~ Leftover Rice? Use it to Make Chinese Fried Rice! ~
Back in my younger days, fried rice was party food in my apartment kitchen. I was married at the age of 20, and, my husband was going to school here at Penn State. We tended to hang out with married couples from our apartment complex or other married college students. For a couple of years, there was a close-knit group of five couples, that, because we were all on tight budgets, took turns hosting parties in our apartments. Yes, we did get wild and crazy, but, even then, all of my women friends could cook... in fact, we were all really good cooks. Eileen, Michelle, Karen, Toni... wherever you are, I hope you are reading this. When the par-tay was at my/our place, it was tradition for me to feed the gang a big batch of fried rice in the wee hours of the morning, before everyone went to their respective homes to sleep "it off". Fast forward 35 years. Nowadays, it's just one of my go-to comfort foods for Spring, Summer, Fall or Winter!
So, how did a gal from Eastern PA learn to make fried rice?
My very first job in Happy Valley was at the Executive Offices of Central Counties Bank. Every morning a very pretty Asian gal named Mae delivered the updated National Prime Rate to my desk for my three bosses, the VP's of Commercial, Installment and Mortgage lending. It wasn't long before she and I were having lunch together a couple of times a week, and, more often than not, she was "brown bagging" homemade fried rice. She explained that in China, fried rice is a staple, but more importantly, it is a frugal way to use leftovers to create a satisfying meal. One day, she invited me to stop by her apartment after work to show me first-hand how she prepared it. Mae told me what type of rice to use + explained it must be "leftover" and kept in the refrigerator, right up until you're ready to use it. She went on to say that in China, eggs, or scrambled eggs, are almost always added to it for protein and richness. I don't remember exactly what we added to the fried rice that night, but I do remember Mae expressing her disdain for Westerners who add garlic, because it overpowers the delicate flavors of this dish!
And, the experts almost agree!
A bit about fried rice: Fried rice is a staple of all Asian cuisines, but, most of us associate it with the Chinese (or at least I do). It is a dish made of leftover steamed rice, that has been refrigerated several hours or overnight prior to being fried, because the moisture in freshly steamed rice will cause it to steam, rather than fry, resulting in it being mushy, sticky, gummy and/or clumpy. Without any protein added to it, it is simply referred to as "fried rice", and makes a delicious side-dish or vegetarian main course. When meat, poultry, seafood and/or vegetables are added to it, the proper name changes to what the rice has been cooked with, such as: "chicken" fried rice, "pork" fried rice, "shrimp" fried rice, "vegetable" fried rice, etc. That being said, all versions usually contain some sort of colorful vegetables, like: cabbage, baby corn, carrots and/or peas. Eggs are usually cooked into the mix at the end of the cooking process, however, it is acceptable for the eggs to be cooked separately and added afterwards. As for seasonings, soy and/or fish sauce are used in place of salt, with scallions, onion, garlic and/or ginger being common additives. When I order fried rice in a Chinese restaurant, my favorite is "House Special" fried rice, which is a melange of all sorts of leftover goodies!
Steaming the jasmine rice!
A bit about jasmine rice: Jasmine rice is a polished, long-grain silky, white rice known for its fragrance, aroma and scent. It was named after the sweet-smelling jasmine flower of Southeast Asia, and, as jasmine rice cooks, it releases its perfumy scent. When properly cooked it is soft, white and fluffy. Its very distinctive flavor complements all Asian fare perfectly.
Prior to cooking, it should be rinsed under cold running water. Place it in a colander and while the water is running, move it around with your fingertips until the water running through it comes out clear. Set the colander aside and let it drain a bit, about 5-10 minutes, before cooking:
3 cups uncooked jasmine rice
as directed below.
Note: Jasmine rice is sometimes compared to Indian basmati rice, which is also a fragrant, long-grain white rice, however, basmati is aged before being sold and has a delicious, nuttier flavor. It's a fair comparison, and, while both rices cook the same (using less water than conventional long-grain white rice) to produce fluffy, slightly-chewy grains, I personally do not use them interchangeably. I prefer to use jasmine rice exclusively when I am serving Asian fare, and basmati rice exclusively when I am serving Indian or Middle Eastern fare!
~ Step 1. Using the cup/measure from an electric rice steamer, place 3 cups of rinsed, uncooked jasmine rice in the steamer. Using the same cup/measure, add an equal amount of water, or a 1-to-1 ratio of rice-to-water, + 1/2 cup water. Briefly stir the rice, close the lid and turn the steamer on. Do not uncover or stir during the steaming process. When the steamer turns itself off, the rice is done.
~ Step 3. Transfer the rice to a 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper. Allow to cool to room temperature, about 1-1 1/2 hours.. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 4-6 hours or overnight. Overnight is really the best. Keep the rice in the refrigerator until you are ready to add it to the wok/skillet.
Marinating the meat, poultry or seafood!
I won't lie, pork, chicken or shrimp are my top three favorite proteins to add to fried rice, in that order. And, I'll go one step further, I never use leftover protein to make Chinese fried rice. Why? Because, more often than not, they have been have been previously cooked and seasoned with spices that are completely out of place in Chinese fare... it just makes no culinary sense!
1/4 cup seasoning soy sauce, or light soy sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons, peeled and minced, fresh ginger
1-1 1/2 pounds boneless pork loin backribs (pork tenderloin may be substituted), chicken tenders or peeled & deveined shrimp, tails-off
Note: Pork loin backribs are perfect for stir-fries. They contain just the right amount of fat, are tender, juicy, full of flavor, and cook quickly!
~ Step 1. Slice the pork or chicken as thin as possible, across the grain. If you are slicing it thin enough, it will be almost shredding as you are slicing. That is exactly what you want. If you are using shrimp, depending on their size, you might have to chop them into bite-sized pieces.
~ Step 2. To a 1-gallon food storage bag, add the soy sauce, sesame oil and minced ginger. Add the protein, close bag and set aside 1-2 hours. While the protein is marinating:
Prepping the vegetables and eggs!
You can add whatever veggies you want, but, do your best to stay consistent with what the Chinese add to their fried rice. I have my favorites. Be sure to have them all prepped and ready prior to starting to stir-fry. For my recipe, here's what you'll need, for the vegetables:
1 cup chiffonade of Chinese white cabbage, bok choy
1 cup diced yellow onion
1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions, white and light green part only
1 cup frozen baby peas, unthawed
1 cup diced carrots
2 tablespoons peeled and minced, fresh ginger
~ Step 2. Just prior to cooking the fried rice, in a small bowl, whisk together:
4-6 extra-large eggs, at room temperature (Note: I like eggs so I'm using 6, but that choice is yours!)
2 tablespoons seasoning soy sauce, or light soy sauce
Making the fried rice!
A bit about woks: You don't need one to make a great stir-fry or cook great Asian food. Because I do what I do, justifing a wok and grill station in my kitchen was an easy decision to make. That being said, you can achieve seriously good results using a large stir-fry pan or a large nonstick skillet. When it comes to stir-frying, its all about surface area and high heat. If you're purchasing a wok, I recommend the the biggest one you can afford. If you don't do enough of Asian to cooking to justify a wok, buy the largest nonstick or cast iron skillet you can find. This 14" Calphalon pan is a workhorse in my kitchen and it works great:
~ Step 1. Heat 1-2 tablespoons additional sesame oil over medium-high heat. Add the pork and all of its marinade (which isn't a lot). Using a large slotted spoon, stirring constantly, fry until pork is just cooked through, about 4-6 minutes, depending upon the heat on your stovetop. Turn heat off.
~ Step 2. Using the slotted spoon, remove the meat, from the pan to a plate, and set aside.
~ Step 3. In the same pan, heat 2 tablespoons additional sesame oil and 2 tablespoons additional soy sauce over medium-high heat. Add all of the vegetables. Stirring constantly, cook until crunch-tender, about 3-5 minutes, depending upon the heat on your stovetop.
~ Step 4. Add the rice, and continue to stir-fry until pan is dry and rice is just showing signs of browning, lowering the heat as necessary to prevent scorching, about 2-3 minutes, depending upon the heat on your stovetop.
~ Step 5. Briefly rewhisk the egg mixture and pour it over the rice. Over medium heat, stirring constantly, cook until eggs are set and distributed throughout the rice, about 1-2 minutes.
For the perfect condiment, my super-easy recipe for ~ "Would You Like Duck Sauce With That?" "Yes"! ~ can be found in Categories 8, 13 & 20!
Special Equipment List: colander; electric rice steamer; 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; parchment paper; plastic wrap; cutting board; chef's knife; 1-gallon food storage bag; wok or 14" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; large slotted spoon
Cook's Note: For another one of my fun rice recipes, which, just like this one, was born out of leftover ingredients, you can find ~ Mel's "Jazzed Up" Jasmine Rice w/Pineapple ~ in Categories 4 or 13. It's really easy too!
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)