#RecipeUpTop (details to follow):
- 4 cups leftover cooked rice (white or brown);
- 2 large eggs;
- 1/2 bag frozen peas and carrots;
- 1 medium red bell pepper;
- 5 cabbage leaves;
- 1 small yellow onion;
- 1/2lb shrimp (or other protein of choice);
- Vegetable oil (varies, but less than a 1/2 cup)
- 2 cloves garlic;
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger;
- 1 scallion;
- 1/4 cup soy sauce;
- 1/4 cup Saki;
- 2 teaspoons white sugar;
- 1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar;
Method: Sauce made first by simmering the garlic, scallion, and ginger in the saki until extracted. Add the soy sauce, sugar, and vinegar, and combine. Taste and adjust for seasoning.
Stir fry everything, seasoning with the sauce as needed.
Fried rice is one of those things that eluded me forever. Once I knew the secret was leftover rice… well, it continued to elude me. It’s a dish that has a few weird pitfalls that make it particularly perilous for the home range, but I’ve formulated this recipe to work on a residential stove top.
The first big issue is the rice. Yes, it absolutely MUST be leftover. I don’t know the exact science, but it’s something about the starches in the rice crystallizing when it cools after the first cooking, and dries out in the fridge… really, all you need to know is it uses everything that’s horrible about leftover rice as an advantage. Nay, a necessity.
The second big issue is the sorry state of the modern home range. They’re all just… bad. They are. It’s a rant for another time, but you’re never going to get the BTU’s you need for real wok cooking from a residential appliance. Most of the time, I use my wok outside on the burner of my turkey fryer:
Today is Valentine’s Day, and Mrs. 10Chickens asked for fried rice a few days back. Sadly, today turned out to the coldest day of the year (-10F), so outdoor cookery is out of the question.
But, the more I thought about it, the more I was convinced that fantastic fried rice could be produced inside, with a little more attention to technique. The result, I’m proud to report, is excellent. So, here we go:
Step one: build your sauce. Another of the dirty secrets of fried rice (and it really does seem like there are a bizarre amount) is that a huge portion of those delicious flavors come from a sauce, a mysterious ambrosia, that’s added at just the right time in the process. Start by mincing a clove of garlic, and about a tablespoon of fresh ginger:
Get them into a sauce pot with the Saki, and bring to a simmer. If you’re unfamiliar, Saki is a rice wine, and it’s maybe the most important ingredient in this whole meal (another dirty secret). It extracts all of the essence of the aromatics, and adds it’s own very subtle toasted rice flavors later in the process.
While that’s simmering, chop a large scallion, and add that as well. Let the pot simmer until things start to look soft:
Your goals here are twofold: first, you want all of those great flavors to come out of the onion, garlic, and ginger. Second, you want those ingredients to be soft and cooked for the final dish. They’re not going to turn to mush, so don’t go crazy, but simmer for about ten (10) minutes.
Then, in goes the soy sauce, the sugar, and the vinegar. Stir and taste, adjusting as needed. Remember, though, this is a sauce that’s going on a lot of rice, so it should be very strong. You’re tasting for balance (is it too salty, too sweet, etc). You’re not going to drink it from a teacup.
Also, a quick word about soy sauce. You don’t need to spring for the artisan unicorn stuff if you don’t want, but you do want to avoid the very cheap products. The ingredient list on the bottle should be pretty simple:
If there’s any colorants or hydrolyzed anything, forget it. Not because of health concerns, but because it’s just going to taste awful and ruin everything it touches.
Anyway, the sauce should look a little like this:
Once you’ve balanced with tasting, get it off the heat.
Now, step two: get your entire setup ready. This means processing your vegetables, getting your eggs cracked, and having everything in its own place and ready to go. You know, mix en place:
In the above picture, we have (clockwise from the left): white rice, frozen peas and carrots; red bell pepper; our sauce; eggs; shrimp; and a fresh cabbage/onion mix.
This is your fried rice. These ingredients (with a few exceptions) can be whatever you want. Hate shrimp? Do chicken or tofu or beef strips. Not big on cabbage? Use bok choy or kale or nothing. You get the idea. The only constant (in my mind) are the eggs. Folks can be SHOCKED to learn there are eggs in fried rice, but they add such a depth of toasty flavor that works so well with the rice, and a softness of texture, I really can’t imagine doing fried rice without them.
Alright, once everything is lined up like the Rockettes, get the wok on the stove over the highest heat you have:
So, I’ll do an entire essay about the wok, but what if you don’t have one? Well, the best fried rice I’ve ever made I did on a big propane plancha at a Miami Hurricanes tailgate. Failing that, you can get away with a big cast iron pan (like, really big), and maybe some stainless skillets, but I wouldn’t recommend it. After that, you may as well microwave this recipe because it’s not going to work.
While the wok is heating, let’s talk about the biggest modification of the recipe for the home stove: we’re working in very small batches, cooking every ingredient individually, then returning it to its bowl while we cook the rest. At the end, everyone goes in the wok to finish.
So, let’s cook everything in turn. It’s always going to be the same loop, EXCEPT THE RICE AND EGGS. Save them for last. Also, nothing gets seasoned until the end. No salt, not sauce, nada. If you try to season, the whole thing will collapse (seriously). Here’s the cooking process for everything else, and we’ll use the peas and carrots as an example:
Get the wok ripping hot, add a little veg oil, then immediately add the vegetables. Stir, and keep moving. Whatever you put in the wok is going to act like ice cubes and drop the temp of the pan, which is why we’re working in small batches. Keep things moving while the wok comes back up to temp:
When your specific item looks cooked, get it back in its original bowl to wait for the big finale. Proceed through this process with the cabbage and onions, the red bell pepper, and the shrimp:
So, the shrimp. I’m using American gulf shrimp that were wild-caught and flash frozen, which I thawed. I have some (a lot) of thoughts about buying seafood, but for this post suffice it to say: there’s nothing wrong with frozen product, which is often flash frozen close to where it’s caught or farmed (meaning a preservation in quality), and I don’t have any preference of wild-caught versus farmed product. What I do care about is country of origin, and you should too, if only for quality reasons. It’s always on the package, even if they try to hide it.
Step three: the rice and the eggs. At this point, everything should be through the wok except the rice and eggs, and nothing should have been seasoned (even with salt). Get the wok hot again, add some veg oil, and then the rice, stirring to coat:
Keep it moving, and cook until it smells toasty and is making a cracking sound, then get it back into it’s bowl.
Now, the eggs. Ramp up the wok add the oil, and add the eggs with yolks intact if possible (I’ve seen a lot of recipes calling for the eggs to be scrambled, and even seasoned, ahead of cooking, and I think it ruins everything about fried rice. But, to each their own.)
I let them set up a little, then obliterate and keep moving in the classic stir-fry way:
Once they look like dry scrambled eggs, the rice goes back in:
Stir it around and get your sauce ready (we’re still over high heat, yeah?) Add about half of it, and incorporate:
Okay, things are going great. Keep this moving until everything is piping hot, then add the rest of the party that we cooked earlier:
Get everything tossed around and up to temp, and (with a little luck) you may even get some of those rice-cracking sounds from earlier. The goal there is to get everything reheated. Overheated, really. And when that happens, add the rest of the sauce, and toss. Cook until the sauce is incorporated, then move to a serving bowl and ATTACK:
This a meal we do a lot in the summer, when cooking outside is the norm, but sometimes in the colder months the cravings come calling.
The beauty of fried rice is in its origins: a ruthlessly engineered delivery device for your leftovers. Be creative, have fun, and (at last) make some really wonderful fried rice on your own stove.