Any Chinese meal, no matter how basic, can be a study of contrasts and balance. Breakfast is no exception: It can provide the ultimate comfort and still possess flavors that dance on the palate.
Congee, or rice gruel, is relatively plain if eaten on its own. But it is a utilitarian food for any morning or as a soothing antidote to an upset stomach. There are two general approaches to making congee. The first is to simmer uncooked rice in chicken stock with ginger until the grains split and create a thick consistency. Often, it's made simply with leftover cooked rice with either stock or water.
This morning, I made congee using leftover rice and water. Once the water comes to a slight boil, you turn down the heat to medium-low and let it simmer as you prepare the accompaniments. Breakfast was on the table within 20 minutes.
I had some Chinese sausages and a quarter of a napa cabbage. I sliced the sausages and seared them in the wok. Once some of the fat had been rendered, I added sliced cabbage and let that cook down and release some of its moisture. For seasoning, I added a little more than a tablespoon of soy sauce, a splash of rice vinegar and a teaspoon of chili bean paste. It was a tad salty, so I added a splash of water to balance it. The sweet and charred taste of the sliced sausage was great with the hot-sour-salty flavor of the sauce. It's the kind of dish that the Chinese say "goes down with rice" easily, meaning that it's exceptionally savory and makes you want to eat more rice -- which is considered the center of the plate, so to speak. Any cooked dishes are considered accompaniments to rice.
I normally like to have preserved duck eggs with congee, but I didn't have any this morning. Other dishes I might have with congee include stir-fried tomato eggs or spicy yu-choy. I settled this morning for some pickled turnips and a sauce of finely minced ginger, chopped green onions and cilantro, soy sauce and a drizzle of sesame oil. This adds a great dimension to the congee.