Theoretically the slow cooker is for all seasons, but there’s no season better for it than cold wintry weather when both you and the house need warmth and comfort. A chilly snap recently sent me straight to the slow cooker in search of something fortifying but simple.
I’ve heard mutterings about congee for ages. Basically porridge made from rice, it’s popular in China (and other Asian countries) for breakfast and when you are feeling under the weather. Usually made with chicken and rice cooked in a large amount of water until the rice breaks down into a thick soupy texture, it’s served with the shredded meat or just about any other topping you can possibly desire. It’s a savoury sundae bar of a dish to soothe the soul.
I made mine up as I went along frankly. Congee seems to always have spring onions as a base but I didn’t have any nor chicken. But I did have some fresh ginger and a piece of shin of beef and an enormous tub of dashi miso needing used up.
The only time I’ve ever eaten congee was at Leong’s Legends in Chinatown (which is a Taiwanese place I believe) and while I loved the smooth texture, I found it so bland as to be offensive so I wanted to pack my version with plenty of flavour to counter that.
My only slight issue was that I used this The Kitchn recipe for the proportions of rice to water and forgot to check quarts against litres here and slightly overfilled my 3.5 litre slow cooker. Slow cookers work by allowing water and steam to circulate around the crock by forming a steam seal with the lid that prevents evaporation and allows everything to heat at a slow steady temperature.
But if you fill it too full, over two thirds of the crock, it slows this down and means it takes longer to reach a safe temperature especially with meat. And it becomes incredibly heavy to lift the crock of food out to carry it. If you wanted to do this in a 6.5 litre slow cooker, double the amount of rice and water but it makes enough for 4 people in the smaller quantity anyway.
Slow Cooker Miso Beef Congee (serves 4)
- 1/2 cup rice (I used brown because that’s what I had)
- 1 litre or 4 cups cold water
- 3 spring onions (green part only if fodmapping)
- 1 thumb sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and whole
- 1 heaped tablespoon dashi miso
- 1 anchovy fillet or teaspoon Thai shrimp paste
- 450g shin of beef (on the bone)
- salt and pepper
- pinch of MSG
It feels like cheating to write this as a recipe. Lay the shin of beef on the base of the crock and put all the other ingredients on top of it. Cook on low for 8-10 hours. It’s as simple to make as that basically. The shin of beef creates a lovely almost glossy stock from the bone and connective tissue in it that gives a beautiful shimmery smoothness to the rice and makes this congee a little bit thicker than most. Simply add an extra cup of water if you like yours like broth.
Once your crock of congee is cooked, it will look almost solidified on top and dare I say it, almost unappealing looking. Stir it well and watch it become a gorgeous thing of soupy wonder. Lift the piece of shin out and pull the now tender wobbling meat off the bone and set aside. Discard the spring onions and ginger.
Serve the congee in shallow bowls scattered with the beef shin, roasted (unsalted) peanuts, pickled ginger and a drizzle of soy sauce and sesame oil. The friend I served it to was highly dubious about ‘meat porridge’ and my ability to make everything carnivorous thse days, but she ended up loving it.
The congee is rich and flavoursome and feels nourishing as well as delicious and the being able to top with little morsels of crunch and saltiness takes it from neutral carb to full meal. I ate a second portion without the meat next day and the rest froze well for a day when I’m ill in bed and need something easy to eat.
A small amount of rice and meat goes a long long way to serve several people without feeling stingy and I imagine this making an excellent breakfast or brunch on a lazy (possibly hungover) weekend. Enjoy coming up with your favourite toppings combo…