Congee: Chinese Chicken & Rice Porridge with Scallion & Ginger

Every culture seems to have a version of curative chicken soup (oft referred to as Jewish penicillin), the most common denominator being the use of homemade chicken stock. I’ve a friend with a dreadful flu, who’s had a rough ride in general this winter, and I was looking for just the right chicken soup to bring some relief. Not as fiery as my Thai Chicken Noodle Soup, a favorite for smoking out the devil – I’m thinking she’d prefer something more soothing, akin to mashed potatoes.

Cook the chicken until it disintegrates, then strain out the sinewy parts.

Cook the chicken until it disintegrates.

A few years back, I’d read Joan Didion’s book “The Year of Magical Thinking”, written in her wake of an inordinate amount of tragedy and sadness. One passage stood out, and I made note to one day recreate this restorative soup:

     “I will not forget the instinctive wisdom of the friend who, every day for those first few weeks, brought me a quart container of scallion-and-ginger congee from Chinatown. Congee I could eat. Congee was all I could eat.”

According to wikipediaCongee or conjee is a type of rice porridge or gruel popular in many Asian countries – I’ve read the Chinese consume more chicken soup than any other culture. Also known as jook, congee turns up in Chinese households morning, noon, and night. When eaten as plain rice congee, it is most often served with side dishes. When additional ingredients, such as meat, fish, and flavorings, are added, it’s often served as a meal on its own.  Names for congee are as varied as the style of its preparation. Despite its many variations, it is always a thick porridge or soup of rice which has usually disintegrated after prolonged cooking in water.

A rich stock is key to the best chicken soups.

Here’s how the following recipe works: Cook a cut-up chicken in water seasoned with scallion and ginger until the chicken  disintegrates leaving a sinewy broth. Then the broth is strained and  long-grain rice is cooked until it disintegrates into the broth leaving a thick porridge.

As with so many soups, congee tastes better 24 hours, or even days, after it’s made. Because of the nature of the gelatinous soup resulting from the homemade stock, you may need to add additional stock or water after reheating to thin a bit.

I made the soup the day before delivery (note the packaging), reserving a bit extra in the fridge for my daughter scheduled for dental surgery. All of my favorite comfort foods are compressed into congee: The comfort of a scratch made chicken and rice soup crossed with mashed potatoes that has the texture of oatmeal.

The following recipe was adapted from Gourmet Magazine (February 2000 issue). My changes were as follows: I did not use the giblets (I would have but they weren’t included inside the chicken cavity) or sesame oil, and added additional scallions and ginger in the last 30 minutes of cooking time for additional flavor.

Recipe: Congee: Chinese Chicken and Rice Porridge with Scallion and Ginger


  • 3 1/2 to 4-pound chicken, cut into serving pieces*, including back (I excluded giblets and liver)
  • 10 cups water
  • 3 tablespoons Chinese rice wine or medium-dry sherry
  • 3 (1/4-inch-thick) slices fresh ginger, plus 1 heaping tablespoon grated ginger and julienned ginger for garnish (you may prefer additional grated ginger to taste).
  • 3 scallions, halved crosswise and smashed with flat side of a heavy knife, plus 1 heaping tablespoon finely chopped scallion (you may prefer additional chopped scallion to taste).
  • 1 cup long-grain rice


  1. Bring chicken and 10 cups of water to a boil in a large heavy-bottomed pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a bare simmer, skimming froth.
  2. Add wine or sherry, sliced ginger and smashed scallions and cook uncovered, 20 to 30 minutes, or until breast meat is just cooked through. With tongs, transfer breast halves to a bowl and continue to cook stock at a bare simmer, skimming froth as necessary, 2 1/2 – 3 hours, or until chicken has disintegrated into the stock.
  3. When chicken breasts are cool enough to handle, remove meat from breasts and return skin and bones to stock. Tear breast meat into shreds, and cover and refrigerate.
  4. Pour stock through a sieve into a large bowl and discard solids. You should have about 8 cups of stock: if less, add water; if more, cook longer after adding rice.
  5. Return stock to cleaned pot and add rice. Bring to a boil and stir. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, 1 1/2 hours. Stir in grated ginger and minced scallions and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until congee is the consistency of oatmeal, adding additional scallions and ginger in the final stage of cooking, if desired. During this time, bring shredded chicken to room temperature.
  6. Season congee to taste with kosher salt and, before serving, top individual bowls with shredded chicken, julienned ginger and sliced scallions.

*I had Whole Foods cut to my specification (at no extra charge) a whole air-chilled chicken.

Number of servings (yield): 6

Active time: 25 minutes

Simmer time: 5 hours

Copyright © Peggy Lampman’s dinnerFeed.



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9 Responses to Congee: Chinese Chicken & Rice Porridge with Scallion & Ginger

  1. Elaine Selo says:

    I have had this in Asia and love it and am so glad you submitted such a great recipe. It is also wonderful for breakfast

  2. Peggy says:

    Elaine! Everyone misses Selo-Shevel!!! I’m sure you guys had some wonderful times eating congee and purchasing art for your gallery. Don’t you love those Asian breakfasts that are more like our dinners? Thanks for the comment! Peggy

  3. Tania Evans says:

    Hi Peggy –

    Fortified by a cup of soup I made from this delicious recipe, I visited the Matthaei Botanical Gardens (after all, outside it was -6 and windy to -30) where I saw sprightly rice growing in the atrium’s foyer fountain, sharing space with the orange and yellow fish. There also was a ginger plant – the rhizomes were whitish clumps half-buried in the damp soil. I bet scallions and potatoes grow there, too. I could have made your soup there on the heaters – maybe fish instead of chicken?

    • Peggy says:

      Clever lady, really? In -6 degree weather? I think fish would be a marvelous addition. and you’d create quite a stir simmering the concoction atop the heaters!

  4. jennifer weibel says:

    In bed last night, I jotted down “scallion and ginger congee” on a scrap of paper while reading
    _The Year of Magical Thinking_ and Joan Didion’s mention. When I just logged on to investigate what a congee actually was, I happily found your website with your note of Joan Didion’s and your recipe. On my way to the grocery store soon to grab ingredients for what sounds like a perfect winter
    meal to slurp on a cold day. Thank you!

  5. Nancy Chandler says:

    I am also reading The Year of Magical Thinking. Great recipe/great book!

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