I’ve been trying to make myself a welcomed and pleasant houseguest these past few weeks. I have a few techniques I try to use. I try to remember the “house guests and fish” rule, by not staying too long in one place. I make myself scarce when my hosts are busy. I try to be charming, an amusing conversationalist, a general pleasure to be around. I tidy up after myself, bring gifts of wine and cheese and cookies. And I cook.
I’ve been staying at Kristen’s house this week. She has two boys. As it turns out, teenaged boys can put away some groceries. It’s like a shop vac gets turned on in the kitchen, and thirty minutes later, they are hungry again. So the other night, I made a huge skillet of fried rice for a very appreciative audience. (That is a nice thing about cooking for teenaged boys- they are very enthusiastically appreciative). It’s quick and easy, a good way to use leftovers, and according to the boys, a crowd pleaser.
There are two important things to remember: first, start with cold rice, and second, don’t be afraid of high heat. Most other things in fried rice are negotiable. These are not, so no back talk. The reason for cold (and even a little dry) rice is that it holds up much better under the stirring and tossing. Fresh rice just gets mushy and beat up. And the high heat, which I think is one of the most important things to get comfortable with as a cook, cooks everything fast enough to get done before it starts getting mushy. Fresh rice and a tepid pan makes for a sodden greasy grease bomb and nobody wants that. You want glossy individual grains of rice, emollient but not saturated with sesame oil, lightly bound with a bit of just-cooked egg and studded with vegetables and shrimp, chicken, pork or sausage.
Here is what I used :
5 or 6 cups of cold or room temperature long grain rice- leftover is perfect. Use your hands to gently separate the grains into a bowl, ready to pour into the wok
Oil (corn, canola, peanut etc.) to generously coat the bottom of the pan
Toasted sesame oil
1 clove garlic minced or crushed
1 tiny knob of ginger finely grated
3 or 4 scallions, sliced
A cup or two of cooked vegetables (I used a frozen mix of water chestnuts, baby corn, snow peas, mushrooms, and edamame, thawed and drained , but frozen peas work well too; whatever you like )
3 beaten eggs
Soy sauce, or
Salt to taste
White or cayenne pepper to taste
Fried rice takes minutes to make once you get started, so have everything ready to go when you turn the heat on. You will need a big flat bladed spatula and a big pan. (I use a wok at home, but used Kristen’s electric skillet on its highest setting this time). Get you large wok or skillet as screaming red rocket hot as you can and then pour the oil in, probably about a 3 to 1 ratio of regular oil to toasted sesame oil. As soon as it starts to shimmer, add the garlic and ginger. Keep it moving, stirring or shaking the pan. You’ll get that hit of fragrance and then it’s time for the vegetables and scallions to go in. Keep moving and tossing with one hand, and then scatter the rice across the whole of the pan’s surface so that it gets as much rice-to-hot-pan exposure as possible. It should be pretty noisy and hissy; that means it’s frying and not getting all steamy. Once the rice grains starts to look glossy and separate, scoop them up the sides of your pan, leaving an empty well in the center. If you are not using a non stick pan and it looks pretty dry, add a little more sesame oil to the middle. swirling it slightly to get it hot and distributed. Pour the beaten egg into the well and immediately begin folding the rice into the egg, gently stirring and folding to distribute the egg throughout the rice as it cooks. Turn the heat off as soon as the egg thickens. If you want to, toss in some chopped up meat, whatever you like. Get a fork and taste for seasoning. I personally like a few tablespoons of salty soy sauce stirred in instead of salt. White or cayenne pepper for those who wish it.
Fried rice is pretty negotiable, like I said, so use what you have or prefer. If you want to it vegetarian, just bump up the proportion of vegetables. If you aren’t cooking for teenaged boys, use less rice. And if you can find some Chinese sausage, that’s very good too. I’m hoping this one bought me at least a couple more days of houseguest goodwill.