that they break down much more quickly during cooking.
One thing to note: You’ll need to add less liquid since less will evaporate during the shorter cooking time. We found 8 cups liquid (reduced from 10 cups) to ¾ cup rice worked perfectly.
How to Make Congee with Frozen Rice in 20 Minutes
- Place ¾ cup long-grain white rice in fine-mesh strainer and rinse under cold running water until water runs clear. Drain well and transfer to airtight container. Freeze for at least 8 hours and up to 3 months.
- Add rice to Dutch oven with 7 cups water, 1 cup chicken broth, and ¾ teaspoon table salt, and bring to boil over high heat.
- Reduce heat to maintain vigorous simmer. Cover pot, tucking wooden spoon horizontally between pot and lid to hold lid ajar. Cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture is thickened, glossy, and reduced by half, about 20 minutes.
- Serve congee in bowls, passing toppings separately.