It’s taken me several tries, but I finally got the fried rice down pat. I was making two mistakes, either one of which would make it not-quite-right. But together? Completely wrong, like it was a whole different, completely forgettable dish.
Here, finally, is how it’s supposed to work.
soy sauce (see below for amounts)
cooked pork (leftover from last night’s crock pot pork roast is good)
green onions (optional)
You may have guessed from the giant bag that I plan on doing a lot of rice. Yup, good guess, you’re pretty smart. It’s cheap, easy to make, and I like it. Why wouldn’t I make a lot of it?
Don’t use instant or fast-cooking rice for this. The grains are usually not whole, and they won’t stand up to the oil or the frying. It’s not like you can do fried rice from scratch in 10 minutes anyway, as you’ll see shortly.
Mix the rice and water in a pot, two cups of water per cup of rice. I’m doing three cups of rice here. I plan on having plenty of leftovers.
Bring to a rolling boil, then turn the heat down very low and put a tight-fitting lid on. Let it simmer for 15 minutes, until all the water is absorbed.
Don’t check it or mix it while it cooks. You’ll let the steam out, and steam is what gets inside the rice when it cooks. Let the steam out of the pot and there will be none for inside the rice. And mixing will just mash up the grains that are hydrated and soft against the ones that are still dry and hard. So don’t.
When the rice is done there won’t be any standing water left, the rice will have absorbed it all. Let it stand for 5 minutes off the burner for the heat and steam to even out, then fluff it with a fork.
Now I’ve got to take a little detour down memory lane.
I remember almost nothing about the cafeteria food when I was in grade school. Just two things have stuck with me. One is the big milk machine they loaded with boxes of white and chocolate milk. Remember these things?
I’ll bet you could never have those in a school today. Liability issues. Everybody uses the little cartons now.
The other thing I remember is the rice. They served rice with an absolutely ridiculous amount of butter in it. Of course it was probably margarine, but I didn’t know any better at the time. And it was gooood.
So now every time I make rice I make a little extra, add too much butter, and have that while I finish making the rest of the meal.
And I’ve got the girls totally hooked on it.
Big important tip #1
This is the first thing I kept doing wrong that always ruined my rice. You can’t fry it right away. You have to refrigerate it overnight first, and start the frying with cold cooked rice.
Freshly cooked rice is still very sticky. It needs a night of refrigeration for the surface of the grains to dry out a little bit. Fried rice shouldn’t be a clumpy mess, it should be a bunch of individual grains, each one nicely fried all the way around.
I cheated a little bit — I’m a big fan of cheating in the kitchen — and set the pot out on the back porch. Cleveland in December is a huge walk-out freezer. My rice was ready to go in three hours.
Once your rice is cooled, heat a couple of tablespoons of oil — I like olive pomace oil — over high heat in a non-stick, or a well-seasoned cast iron wok. It doesn’t have to be a wok, but don’t go with uncoated stainless steel or aluminum or the rice will stick like crazy. And don’t skimp on the oil. The rice will absorb quite a bit at first.
Pour the rice into the wok and break up the clumps.
Keep tossing and breaking up the clumps until the rice is all loose and evenly coated with oil.
Add the soy sauce. Depending on what brand you’re using, and how salty you like your rice, the amount will vary widely. I just do it by sight, doing a quick zig-zag over the top then stir it all in.
Don’t go too heavy at first. It takes surprisingly little soy sauce to season even a large pile of rice. That’s probably between one and two tablespoons in the pan above. You can always add more if you need it, but once you’ve added too much you’re out of luck.
Big important tip #2
Every time I watch them make the fried rice at the local Chinese take-out place, they push the rice to the side and crack the eggs right into the wok. Every time I tried to scramble the egg in the same wok I ended up turning it into a quiche. Yummy, but not what I meant to make.
What I never considered is that their wok is about two-and-a-half feet across, and the burner under it is up so high the flames wrap all the way around when they pick up the pan. Okay, so I’ll need to do it a little differently.
Melt some bacon fat in a separate pan and crack a couple of eggs into it. One egg per one cup uncooked rice.
Scramble the eggs until they’re holding together pretty well, but not completely cooked, then add to the rice.
Into the same pan you just used for the eggs, toss the diced pork with some more bacon fat. This is great for the leftover pork tenderloin.
Cook the pork with a little salt and pepper until it’s browned all around, add it to the rice and stir everything together.
I’ve had diced carrots, peas, corn, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts and green onions in fried rice. I like just the green onions myself. If you’re using any of the other vegetables, add them to the rice and toss together over heat for a few more minutes to heat them up. With the green onion, slice it thin and toss it through when everything else is done.
We usually think of rice as a side dish in the U.S., but this is fine as the main course.
Just add some egg rolls and wonton or egg-drop soup, and that’s it.
While was making this, my wife was getting us ready for a Christmas party. She had already set out the platter for the appetizer we were going to bring. (Bruschetta pizza, by the way. Everybody keeps asking me to make it. I think I’ve done it for three parties already this month.)
Groucho decided the platter was just the right size.
I asked him what he thought he was doing on the table. He looked at me like he was considering what I’d said.
Yes, I cleaned the platter thoroughly before using it. But not until I’d reminded Groucho that in some cultures a platter of cat would go just fine with the rice.
(I know I’m going to hear it in the comments about that last line.)
Want more like this? For more recipes like this, that you can hold right in your hands, and write on, take notes, tear pages out if you want (Gosh, you're tough on books, aren't you?) you might be interested in How To Cook Like Your Grandmother, 2nd edition, Illustrated. Or to learn your way around the kitchen, check out Starting From Scratch: The Owner's Manual for Your Kitchen.