Eric Akis: Fried rice can be a delight

First steps to success — cook and allow to dry before frying. Then you’ll be able to add other ingredients

Eric Akis

Like many folks interested in the world’s cuisines, I’ve been watching David Chang’s new Netflix series called Ugly Delicious. In each episode, the founder of the Momofuku restaurant group (momofuku.com), and a range other well-informed folk, take the viewer on a global journey to learn about some of our favourite foods, such as pizza, tacos and fried chicken.

In the most recent show I watched, fried rice was the topic that led to a broader look about how Chinese food is viewed around the world.

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From its place of origin, it is now the most pervasive — often undervalued — food on the planet, being served on every continent, and with foods such as sweet and sour pork even being available on the International Space Station.

It was fascinating to watch and when it was over all I wanted to do was make fried rice.

That’s because during the show one of Chang’s contributors, Brandon Jew, chef/owner of Mister Jiu’s restaurant (misterjius.com) in San Francisco, whipped up a tasty- looking batch of it using the technique his Chinese mother taught him.

The technique was actually the same one I learned decades ago from a cook and friend I worked with named Sandy Wong, who mentored me when I started my cooking career.

That method for making fried rice requires you to use cooked rice that was cooled and allowed to dry before being fried. Rice in this form will easily separate when fried and nicely combine with other ingredients.

If one used hot, just cooked rice to make it, it would over cook when fried and be a wet, clumpy mess.

When you’re ready to make the fried rice, your wok or other sturdy cooking vessel, such as a cast iron pan, must be very hot. This will ensure the rice does actually fry and has a tasty, almost charred, smoky flavour, not just be previously cooked rice that tastes like it has been reheated.

Jew’s fried rice was an updated version of the one his mom made when he was growing up.

For example, instead of adding the leftover pieces of steak she added, he seared bits of tender, richly marbled, wagyu beef and also mixed in what looked like chopped broccolini, egg, house-made oyster sauce and few other tastes.

For today’s fried-rice recipe, I decided to go with type I recall my friend Sandy most often making, which is strewn with peas, green onion and egg.

It’s a simple, but welcoming version of fried rice that goes great with other dishes, including today’s other recipe for Chinese-style barbecue chicken.

Pea, Green Onion and Egg Fried Rice 

This simple, but appealing fried rice is rich with bits of sesame oil-flavoured egg, bright green peas and fragrant green onion. I like to cook and cool the rice needed for the recipe the day before I’ll make the fried rice (see Note).

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: About 22 minutes

Makes: four servings

4 cups cold, cooked long grain white rice (see Note)

2 large eggs

1 tsp sesame oil

• salt and white pepper, to taste

2 Tbsp plus 1 tsp peanut or vegetable oil (divided)

1 cup frozen peas

4 green onions, thinly sliced

Let rice warm at room temperature 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the eggs and sesame oil in a small bowl, season with salt and pepper, and then beat until yolks and whites are blended.

Place 1 tsp of the oil in non-skillet set over medium heat. Add the beaten egg mixture and cook and stir until the eggs are lightly scrambled.

Transfer eggs to a plate and set them aside for now.

Place the remaining oil in a wok or very large skillet set over medium-high heat.

When oil is very hot, add the rice and stir-fry two minutes. Mix in the peas and stir-fry two minutes more.

Now add the scrambled egg and green onions, season rice with salt and pepper, and stir-fry one minute more, ensuring the egg gets broken up into smaller bits. Spoon rice onto a serving platter and enjoy.

Note: To get the 4 cups of cooked rice needed here, combine 1 1/2 cups of long grain white rice and 2 1/4 cups of cold water in a medium pot.

Bring to a boil over high heat, and then reduce the heat to its low setting. Cover rice and steam 15 minutes, or until just tender. Spoon the rice into a wide and shallow dish and cool to room temperature. Now wrap and refrigerate for at least four hours, or preferably overnight, before frying it.

Eric’s options: If desired, you could add seared bits of steak, crispy bits of bacon, or West Coast hand-peeled shrimp, to taste, to the fried rice, mixing them in when you first start frying the rice.

For added flavour, you could also add a splash of oyster sauce or soy sauce to the rice.

Chinese-style Barbecue Chicken Thighs

Marinated, roasted, lacquered-looking and sumptuous tasting pieces of chicken that will taste great served alongside today's fried rice recipe.

Preparation time: 10 minutes, plus marinating time

Cooking time: about 55 minutes

Makes: four servings

1/4 cup hoisin sauce

1/4 cup ketchup

1/4 cup rice vinegar

1/4 cup honey

3 Tbsp soy sauce

1 tsp five-spice powder

1 tsp sesame oil

8 skin-on, bone-in thighs

Make marinade by combining the hoisin sauce, ketchup, vinegar, honey, soy sauce, five-spice powder and sesame oil in a 13- x 9-inch or similar sized dish.

Trim any loose skin and fat off each chicken thigh.

Add the chicken thighs to the marinade and turn to coat. Cover, refrigerate and marinate chicken, turning occasionally, four to eight hours.

Preheat your oven to 375 F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Lift chicken out the marinade chicken and set on the baking sheet, skin-side up. Place the leftover marinade in a small pot.

Bring it to a simmer and cook three to four minutes, until marinade has thickened into a sauce you can spoon on the chicken. Now spoon some of this mixture over each piece of chicken.

Roast chicken 40 to 45 minutes, basting with pan juices occasionally, or until cooked through. Arrange the chicken on a platter, drizzle with some pan juices, and serve.

Eric’s options: If desired, in this recipe you could replace the thighs with four whole chicken legs, or four bone-in chicken breasts. Cooking time should be about the same.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

eakis@timescolonist.com

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