The Secret of Great Fried Rice

2013-01-06 12.45.49I have to confess that I used to find fried rice difficult.  That seems silly.  What’s so hard about frying a bit of rice?

The thing is, I’d end up with a stodgy, soggy mess that was almost, but not quite, completely unlike anything I’d ever eat in a restaurant or, frankly, anything cooked by someone who knew what they were doing with fried rice.

Luckily I have a fried rice sifu to put me right.  The secret is quite simple – use overnight rice.

Basically your rice needs to have the right texture.  So here are the three things to remember:

  1. Don’t wash your rice before cooking.  For boiled or steamed rice it’s good to wash the rice by rinsing it in a pot, changing the water and rinsing until the water stays clear.  For fried rice don’t wash it.  Put it in the water unwashed.  Boil it until it is just, and only just, cooked.  Don’t overdo it.  It won’t fry well.  You could pour a kettle full of water over it afterwards – but go easy.  I’ve taken to running cold water through it briefly as that stop the rice cooking.
  2. Fluff your rice and put it in the fridge overnight.  This is critical.  It allows the rice to dry out slightly.  You can put it in the oven on a very low temperature for an hour or so but I only do that in an emergency.  The best thing about using overnight is that it’s a great way of doing half your cooking the night before.  All you have to do the next day is chop the veg and add everything to the rice.
  3. Use a hot wok.  When we used to eat out in Malaysia my sifu would listen for a sound like the afterburner of a jet engine coming from the kitchen.  A really big fire and a hot wok was a pretty reliable indication that the food would be good.

A few other thoughts;

Chop your garlic, don’t crush it.  Sounds silly but East Asian chefs tend to chop their garlic very fine.  They don’t use a garlic press.

If you like South East Asian fried rice get a block of belacan  (pronounced belachan) which is dried prawn paste.  A little adds a certain something (dried prawn paste innit).  I tend to add it in with the oil.

If you’re going to use egg best to beat it and fry it first like an omelette, shred it and add it at the end.

If using seafood again fry it off first, put it to the side and add it back in when the rice is done.  With vegetables; start with the veg and keep it in there adding the rice.

Of course fried rice isn’t purely an East Asian speciality.  There’s also that Anglo-Indian classic kedgeree.  So here’s my kedgeree recipe.  It’s one of those joyous things where there’s no one right way (albeit there are a few wrong ways).

So here you go.  You’ll need:

75g uncooked rice (preferably basmati) per person.

1tbs neutrally flavoured oil – sunflower, rapeseed are fine, palm oil is not (for very many reasons)

1 medium onion (chopped fairly fine)

1 kipper per two people or 60g smoked haddock per person.

sweetcorn and peas (don’t be ashamed to use frozen)

1 tbs good quality curry paste (heat and quantity to taste)

ground turmeric

fresh coriander chopped

1 hard boiled egg per person (quartered)

Cook the rice as described above and leave in the fridge overnight.  Hard boil the eggs and put aside.

If you’re using kippers stick them in a jug, top up with boiling water and leave for 100 minutes.  If you’re using smoked haddock poach it in milk for ten minutes adding a couple of cardamoms, a clove, a chilli and a bay leaf.  Drain, flake (or in the case of the kippers probably chop) and put to one side while getting on with everything else.

Chop the onion, fry it fairly gently in a wok (a wok works for kedgeree even though it’s not a Chinese dish.)  Add the curry paste.   Cooking curry spices with the onion at the outset seems to help ‘seal’ them into the dish.  Add the turmeric.

Add the vegetables, stir though for a few second and then add the rice.  I like to raise the heat a little at this point but some people don’t like their kitchens getting smelly.  Add the fish and stir until everything is cooked through and garnish with fresh chopped coriander and quarters of hard boiled egg.

With East Asian fried rice there seem to be two main schools – Cantonese and Indon/Malay.  I have a deep affection for Malaysia, not so much a nation state, more a federation of restaurants and their customers.

Sitting outside of an evening in the heat and the dark, soaking up the atmosphere at a mamak or a warung with a plate of nasi goreng kampung (takmau ayam boss, makanan laut okey mah) is one of many states of bliss I discovered in SE Asia. That and teh ais kurang manis, a straw and the heat of the night or the first sip of cold beer after a sweltering day.

If only Malaysian politics were as good as Malaysian food…

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