The winner of the most challenges in Top Chef history, Chef Melissa King is simply a superstar. The winner of Bravo’s Top Chef All Stars: Los Angeles Season 17, the Bay Area cook likes to combine Californian cooking and seasonal produce with Asian flavors. One of her favorite recipes? Congee. Here’s the recipe, plus her memories of her mom’s rendition.
My mom would start my mornings before school with this cozy bowl of savory rice porridge. It’s the chicken noodle soup of Chinese culture, and I like to make it on cold evenings or when I’m feeling nostalgic for home. It’s a simple, humble dish made of cooked rice and stock that can feed a big family on a budget. Choose the toppings according to your personal preference, but the garnishes are what make congee interesting! My suggestion is to use at least three or four toppings.)
Note: I like making congee with boneless, skinless chicken thighs, but you can use almost any protein you like, including peeled, deveined shrimp; ground beef, turkey or chicken; or white fish fillets, such as flounder or halibut. If you want to make the dish vegetarian, in addition to using mushroom or vegetable stock, substitute the chicken with shiitake or other mushrooms, smoked tofu, zucchini, peas or butternut squash.
- 2 Tbs. canola oil
- 1 small yellow onion, cut into 1/4-inch (6-mm) dice
- 3 garlic cloves, minced or grated
- 1 Tbs. peeled and minced or grated fresh ginger
- 1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz./105 g) uncooked short-grain or long-grain white rice, such as sushi rice or jasmine rice
- 2 1/2 to 3 quarts (2.5 to 3 l) stock of your choice
- 1 lb. (500 g) raw protein of your choice, such as boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into slices 1/4 inch (6 mm) thick or 3/4-inch (2-cm) dice
- Ground white pepper (optional)
- 1 tsp. fish sauce (optional)
- Chopped green onions
- Chopped fresh cilantro
- Crushed peanuts
- Fried garlic
- Century egg
- King’s Sichuan chili sauce or your favorite hot sauce
- Ground white pepper
- Grated fresh ginger
- Sesame oil
- Sweet soy sauce
- Pork floss
- Shredded iceberg lettuce
- Sliced radishes
In a 4-quart (4-l) pot over medium heat, warm the canola oil. Add the onion, garlic and ginger and sauté until soft and translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the rice and toast for 1 minute. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and let the rice simmer, stirring often, until it’s broken down and emulsified together with the liquid, about 45 minutes. Add more water or stock if it’s too thick. The congee should be the viscosity of porridge, not soupy or watery.
After the rice has broken down into a congee-like consistency, add the chicken thighs and simmer until cooked through, about 15 minutes more. If using other proteins, add tougher and larger cuts like pork shoulder, bone-in legs and smoked turkey legs to the congee to simmer with the rice earlier in the cooking so there is time for the meat to break down into shreds. If using more delicate proteins like shrimp or fish fillets, add these during the last 3 minutes of cooking the congee; these proteins cook very quickly and you just want to lightly poach them in the congee before serving. Season the congee to taste with salt, white pepper and fish sauce, if using.
Serve the congee with the garnishes of your choice. Makes about 2 quarts (2 l); serves 2 to 4.