How to Make Congee (Plain Congee, 白粥)

Not only is plain congee the ultimate comfort food, it’s also an important staple on the Chinese dinner table – just as popular as steamed rice. Check out the recipe below for how to make congee on stovetop or in an Instant Pot, with various toppings that spice it up! {Gluten-Free, Vegan}

How to make congee

An introduction to plain congee

Growing up in Beijing, white plain congee appears on our dinner table just as often as steamed rice. It is usually served as a side dish that compliments the other mains, such as stir fried veggies and braised meat. 

I consider the function of congee to be half soup and half starchy staple. Because a full Chinese meal usually contains three dishes and one soup (三菜一汤) with a starchy staple (rice, noodle, bread etc). The soup is especially important because we love to wash down the “dry” food with something runny. The congee is a convenient way to add a soup without too much effort or cost.

The plain congee itself is very simple and humble, usually only containing rice and water. 

Unlike many Western-style congees I’ve seen after moving to the US, our daily congee does not use chicken or other types of broth, which is considered a luxury in China (most broths are homemade and not store-bought). And we usually add a few small dishes on the side, such as pickles or salted duck eggs, to add flavor to the congee.

Plain congee topped with pickles, sesame oil and green onion

How to make plain congee

What type of rice to use

My favorite rice to use for congee is short grain rice. It creates a creamy and starchy texture that I love. You can use medium grain as well, which produces a very similar result.

I would avoid long grain rice (including jasmine rice). It yields a goopy and mushy result with more starch released into the water and the grain breaking down, but the texture is much thinner. 

Two cooking methods

Making congee is super simple although it does take more time than making steamed rice. You can either use a regular pot to cook it on the stovetop or use an Instant Pot (or pressure cooker).

Personally, I prefer to cook my congee in the Instant Pot. It is hands-off and it generates a better result. 

NOTE, it won’t really save time to use an Instant Pot. Although you only use a fraction of the cooking time (25 minutes instead of 1 hour), it takes a while to add and release the pressure. So you’ll end up using the same amount of time as you would on the stovetop.

The main appeal of using an Instant Pot (or any pressure cooker) is that it’s very hands-off and you don’t need to monitor it during the one-hour span. Unlike the stovetop method, where you need to keep an eye on it to prevent it from spilling and scorching the bottom.

Plus, pressure cooked congee will have a slightly starchier result, if that’s the texture you’re looking for. 

Either way, you will need to rinse the rice prior cooking, then simmer the rice with water until it’s fully cooked. 

Plain congee texture (medium thick)

Water ratio

Everyone has their own preferred texture when it comes to congee.

Personally, I like mine thin and runny if I plan to serve it as a soup. Or medium-thick if I want it a bit more prominent with a few toppings. 

On the other hand, you might like your congee very thick and cozy, like a bowl of creamy oatmeal. 

In the recipe below, I listed three options – thick, medium-thick, and runny.

  1. Thick congee – For 1/2 cup rice you will need 4 cups of water in the Instant Pot, or 8 cups of water for the stovetop. It will yield a result like creamy oatmeal.
  2. Medium-thick congee – For 1/2 cup rice, you will need 5 cups of water in the Instant Pot and 10 cups of water for the stovetop. The texture is shown in the pictures in this blog post.
  3. Runny congee – For 1/2 cup rice, you will need 6 cups of water in the Instant Pot and 12 cups of water for the stovetop. A soupy texture that washes down other heavier dishes.

NOTE: pay attention at the end of the cooking if you’re using the stovetop method. The congee will thicken up quite a lot towards the end and you need to frequently stir it to prevent the bottom from scorching. Especially if you cook the thick type of congee, you should stir constantly at the end (just like when cooking oatmeal).

How to Make Congee (Plain Congee)

Topping options

I’ve shared a few topping options I like the most. They’re more for inspo than a specific prescription and you’re very welcome to top it with whatever ingredients you love the most.

Products of ingredients to serve with congee

Because I’m originally from Beijing, my family’s favorite congee toppings include salty pickles, fermented tofu (quite funky and some people call it Chinese blue cheese), and salted duck eggs. All of them are very rich and salty, but would pair perfectly with plain congee.

NOTE: The pickles I serve with the congee are usually the salty type, such as pickled mustard tubes, pickled radish in chili oil, and Sui Mi Ya Cai

You can also top the congee with XO sauce, which is more of a southern Chinese style.

Topping options for Chinese plain congee

For a thicker congee, it’s also great to add soy sauce, chili oil (or sesame oil), and fried shallots (similar to how I make savory oatmeal).

Another option is to sweeten your congee. It was one of my favorites when I was a kid. You can use regular sugar, brown sugar, or any other type you prefer. 

Congee mixed with brown sugar

Afterthoughts

If you’re looking for a fancier congee, my seafood congee and the century egg congee and chicken might be great options. 

If you prefer to make a fancier congee, it’s totally OK to replace the water with chicken broth. In this case, you might consider to salt your congee once it’s done, drizzle a bit of sesame oil and serve it with some chopped green onions. You can also throw in some cooked meat (leftover rotisserie chicken or roast pork) to add volume. 

For me, the humble plain congee made with water and served with salted duck eggs gives me the ultimate comfort. 

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Not only is plain congee the ultimate comfort food, it’s also an important staple on the Chinese dinner table - just as popular as steamed rice. Check out the recipe below to learn how to make congee on the stovetop or in an Instant Pot, with various toppings to spice it up! {Gluten-Free, Vegan}

How to Make Congee (Plain Congee, 白粥)

Not only is plain congee the ultimate comfort food, it’s also an important staple on the Chinese dinner table – just as popular as steamed rice. Check out the recipe below for how to make congee on stovetop or in an Instant Pot, with various toppings that spice it up! {Gluten-Free, Vegan}
Print Pin Rate
Course: Side
Cuisine: Chinese
Keyword: home style
Prep Time: 3 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Inactive time (if using Instant Pot): 1 hour
Total Time: 2 hours 3 minutes
Servings: 4 servings
Calories: 84kcal
Author: Maggie Zhu

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup short grain rice (or medium grain rice)

Instant Pot

  • 5 cups water (or 4 cups for a thicker texture, or 6 cups for runny texture)

Stovetop

  • 10 cups water (or 8 cups for a thicker texture, or 12 cups for runny texture)

Topping Options

Instructions

  • Add the rice to a large bowl and run it with tap water to cover the rice. Use your fingers to gently rinse the rice in a circular motion a few times, then drain off the water. Repeat 1 to 2 times.

Instant Pot Method

  • Add the rice and water to your Instant Pot. Cover and seal the lid. Select high pressure, and set the timer to 25 minutes. Once done, let the pressure release naturally.
  • Once the pressure has fully released, open the lid and stir the congee with a ladle. It might look thin once it’s done cooking, but it will thicken up a bit once you stir it well and let it sit for a few minutes. If you want to change the texture of the congee, turn on the “Saute” function and let it boil down for a few minutes and stir constantly, until it turns thicker. Or you can pour in a bit of hot water and stir it, to thin it out.

Stovetop Method

  • Add the rinsed rice and water to a medium-sized or big, tall pot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Stir a few times to make sure the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom.
  • Turn to medium-low or medium heat to reduce to a simmer. Cover the pot halfway to keep the water boiling without spilling over. Simmer for 45 to 50 minutes, depending on the texture you’re looking for. Stir the congee a few times during cooking. Towards the end of cooking, the congee will get quite thick and sticky. Stay near the pot and stir frequently over the last 10 to 15 minutes. It will easily spill if covered too much or if the heat is too high. The rice will stick to the bottom if you don’t stir enough.

Serve

  • Serve the congee hot or warm with any topping options you prefer. You can also replace steamed rice with the congee as a side, to serve with other dishes.

Store and reheat

  • You can store the congee in a sealed container in the fridge for 3 to 4 days. The congee will continue to thicken. To dilute it, you can add a splash of water to the congee and heat it either on the stovetop or in the microwave.

Nutrition

Serving: 1serving | Calories: 84kcal | Carbohydrates: 18.5g | Protein: 1.7g | Fat: 0.2g | Sodium: 10mg | Potassium: 30mg | Fiber: 0.3g | Calcium: 15mg | Iron: 1mg

If you give this recipe a try, let us know! Leave a comment, rate it (once you’ve tried it), and take a picture and tag it @omnivorescookbook on Instagram! I’d love to see what you come up with.

Other homestyle comfort food

Lilja Walter is a part of the Omnivore’s Cookbook team and worked closely with Maggie to develop and test this recipe.

Disclosure

Omnivore's Cookbook is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.
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Meet Maggie

Hi I'm Maggie Zhu! Welcome to my site about modern Chinese cooking - including street food, family recipes, and restaurant dishes. I take a less labor-intensive approach while maintaining the taste and look of the dish. I am originally from Beijing, and now cook from my New York kitchen.

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4 thoughts on “How to Make Congee (Plain Congee, 白粥)

  1. Athena

    My rice cooker has a porridge option, it’s supposed to be able to make congee, although I’ve never tried it. Can I use the same water-rice ratio as for the instant pot method?

    Reply
    1. Maggie Post author

      You definitely can use a rice cooker to cook congee if it comes with the setting. Does it have water mark inside of the pot (many rice cooker does). If yes, you should use the water ratio that comes with the rice cooker. If not, the water ratio should be closer to the Instant pot ratio.

      Reply