Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving Fried Rice Recipe

Absolutely nothing camera or tech related, but I thought I'd put it up for American Thanksgiving anyway.

If you live in a Chinese family (like I do), rice is your birthright. In fact, "Have you eaten rice yet?" is an idiomatic phrase in Cantonese used to greet people, indicating how important rice is to the people and to the culture. So that means that even for something as wholly western as a turkey dinner, there's bound to be rice if you are eating at a Chinese dinner party. Turkey also means leftovers, so here is one of my favourite ways to combine the two: fried rice.

A good fried rice is always based on leftovers Fresh rice fries very poorly, if at all, and ends up in a gooey lump if you try. Rice that has sat in the fridge overnight firms up a little, giving you the nice little individual separate grains after frying. Always make sure you start off with rice that was properly cooked and fluffy; undercooked rice will fry into little  gristly bullets. There are lots of varieties to fried rice, but the common things that tie it together are:
  • Soy Sauce. Chinese people don't put soy sauce on rice, as it's a palette cleanser, and finer varieties have delicate aromas to be savored. It always amuses me seeing my Caucasian friends doing this... but I don't judge. However, as fried rice is an entree rather than a side dish, the soy sauce is there to add body. 
  • Egg. A bit of protein to beef up the dish, it adds body  to the dish, and sops up some of the saltiness of the soy sauce. There's an old episode of the original Iron Chef where Chen Kenichi whips up a dish where the grains of rice are pre-coated with egg before frying. The end result was a dish where each grain of rise ended up with an incredible golden hue from the egg. Don't try this at home. Restaurant burners are a lot hotter than what you can achieve at home, and every time that I've tried to replicate Kenichi's dish, I've edded up with a gooey mess because there's not enough heat to sear the egg into the rice quickly.
  • Meat. Actually it doesn't matter, since fried rice is highly improvisational, but the meat does have to be in bite sized slices, as per the usual rules of stir frying.
  • Vegetables. As with meat. Doesn't matter what kind as long as it holds up during frying. The key thing is to go sparingly with the meat and vegetables; they are to the rice what meat sauce is to authentic Italian pasta... it's about the starch, not the extras. I like shreded raw iceberg lettuce, added in after the cooking is done.
  • Something sour/zesty. Actually pineapple is a nice topping. Used sparingly. Cuts through the savoriness of the dish and lightens it up a bit. Used sparingly.
So  to convert this into something entirely in keeping with the holiday season, you get to use these leftovers as substitutes:
  • Turkey: Shred some of the leftovers and set aside. Dark meat works better than white meat. Since these are leftovers, you want something that isn't going to dry out too much.
  • Gravy. Use this to replace the soy sauce. It works brilliantly... it's dark, it's savory, it's a bit salty. I can't give you exact proportions because everybody makes their gravy a little differently. If you have a very dark au jus like sauce, then you might need less. If you've got a thick flour-thickened gravy, you might need more.
  • Cranberry sauce. If it's still canned shaped, so much the better! This takes the place of pineapple.
So to start, heat your pan with a light coating of oil until it's as hot as you can go. If you are using a non-stick pan, don't go past medium high. If you have a wok, so much the better. When it's up to temperature, toss in the rice and fry, being careful to not let the rice sit still for any length of time. The idea is to coat the grains with the oil, and to let them fry without steam building up. You should hear a good deal of sizzling and crackling. Keep tossing until the rice has reached a faint nut-brown colour, the sizzling will have subsided.

At this point, slowly pour in the gravy and toss until the grains are all individually coated. It's important to taste as you go to make sure the saltiness is right, so don't add the gravy in all at once. The gravy will cook into the rice fairly quickly and with a few tosses, the rice should dry up. Now your rice will have gone from a faint golden-white to a light nut-brown. if you see little bits of crusty caramelized edges on the grains, then you know that you'll have done it right.

Push the rice of the edges of the pan, and crack in your an egg into the center of the pan. An egg per 1 or two people is okay. Let the egg firm up a little, as if you were cooking it sunny-side up. Break the yolk while it is still runny, and stir the egg into the rice, tossing it around until  you have shredded cooked strands of egg.

Toss in some shredded lettuce; this step is optional, but if you are going to do it, make sure the lettuce is bone dry before adding to the rice. You can skip this step if you have a side of vegetables waiting.

Take your congealed cranberry sauce and break into small lumps and flecks. Stir into the fried rice. This isn't going to work if your cranberry sauce actually looks like a sauce; the stuff that comes in a can actually works better. Don't skip this step. It's important to have something fruity and acidic to break up the meatiness of the dish.

Plate and enjoy. The end result is something that is still very much a fried rice, but which has an incredible depth of savoriness because you are using turkey meat and gravy that has already been roasted for hours and hours. Makes for a great lunch that is easy to cook and easy to clean up.

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