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Congee is a comfort food in a steamy bowl, a rice porridge that's said to have cold-busting properties and the ability to soothe jangled nerves. My first attempt to make it at home bombed because I used too much rice and it was way too thick, but the next day leftovers morphed into some pretty spectacular rice cakes. Here's how I turned a fail into fab.

Crispy Congee Cake
Crispy Congee Cake. Photo by Leslie Kelly

I've eaten boatloads of congee in restaurants, some of it topped with shredded pork, dried shrimp and chili oil. At the popular Kraken Congee in Seattle's Pioneer Square, the extensive options include 5-spice duck, pork belly adobo and delicate seasonal seafood. It's one of those dishes I've never tried making at home because the pros do it so well. But then I had some extra homemade chicken stock and a bunch of shiitake mushrooms and a craving for something warm and soupy. Unfortunately, when eye-balling the amount of rice going into the boiling broth, I added too much and the congee turned into something more like a gloppy pilaf. It tasted OK even if the texture wasn't where I wanted it to be.

When ladling it into a leftover container, I had a thought: What if I gave that thick congee an Italian accent? I could turn it into something like aranacini, the classic starter from Sicily. Thank goodness I bought the extra large bag of Panko breadcrumbs, and that my fridge is always stocked with Sriracha mayo and sweet chili sauce, the condiments that provided the complement for this cross-cultural dish.

As it turned out, I skipped stuffing mozzarella cheese into the middle of the rice and flattened the traditional arancini ball into more of a cake. All I did was coat a couple of generous spoonfuls of congee with the breadcrumbs and saute those for a few minutes on each side, over medium heat, using a neutral canola oil. It was a big hit with seared salmon, but next time, I'm going to put a fried egg on top and call it brunch.

More rice recipes, right this way.