Humble fried rice deserves a place in your recipe repertoire

Julie Falsetti
For The York Dispatch

General Tso’s Chicken, Buddha’s Delight — the names of dishes in Chinese restaurants suggest whimsy and a back story waiting to be told. Then, at the bottom of the menu, there is fried rice.

Though an often ordered and tasty dish, it is a humble dish meant to showcase leftovers. In fact, only pre-cooked rice is used to make fried rice.

This is not a problem in most of Asia. While Americans wake up and push the button on their coffee makers, Asians do the same with their rice cookers. Rice is a staple that is eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner, so there is never a question of not having leftover rice.

In the American kitchen, making fried rice requires a bit of planning. If you are an organized early riser, you can cook the rice in the morning before work and let it sit on the stove to cool. If you are like me, it is easier to cook the rice when you have time and stick it in the refrigerator to use when you are ready.

Next is the question of the rice. Judging from the amount of shelf space devoted to packaged rice products, most Americans are uneasy cooking rice. Pass on Minute Rice or any kind of parboiled rice such as Uncle Ben’s. It won’t work to make fried rice.

Making plain white rice is a fairly straightforward process. First, choose a long grain variety such as Carolina. Put the rice into a 2-quart pot and add water in a ratio of 2 to 1 — that is, two parts water to one part rice. Bring the rice and water to a boil, stir once, cover and lower the heat. Cook for 20 minutes on a very low flame, and then let sit covered until completely cooled. Don’t be tempted to lift the lid, as it will affect the cooking process.

The remaining ingredients in the fried rice are determined by personal preference and what’s in the refrigerator. Monochrome food is not appealing, so color variation is a consideration. The recipe below offers some suggestions, but feel free to adapt it as you choose. For a vegetarian version, baked tofu can be substituted for the meat.

Five Jewel Fried Rice

3 cups cooked white rice (1 cup raw)

2 cups cooked meat (pork, ham, chicken), cooked shrimp or baked tofu, cut in 1/2-inch cubes

3 scallions including the green, cut in 1/2-inch pieces

2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1/2 cup green beans, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1/2 cup peas

1 small red bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

Vegetable oil

1 egg, beaten

2–3 tablespoons soy sauce (to taste)

Heat a large cast iron or other heavy-bottom frying pan over high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of oil. Pour in the egg and cook until set. Flip over once and then remove and let cool. Cut into 1/2-inch pieces and set aside on a plate.

Add another tablespoon of oil and stir fry the carrots, peppers and green beans for 3 minutes. Add the peas and scallions and stir fry for 2 minutes more. Remove the vegetables to a plate and add the meat. Stir fry a minute or two until heated through. Remove the meat and add it to the plate of vegetables.

Add 2 more tablespoons of oil to the pan. Add the rice, breaking it apart with your fingers or a spatula. Stir fry for 2 minutes, then add the vegetables and meat. Mix well to combine. Add the soy sauce. Using a spatula, mix well.

Serve hot.

— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section.