People often say to me “Dave, how do you fry rice?”
That’s not strictly true - in my Wok cooking classes I usually asked, “What would you like to be able to cook as well as your local Chinese takeaway?”, and the answer in seven out of ten cases was fried rice.
There are three principles in frying rice: First boil your rice. Second make sure it’s cold when you bring it to the wok. Third, respect your rice.
This doesn’t seem unreasonable does it? All food should be treated with respect and no food has more respect accorded to it across the world than rice. It feeds half the world and has done for at least a millennium.
The Chinese approach to rice differs somewhat to the Japanese, Indian or Italian, not least because there are different strains of rice. Chinese rice is rounder than Patna or Basmati rice and less glutinous than Japanese or Italian. The Chinese prefer their rice steamed which can be achieved without a steamer by doing the following:
First wash your rice. Two cups of rice is plenty for four adults. Get as much starch out of it as possible either by running tap water through it or rinsing it by hand in a saucepan changing the water when it is cloudy.
Put the washed rice in a good pan with a good lid and top up with water to about half an inch above the rice. Bring to the boil and allow to boil for a minute giving it a good stir, then put the lid on, turn the heat off and making yourself a drink.
In ten minutes the rice will have absorbed all the water and have formed a sizeable solid cake, leave this to go cold. When it’s cold break it up into manageable lumps with a wooden spoon.
Now, you may want to make a simple egg-fried rice, a more ostentatious Yung Chow fried rice, or perhaps a dish tailored to your specific need. Remember fried-rice is not a gourmet food in China, just as potato rosti is seldom an automatic option in a chip shop, the Chinese like their rice plain.
Also remember that rice, like the potato, maize, or bread is a staple food for many poor people and they consume it in vast quantities on a day-to-day basis. Therefore when they splash out on a family banquet literally the last thing you’ll see on the menu (just before the soup) is rice, and it’s there in case your gargantuan appetite has not been assuaged by the previous fifteen epicurean courses.
At home yesterday’s boiled rice may be fried but it is the crunchy burnt bits at the bottom of the wok which are particularly favoured as a breakfast cereal or something for the lunch box. However, as with so many world foods, we’ve developed a taste for something that isn’t particularly authentic and our culinary masters have responded by providing an all-in-one dish that is tasty, convenient and inexpensive.
Let’s assume you want the Yung Chow or Special Fried version:
You need peanut oil, egg, spring onion, cooked chicken, cooked ham or hock, warm water prawns and button mushrooms. You need light or dark soy sauce, depending on how you prefer your rice, and ideally a small amount of rice wine or dry sherry.
A good way to cook a chicken breast is to boil it; just drop it into a small pan of simmering salted water when you do your rice, it will be cooked in ten minutes, leave to cool and it will chop into small cubes perfectly.
To cook your egg (two eggs will be enough for a dish for four people), beat and whisk them lightly with a fork until they just begin to froth. Heat a tablespoon of peanut oil in a wok until smoking (other light oils will do but not sesame or olive). Swirl the oil around to coat the inside surface of the wok then pour in the egg and swirl around to cover the inside of the pan, then take the wok off the heat. You will have a very thin pale yellow omelette which you can attack with a wooden spoon and break down into small pieces to suit, take it out of the pan and save.
Before repeating the process, prepare your other ingredients. It is best to use cold cooked meat. Cut all ingredients to the size of your smallest item, probably the prawns. Don’t use Jumbo prawns, use the smallest (and probably cheapest) warm water prawns you can get, you can use cold-water prawns but it seems such a waste. For four people a cup each of prawn, chicken, ham or hock,
At this point before putting the cooked meat in I favour a teaspoon of minced ginger and half a teaspoon of Chinese five-spice. Stir these in off the heat before reheating the wok prior to putting the chicken and ham in. Give them two minutes stirring frequently to make sure they’re hot and coated then add the spring onions, if using them, and the egg. You will now have a hot, aromatic dish of fried rice - without the rice!
Take off the heat and add your cold rice, breaking down any lumps with your wooden spoon. When you‘ve got a good even distribution of contents restore to a high heat, stirring frequently to ensure the rice is heated through and that it’s not catching on the bottom of the wok. After two minutes pour in a large tablespoon of rice wine or dry sherry and a small tablespoon of light or dark soy sauce. Keep stirring so everything is coated and moist and a shade of brown that resembles the fried rice of your choice. Remember dark soy does what it says on the bottle and your fried rice will be a definite shade of brown if you use it.
Before a final stir some people will add a sprinkling of sesame oil but this an indulgence. Make sure everything is hot. It will keep in a hot oven and it can be reheated the next day or eaten cold.
You’ve spotted it - no seasoning! If you’re using soy sauce I think you’ve got quite enough salt and if you’re using five-spice I don’t think you need pepper, but it’s up to you.
Will this look and taste like the Special Fried Rice from your local take-away? It’s a big call but I think you’ll say it comes close, and for four it will probably cost £5 if you’ve already got the core ingredients of oil, soy, five spice, garlic, and sherry in your cupboard.