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East Meets South - Country Congee With Red Eye Gravy

Cooking for people I care about has always been an act of love for me, no matter if it’s seared foie gras or cheeseburgers. But I think this dish feels so much like love itself, it makes everyone feel happy and hugged when they eat it.

Congee is an Asian comfort food, a porridge usually consisting of rice, but sometimes made with beans or legumes. Thought of as a Chinese dish, the word “congee” has its origins in India from kanji (“boilings”), referring to the water in which rice has been cooked.

This is a great breakfast food but you can serve it anytime. This version takes a little from Asia and a little from down south here in the states.


½ cup short grain sushi rice

½ cup basmati or Jasmine rice

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 medium onion, minced

7 ounces country ham, minced

5 1/4 cups water

1/2 teaspoon fine salt

3-4 cloves garlic, minced (optional)

6 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese

Red Eye Gravy

11 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese – not finely

2 cups of strong brewed coffee

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 bunch scallions chopped

3-4 ounces country ham, sliced

For The Congee:

Put both rices in a food processor or heavy duty blender and grind for one minute.

Set a large soup pot over medium heat and add the butter.

Once the butter melts, add the onion and garlic (if using). Cook, stirring constantly for 5 minutes or until the onion becomes tender and translucent.

Add the ham and cook, stirring occasionally until the meat is browned and caramelized, about 5 to 10 minutes.

Add the processed rice and cook, stirring constantly for one minute or until it becomes fragrant. Add the water, salt, and Parmesan and stir, scraping the bottom as you go. Bring the mixture to a boil, then turn the heat down to medium low and cook undisturbed for 40 minutes or until the rice is completely tender and the porridge has thickened.

To make the Red Eye Gravy:

While the porridge is cooking, place the Parmesan in a small bowl and pour the hot coffee on top. Allow it to steep for at least 15-20 minutes.

Strain the cheese out of the coffee and discard the cheese solids.

Once the congee is almost finished, place the ham slices in a frying pan and turn the heat to medium.

Let the ham brown on both sides.

Pour the infused coffee into the pan and whisk in the butter. Cook on medium until it darkens and gets a little thicker.

Divide the porridge into bowls, top with the gravy, and a sprinkling of scallions. Serve immediately.

If you're really hungry, top with a fried egg, as I did here.

By the way, if you’ve never tried Red Eye Gravy, please do. It’s easy, it’s tasty and requires no roux.

Down south there are other names for it: poor man’s gravy, bird-eye gravy, bottom sop, cedar gravy, and red ham gravy.

There are certainly variations but it always incorporates some drippings of pan-fried country ham mixed with black coffee.

Try it over ham, grits, biscuits., mashed potatoes or any bland protein you feel like livening up.

Hugs everywhere.

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