Today is the dreaded “clean out the refrigerator” day.
The usual assessment of all products in the refrigerator go through a thorough analysis by visual inspection, smell and expiration dates and if it does not make the cut then.. it walks the plank.
We have all been there.. something gets hidden in the refrigerator way in the back, behind a drawer. Maybe a few days, weeks or even longer pass by before you notice the hairy scary creature and it is even waving back. These little veggies and fruits, my friend, have to go. However, there are also those little bits of this and bits of that, veggies that must get eaten by the end and left over pieces of meat and fish that is not enough for the family. These little bits and bobs of fresh veggies, meats, tofu, etc. are just waiting for the perfect stir fry.
Today I am going to share with you the art of how to make stir fried rice. Indeed it is an art. You are the artist and absolutely anything you like can be created into your masterpiece.
Your pantry is the dictator of what will go in your type of fried rice. We will be looking in the refrigerator, pantry and scouring the shelves of our kitchen to make your little creation.
I would never call myself an expert at anything but they say the more you do something, actually about 10,000 hours of doing something makes you an expert. Have you ever read the book “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell? A very good read. The concept that 10,000 hours of practice can make one an expert in a field. This is an idea developed by psychologist Anders Ericsson. I do not think I have spent 10,000 hours making fried rice but I can tell you that I almost make it each and every day. So lets see, if I make fried rice every day for the last 30 years for about an hour each day. 7 days in a week x 4 weeks= 28. 28 times 12 months = 336. 336 times 30 years equals…10,080 hours… Hmm well then maybe I do fall in this category.
Fried rice is a great way to re-engineer those leftovers. I have picky teenage boys and if I just slapped some microwave leftovers on a plate, they would rebel. I think all humans pretty much respond the same way. We get bored with leftovers and we need so creative and artistic ways to trick out mind that this is a new and exciting dish.
There are no boundaries or right or wrong combinations when making fried rice. You can made traditional Chinese fried rice. You can make fried rice with Thai seasonings, Indian spices, Moroccan spices or even with a Hawaiian flare. Do not get bullied by some old grandma who tells you can only cook fried like her mother taught her otherwise you will out on so many culinary opportunities. However, do make sure you watch that old cantankerous grandma make a batch of her so-called best fried rice in all of Asia because I want you to be on the look out for how she manipulates her main components for her fried rice.
Fried rice has seven main components. You will need oil, rice, aromatics, seasoning and vegetables. If you wish, you may like to add a protein and garnishes. I always determine what ingredients I have on hand by doing a little foraging in the refrigerator and pantry. Then I decide what flavors or aromatics I will be using. Your pantry will determine what kind of fried rice you will be making depending on the things you find during your scavenger hunt.
Oil is required to get the delicious yummy crunch on that fried rice and prevent sticking. I use what I like and I have in my pantry. Maybe if I am making a traditional Chinese fried rice I might use canola oil as it can take the hot cooking temperatures. I don’t use peanut oil just due to potential allergens when hosting guests. I also like to use coconut oil when making Thai or Hawaiian inspired fried rice. The goal is to use an oil that can stand up to high cooking temperatures without smoking. I have also used avocado oil, grape seed and even olive oil in a pinch. Sesame oil is used more for an aromatic and flavoring and if I am making traditional fried rice I add this at the end of cooking for flavoring, not for the purpose of keeping your food from sticking.
Aromatics such as ginger, garlic, chili, onions, and many other spices are integral to enhance the dishes flavors and seasoning. Aromatics work by dispersing the flavors and essence into the oil and then that oil coats the rice. I am not going to lie to you but garlic almost always hits the pan with all fried rice. If I want to make a traditional Chinese fried rice, I will add ginger, garlic, onions. If I am making a Thai inspired fried rice I may use galangal, lemon grass, chili, scallions and even kaffir lime leaves. If I am making an Indian inspired fried rice I may use onions, garlic, turmeric, coriander, cumin, chili. If making a Moroccan fried rice, I might add cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, onions and maybe a pinch of chili. If making a Hawaiian inspired fried rice I might add onions, coconut and other seasoning. I think you are starting to understand where I am going with this. You are the artist and your pantry is your guide. Now it is time to paint the canvas.
Rice is the main ingredient for fried rice and you can really use any kind you desire. However, you must use cold day old rice if you want the perfect fried rice. The reason why your rice must be cold is all to do with science. The best rice to use is leftover rice that’s been lying in the fridge for at least a day. This will turn the rice grains firm and get rid of the excess moisture. They will also be much easier to separate. If you cook with freshly made rice, all you will get is “fried mush” instead of fried rice. I used to use short grain rice when living in Japan. I have used basmati, long grain white, red and even wild rice. After all, we are talking about cleaning out the refrigerator after all so use what you have. However, do not, I repeat, do not use that instant rice like Uncle Bens or you will end up with a gelatinous stew and that is really not the effect we are going for here. The goal is that your rice is very dry and almost crunchy and each rice piece is separated and covered with the oil and flavored aromatics. If you do not have rice, but have left over quinoa, couscous or even small pasta you are in business. Our goal is to clean out the refrigerator, feed our grumpy kids and make something healthy and quick and get back on with the tasks at hand.
Vegetables are a beautiful and a healthy addition to fried rice. I love the added crunch, color and flavors. It really just depends on what in the refrigerator. Carrots, broccoli, cabbage, peppers, celery, corn, kale, choy sum, bok choy, long beans, Asian eggplant, lotus root and the list goes on and on. I can’t really think of any vegetable that is off-limits except maybe for avocado (technically a fruit anyways) as it is mushy. Mushy vegetables add too much moisture to the dish. You want crisp and crunchy vegetables to give you that fun texture in fried rice. Have fun and explore in your kitchen and use up those veggies. You would be amazed the veggies you can hide in your fried rice and your kids will eat it. (Shhh, I hope they don’t actually read my posts) The most important thing to note is that certain vegetables cook faster than others so you want to fry them in order of hardest to softest. Cut up your veggies in relatively a uniform sized pieces so it is easy to cook and eat. I prefer to chop instead of slice with my Chinese cleaver.
Meats, seafood, fish, tofu and eggs are a delightful addition of protein to your stir fried rice. Fried pork, beef, sausages will really give lots of extra flavorings to the dish as they slightly brown in the pan and then your rice picks up those yummy brown bits as it fries up with the rice. Do you have a little left over chicken or beef from lasts nights dinner? Well lucky you as now you are in business. You can use fresh minced or very thinly slices meats or poultry as to keep everything relatively uniform in size and easy to chew. If you are vegan hard fried tofu is a great alternative. Shrimp and other shellfish can be delightful. However, shellfish and other fish cook very quickly so I usually stir fry them after the aromatics and then take then out while I finish cooking the fried rice and then add them back in at the end so they remain beautifully tender and succulent. You can also add eggs to your fried rice. In traditional Cantonese fried rice, the whole egg is added directly to the fried rice at the end of the cooking process and quickly moved in the wok so that the egg is only tiny little flecks in the dish. Some places around the world people like to scramble their eggs first separately and then add to the dish. In some places in the world they make an egg hat and set it on top of the fried rice. In Thailand they make an egg pancake and wrap the fried rice like a burrito and eat it. So however you like it you are good to go. I am actually allergic to eggs but my boys like their fried rice either Cantonese style or pre-scrambled. There is no right or wrong way to do it, just don’t add eggs if you are allergic to them like me.
Seasonings can come from many forms. You want to add only salt and white pepper to maintain the pretty white color of the rice. You can use a touch of gluten-free chicken powder. You can use soy sauce, tamari sauce, chili oil, chili sauce, spicy garlic black bean paste or anything your little heart desires. For example if I am making traditional Cantonese style fried rice, I will use a little salt, black pepper, chicken powder and soy sauce. If I want to make a Hawaiian pineapple fried rice I might only add salt, white pepper and chicken powder. If I am making fried rice for my boys, I will add a little heat with a little homemade spicy black bean chili sauce http://bamskitchen.com/dietary-restrictions/glutenfree/la-jiao-jiang/, chili oil in addition to a bit of soy sauce. If I want to make an Thai inspired fried rice I may use fish sauce, oyster sauce, white pepper, lime and even a little sugar to get that sweet, salty, sour and spicy combination going on. If I want to make a Mexican fried rice, I might add cumin, chili, tomato paste with a bit of salt and pepper and throw in a bit of corm and black beans and your good to go.
Garnishes are those items that you throw in at the last bit of cooking. Maybe if making Moroccan fried rice you may at the last part of the frying add toasted nuts and raisins. Maybe at the end of the Thai inspired fried rice you may throw in a little fresh chopped cilantro. Maybe with my Cantonese fried rice I might want to add some chopped green onions at the end. Anything that yo want to keep fresh and crunchy throw it in at the very end or sprinkle on top as a garnish.
Here are some tidbits for success..
1) Have fun with the your creation. Try new combinations within the 7 basic components.
2) Use a wok or a very large pan as you want a big surface area to get your components very hot and fry quickly.
3) Have everything chopped and ready to go before you heat up your wok.
4) Do not overload your wok. Make in individual serving or no more than 2 servings at a time if you have a large wok. If you overload your wok with ingredients you will not be frying, you will be steaming. Frying makes delightful rice. Steaming makes a disgusting porridge.
5) Order of operations: Heat your oil in pan first, then all aromatics and fry quickly just until you can smell the lovely flavors touch your nose. Add the meats and fry until golden brown and flavor the dish. Remove meats or seafood and set aside. Add your crunchy vegetables first then your softer items later. Add your cold rice into your wok and meats back into pan and quickly move around making sure that you separate all the rice pieces so the aromatic oils and flavorings from the mea have a chance to mingle with each strand of rice. Next add your seasonings. If you choose to add a liquid seasoning such as soy sauce then pour the soy sauce on the outside rim of the rice and let the sauce completely evaporate before stirring around in the rice. It keeps your rice dry. Taste. Adjust seasoning. If you wish to add sesame oil add now. Add your egg if you wish. Finally add your garnishes.
Fried rice is about one of the most simple last-minute dishes you can make if you have some basic staples in your home. Fried rice is fast, easy, cheap and delicious. Come on along and here is my little fried rice recipe from today’s refrigerator and pantry exploration.
Happy Spring cleaning!
Making fried rice is an art. You are the artist and your pantry is the paints and brushes. Paint yourself a beautiful savoury masterpiece.
- oil - 2 tablespoons canola oil (see above for other alternatives)
- onion - 1/4 cup chopped
- ginger - 1 teaspoon minced
- garlic - 2 cloves chopped finely
- pork sausage - 2 links chopped into uniform small pieces (see above for other alternatives)
- red cabbage - 1 cup finely chopped (you can any vegetables that you little heat desires)
- red bell pepper - 1/2 chopped in uniform diced pieces
- rice - 2 cups cooked day old cold rice (I used Thai long grain rice but you can use any kind you desire)
- tamari (soy) sauce - 2 tablespoons or to taste
- salt - to taste
- white pepper - 1/8 teaspoon
- chicken powder (gluten free) - 1/2 teaspoon to taste (optional)
- sesame oil - 1 teaspoon (to taste)
- romaine lettuce - 1 cup chopped
- egg - 1 whole
- green onions - 2-3 tablespoons chopped as garnish
Step 1) In a wok or large pan, place oil and turn on burner to medium/high heat.
Step 2) Add aromatics such as onion, ginger and garlic and fry just until the aroma hits your nose. About 1 minute. Do not burn garlic or otherwise it will have a bitter taste.
Step 3) Add pork sausages (or other meats, fish and seafood or tofu as desired) Fry until cooked or if using pre-cooked just until slightly caramelised and the flavours have had a chance to mingle. Remove meat or other protein products from the pan and set aside.
Step 4) Add your firm vegetables to the pan first. Add peppers, followed by cabbage and stir fry for 1-2 minutes until vegetables are aldente. Keep your vegetables moving in the pan.
Step 5) Add your rice to the vegetables and separate so that all rice pieces are coated with the oil and flavourings. Add your pork sausages back to the pan. Keep the contents in the pan moving.
Step 6) Add the tamari (soy sauce) around the edges of the rice and leave it set for a few seconds until it evaporates. Add salt, pepper, gluten free chicken powder and sesame oil to taste. Add the chopped romaine lettuce and stirfry for about 30 seconds. Keep the contents in the pan moving.
Step 7) Move your rice to the sides of the pan and add your egg. Let the egg stand sit for 20 seconds then quickly move through and flip over into your rice. My boys like their egg very fine pieces in their fried rice.
Step 8) Garnish stir fried rice with chopped green onions and enjoy.