This Ancient Recipe Is The Best Way To Quickly Reset Your Gut During The Holidays
I know most people don't think of rice porridge as a health food—certainly not on the scale of green juice and kale—but congee is an ancient remedy in Chinese medicine for a troubled or tuckered-out digestive system. With just a few ingredients simmered low and slow on the stovetop, it's also the perfect homemade dish when you or your budget is feeling stretched—no cleaning of the juicer necessary.
The health benefits of congee.
Congee has long been a secret weapon of traditional Chinese medicine as a salve for the digestive system. Rice is cooked with a much higher ratio of water to grain and simmered until mush, making it both easy to digest and incredibly nutritious.
One particular benefit is hydration, as the starchy mixture can stay in the body longer than other types of food and allow the system to absorb liquid at a slower pace. Chicken stock or bone broth, which is the second key ingredient for congee, is also hydrating and has the added advantage of collagen. This protein helps repair intestinal permeability and reduce inflammation, two consequences of a diet and lifestyle that stresses you out. Plus, the easier your meal is to digest—and in the case of congee, that's very easy—the better equipped you are to reap the rewards of any protein and minerals coming in.
There are a whole host of digestive issues that congee can be beneficial for. In particular, if you're taking a breath test for SIBO, part of the 24-hour pre-prep is eating a diet that's essentially white rice and lean protein. Needless to say, a big pot of this congee would be perfect.
How to make congee.
Traditional congee requires little more than white rice and animal protein—usually starchy sushi rice and some bone-in chicken parts—and a pot. For a smoother congee, go with a 10:1 ratio of liquid to rice. For a thicker gruel-like congee, go with a ratio of 7:1. I've designed the recipe below for a happy medium. You can simply simmer the rice in water with whole chicken legs or thighs to create your own broth as it cooks, or if you keep homemade bone broth on hand, you can omit the chicken altogether and use a flavorful stock as a base. Same goes for vegetarian versions: Just use a veggie stock and throw in a few whole mushrooms for added umami.
You'll be shocked by how comforting and delicious your congee is with just these three ingredients (water or stock, rice, chicken). But the fun is really in the toppings. Fresh chopped ginger gives you even more digestive gusto, thinly sliced scallions or chives add an oniony undertone, gluten-free tamari or coconut aminos season it further, and dark sesame oil provides a rich nuttiness.
To make it more of a complete meal, you can top your congee with a fried egg, or if your digestion is feeling up to it, add some steamed bok choy or spinach for a little green.
Simple Chicken Congee
- 2 cups sushi or jasmine rice
- 4 chicken drumsticks
- 8 ounces cremini mushrooms, wiped with a wet towel (optional)
- 5 quarts water or chicken stock
- 2 teaspoons pink Himalayan salt
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil or ghee
- Chopped ginger, scallions, gluten-free tamari, or coconut aminos, and dark sesame oil (optional, but adds flavor)
- In a large pot, combine the rice, chicken, mushrooms (if using), water or stock, and sea salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, then immediately reduce to medium-low. Gently simmer, uncovered, for about an hour, or until the rice is soft, the broth is thickened into a porridge-like consistency, and the chicken is tender.
- Remove the chicken to a medium mixing bowl and pull the meat from the bones using two forks. Discard the bones and return the chicken to the pot along with the ginger. Cook for 5 minutes more.
- Stir the coconut oil or ghee into the congee. Serve the congee alongside additional chopped ginger, scallions, gluten-free tamari or coconut aminos, and dark sesame oil for added flavor.