Conjuring Congee

By Angela Denstad Stigeler

Oftentimes, slow-cooker recipes are all smoke-and-mirrors, promising ease of preparation and wonderful results without any work. Time and again I’ve found that if a recipe sounds too good to be true, it truly is. So imagine my delight in finding a slow-cooker soup that actually delivers. It’s hands down the easiest way of making this comforting chicken-and-rice porridge, just at that point in winter when everyone needs a little chicken soup, but needs a little something new to recharge their spirits, too.

This comes together in minutes with a few simple ingredients. And this is a dish that actually makes sense in the slow-cooker. More than just a fix-it-and-forget-it convenience, slow cooking for hours is what makes this soup work. The rice is cooked past the point of tender where the grains swell to bursting, making a creamy thickened broth. I like the heartiness and health benefits of using brown rice, but white rice will yield creamier results. And the flavorful chicken thighs don’t even require dicing after their long simmer; just break them up a bit with a spoon when it’s time to serve.

Here’s where the real magic comes in: bring out a whole crowd of condiments and toppings. Everything from lime wedges to soy sauce, sliced scallions to salty roasted peanuts, sriracha or pickled jalapeño slices, cilantro and diced avocado, even those crispy little fried onion bits you can buy at the store—all delicious here! Since the base soup is really impossible to dislike, everyone ends up with a soup to love based on those festive finishing touches. And just like magic, everyone will be smiling and feeling just a little bit better, when you let your slow-cooker conjure up this chicken congee.

Slow-Cooker Chicken Congee (Chinese Rice Porridge)

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs

8 cups chicken stock

1 cup long-grain rice (brown or white)

3 small dried chiles, such as Thai or chile de arbol

1 3-inch piece fresh ginger, thinly sliced (no need to peel)

2 large garlic gloves, crushed

1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt

Various garnishes, to taste: diced avocado, roasted peanuts, crispy fried onions, sliced scallions, jalapeños, soy sauce, sriracha, lime wedges and fresh cilantro

Place the chicken, stock, rice, chiles, ginger, garlic and salt in a large slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours. Remove the chiles and ginger. Stir the soup, breaking the chicken into bite-sized pieces. Serve the congee in wide soup bowls, letting each person add garnishes to taste.

The congee can be made up to three days in advance. Reheat in a large saucepan over medium, adding water as needed to loosen the soup.

Recipe adapted from Anna Stockwell, epicurious.com