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.
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 wikipedia, Congee 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.
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.