Monday, May 25, 2009

Simple Fried Rice

What do you do with leftover rice? Why, you fry it, of course! Fried rice is such a quintessential Asian dish. I love fried rice, whether it is the Chinese Yangzhou chao fan, Indonesian nasi goreng, Thai olive rice or Japanese garlic rice. However, like all deceptively easy dishes, a lot of skill is required to produce a good plate of fried rice. In fact, it is widely regarded that the best way to test a Chinese chef's skill and experience is to get him to cook a simple plate of fried rice. 

For a start, you need to work fast because the fire has to be big, else you'll never achieve that wok hei which is essentially the X-factor in frying rice. Second, you have to ensure that the rice, ingredients and seasonings are thoroughly tossed so that you have a homogeneous mix. Third, you've got to ensure that the rice is separated into individual grains, unbroken and coated in seasoning. Now, try doing all that in a short span of time over high heat without burning anything, and you'll know it ain't child's play.

For me, fried rice is a dish I serve up whenever we have leftovers. It's the most convenient way to use up whatever has been lying in my fridge. And the best part is, it's quick, fuss-free, and very delish! As such, my fried rice is as unauthentic as you can get ;P It's neither Chinese nor Indonesian nor Thai nor whatever. Oftentimes, you'll find strange combinations, like sausages with long beans, or bacon with sprouts, or fish cakes with frozen corn. Ah nevermind ... my kids love anything in fried rice :) 

Actually, I remember learning how to fry rice years back when my eldest was a fussy lil eater (she still is!). I would use only rice, egg and ham. Yes, ham! She loved ham and would chow down this savoury combination with nary a struggle. From then till now and 3 kids later, I still can't claim to churn out perfect fried rice. But at least I can now fry up a decent plate ;P In fact, I've even gotten the hang of that awesome wrist-flicking action while tossing the rice ... something which used to intrigue me to no end. 
Digression: I've watched a documentary where young Chinese chefs use a wok full of sand to practise their tossing skills!

Last night's dinner was the result of having overnight rice and a bowl of leftover egg wash in the fridge. To these, I added some chicken fillets. As the combination was rather plain, I loaded up on garlic and added a tablespoon of butter to enhance the taste (anyone who has tried garlicky, buttery Japanese fried rice will know what I'm talkin' about). Finally, I topped everything with crispy ikan bilis (anchovies) for crunch.

Fried Rice
- Rice (overnight, cold rice is best)*
- 1 or 2 eggs
- Minced garlic 
- Whatever else you like, for eg, prawns, chicken meat, peas, bean sprouts, fish cake, crab meat, char siew, chinese sausage, etc. Today, I only used chicken.
- Seasoning: Mix a dash of fish sauce, a dash of pepper, 1 tbsp oyster sauce, 2 tbsp water and a pinch of corn flour.
- Garnishing: crispy ikan bilis (anchovies), spring onions, coriander, fried shallots, pork floss, peanuts ... whatever you fancy!

1. Heat oil, scramble the egg quickly and take it out. 

2. Next, add chicken (which I marinated for 10mins in light soy sauce) and/or other ingredients you desire. Fry each ingredient separately till about 70-80% cooked and remove. You will be re-introducing them to the rice at the end.

Make sure you have a strong fire throughout, else you will be missing the element of wok hei, which is so essential in a good plate of fried rice. However, work quickly! Else you might burn the ingredients. Like I said, frying rice deceptively simple.

3. Add a little more oil if necessary, throw in the garlic and fry briefly (do not brown them). Add the cold rice and stir to loosen up the grains.

4. Pour in seasoning and toss, toss, toss! Towards the end, throw in the rest of the semi-cooked ingredients. Continue tossing. If you can't toss, stir gently. Do not poke or "mash" up the rice. The grains will break and you will get a starchy, messy mush. Allow the wok transfer its heat over to the rice. Turn off flame.

5. Garnish with condiments. I love topping with crispy anchovies because they give crunch and extra protein (good for my growing kids!) For myself, I must have a dollop of kick-ass sambal chilli made by my dear granny. Yums!

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