Fried Rice Nirvana

March 22, 2019

Friends, I know it's the first weekend of Spring ..

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Most of us are (hopefully) going to be spending it outside picnicking or engaged in some form of early-spring eating.  In fact, this afternoon on my way home, I ran into some neighbors, lugging a bag of charcoal briquettes up to the rooftop .. waxing poetic about the finer points of grilling a burger

What I wanted to tell them, and you, too, is:  this weekend, do yourself a favor and also make a big pot of rice.  Add to your grocery list some veggies, fresh or frozen, it's all good.  Come midweek, your efforts will be

highly rewarded

After a long day at the office, the last thing we want to come home to is a long list of chores.  Which means we'd love something for dinner that doesn't leave us with a big pile of dishes .. or take as long to clean up as it did to cook

We want meals that are simple

There's nothing more relaxing than tending to just one pan, building flavors step by step .. rather than manning multiple burners.  And when it's over, only a skillet (or wok), a knife, and a cutting board need to be cleaned


I can't believe it's taken me this long to write about fried rice.

The one meal that always feels like a big bear-hug from my son, because it was the first thing he learned to cook on his own.  If memory serves, he fell in love with it after tasting Costco's frozen version at a friend's.  And it wasn't long before he decided we needed a kitchen upgrade if there was any hope of reaching fried rice nirvana

“Hey Mom, let's ride our bikes downtown and buy a wok”

The wok I've been cooking from ever since and I sure wish I had a dollar for every time he's made fried rice over the years

Seeing as this site is the place where I put my favorite things, I thought it was time to finally record it here.  To officially file it as a Keeper

I imagine fried rice must be a little like meatloaf or Christmas cookies, in that every family has their own unique way of doing things.  Although I'm sure that his version wasn't so much an heirloom recipe as simply a quick, easy, and comforting way he'd figured out .. how to make himself something for dinner

It always began with toasted sesame oil, eggs, a generous pinch of salt, and a screaming-hot wok.  He'd whisk vigorously with chopsticks until they were scrambled into the smallest of wisps, before setting them aside.  When cooked first, he'd argue, the eggs stayed fluffy and separate from the rest of whatever was to come

Another tip?  Use the very best eggs you can buy

Next came diced onion, sauteed until translucent, green peas or other veggies, most often straight from whatever bags we had in the freezer and thawed in the wok.  Some form of cooked, diced meat (usually bits of deli sliced honey ham) followed .. before it all was stirred up with rice, crackling softly, until a crispy crust formed along the bottom and everyone had seconds, thirds, and fourths

After a while he had the entire thing perfected and it was pretty spectacular

It's hard to imagine needing anything else, except maybe some sesame seeds, sliced scallions, or crispy fried shallots as a garnish.

Oh, and a fried egg(!)  Yes, I almost forgot that part

A few thoughts about the rice:

So many people swear by using day-old rice, and I hate to judge their process.  At the same time, we've always had really good results with freshly cooked rice, cooled for only a short period of time

It made a lot more sense after stumbling upon an article from Serious Eats, detailing fried rice techniques.  After much experimentation, they'd discovered it wasn't the age of the rice that mattered, but rather the dryness of its surface.

Their best results originating from fresh rice that had been spread onto a sheet pan and held under a fan for an hour or so.  Second, was fresh rice, again spread out on a sheet pan, but instead, allowed to steam dry for only a few minutes.  Last, but not least?  Day-old rice

Who knew?

A few other tricks:

If starting with raw veggies, cut them up into roughly the same shape and size.  Also, give some thought to cooking times, remembering to first add those that take a little longer to cook (think carrots, mushrooms, etc .. )

You'll need to use more oil when cooking fried rice than you would for a stir-fry, but you won't use nearly as much as they do in restaurants.  The basic process being .. add the rice, stir, chop, stir, scrape, stir, chop, stir, scrape.  Make sure you don’t need more oil. If you do, clear a spot in the center of the wok and add it there.  Stir, scrape, chop some more

About the pan: if you have a well-seasoned wok, this is the time to use it.  If instead, you find yourself with just a heavy skillet and an electric cooktop, never fear .. you'll be just fine.  At times, I've reached for my big cast-iron pan. It’s nicely seasoned, but the rice does stick just a bit.  (One word of caution: I wouldn’t use a nonstick pan because the coating probably isn't safe for use at high temperatures)

If you'd like your rice to be brown, you'll want to use either a thick soy sauce or dark soy sauce mixed with a little bit of ground bean sauce.  I'm a bit partial to the later, finding the combo far tastier

The addition of chili garlic sauce or a drizzle of toasted sesame oil at the end are nice additions for extra flavor



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~ Adapted from A Common Table by Cynthia Chen McTernan

Fried Rice
  • Crispy Fried Shallots
  • 3-4 shallots
  • 1 cup sunflower oil (or another high-heat neutral oil)

  • Fried Rice
  • 1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
  • 2 Tbsp shallot oil (from Crispy Fried Shallots) or another high-heat neutral oil, divided
  • 3-4 large eggs, well beaten
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 Tbsp minced garlic (2-3 cloves)
  • 2 Tbsp minced fresh ginger
  • 1 medium-sized onion, diced
  • 6 oz ( ~ 1½ cups ) diced ham or another cooked protein of your choice
  • 1 cup frozen peas, thawed
  • 3-4 sliced scallions, white and light green parts sliced thinly on the diagonal
  • 1 to 2 cups veggies of your choice
  • 4 to 6 cups cooked white rice
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce or 1½ Tbsp dark soy sauce + 1 Tbsp ground bean sauce

  • Garnishes (Optional)
  • sesame seeds
  • scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
  • a drizzle of toasted sesame oil

  1. Crispy Fried Shallots
  2. Peel and slice shallots paper thin
  3. Use a paper towel to blot out any excess moisture
  4. Line a rimmed baking sheet with 2 or 3 layers of paper towels
  5. Set a large metal colander over a heatproof bowl
  6. Place the shallots in a saucepan or skillet over medium-high heat and cover with oil by ¼-inch
  7. When the shallots begin to bubble, reduce heat to medium-low
  8. Let the shallots bubble gently, stirring occasionally to prevent any hot spots, until deeply golden (this will take a while - at least 10-15 minutes)
  9. Pour the shallots into the prepared colander, letting the oil drain into the bowl below
  10. Spread the shallots over the paper towel-lined baking sheet to cool and crisp up
  11. Sprinkle with a bit of salt
  12. Reserve the oil for use in practically anything savory

  13. Fried Rice
  14. In a large wok or skillet, heat the toasted sesame and shallot oil over medium-high heat until shimmering (but not too hot)
  15. Pour the eggs into the pan and whisk vigorously with chopsticks until they've scrambled into small wisps
  16. Remove from the wok and set aside
  17. Wipe out the wok and heat the remaining tablespoon of oil over medium-high
  18. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until they've just begun to soften
  19. Add the ginger and garlic and cook another minute
  20. Add the ham and cook for 1 to 2 minutes
  21. Finally, add the peas, scallions, and veggies (see notes above about cooking considerations if they're raw), cooking until they're done
  22. Add the rice
  23. Stir, chop, stir, scrape, stir, chop, stir, scrape. Make sure you don’t need more oil. If you do, clear a spot in the center of the wok and add it there.
  24. Stir, scrape, chop some more
  25. Add the soy sauce (or the dark soy sauce and ground bean sauce combo)
  26. Stir, scrape, stir, toss some more, cooking until everything is mixed nicely together, smells nice, is brownish, and there aren't any clumps of rice that are stuck together.
  27. Season with salt and pepper, as needed
  28. Add the eggs and toss to combine
  29. Reduce the heat to its lowest setting and let sit for about five minutes
  30. Remove wok from heat
  31. Top liberally with Crispy Fried Shallots or whatever garnishes you would like

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