Thursday, November 10, 2005

Fry That Rice

Margy and I eat a lot of rice.

I keep several different kinds on hand at all times: basmati, jasmine, brown rice, sometimes short-grain sushi rice. I like to make extra for leftovers, as a bowl of reheated rice can easily become the foundation of a quick lunch, requiring just a bit of dressing up. Sometimes we have so much rice flying around that I'll open the fridge and see several containers of different rice leftovers. This is when I get excited. This is when I make fried rice -- a shape-shifting staple in our house that Margy adores.

Of course, you can use any kind of rice, in any amount, for this. I get a special thrill when I convert simple leftovers into something altogether more interesting -- feeding us and saving food! -- so I let the amount of rice in my refrigerator dictate when I make the dish. Just be sure to use "older" cooked rice. Freshly boiled rice has too much moisture to retain its individuality in the face of bold flavorings and searing heat.

I don't have a recipe for fried rice, so it's always different. And that's half the fun. I usually do a few things the same way, though. I use a skillet, but obviously a wok would be great. I always start by cooking a couple of beaten eggs (protein) in a tiny amount of vegetable oil. I break up the egg and remove it. Then lately I've been sautéeing some finely chopped bacon or pancetta (more protein, plus fat, saltiness, and flavor) in a little more oil, and once it's beginning to brown I add a smallish amount of chopped onion, minced garlic, grated or minced ginger, and minced fresh chilies. High heat is good for all of this, but don't let things burn. If I have carrots lying around, I mince one of them (vitamins and color) and add it at this stage. I usually splash a bit of Thai fish sauce on the mixture as it cooks. This is when Margy walks by and says, "That STINKS!" And it's true -- but the pungent fish sauce cooks off quickly and leaves behind deep oceans of flavor.

So that's your base. Try adding other things if you like. Just try to figure out how long they'll need to cook, which will suggest how small to chop them and when to add them to the pan. Firm tofu (more protein) cut in small pieces is great. I used to put green veggies like broccoli in fried rice, but I found they competed too much with the other stuff, so now we just have a vegetable on the side. The one exception is string beans, which are the perfect addition when sliced into tiny rings and added with the carrot.

The last steps: I put the egg back in the pan to heat it up. I microwave the leftover rice to take the chill out of it, then dump it over the other stuff and carefully mix it all together. I lower the heat, pour a few good tablespoons of soy sauce over the rice, and again stir it all together. Here I used toasted sesame seeds and a squeeze of lemon at the very end, but I prefer a shot of lime juice (I didn't have any). A garnish of cilantro leaves is also terrific.

This time I had enough leftover rice to have leftover fried rice. What could be better? Margy's having it for lunch.

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