Endlessly Customizable Fried Rice
There's a whole world of fried rice out there beyond the near-identical orange and green-dotted versions churned out by Chinese takeout spots around the country. We've been making fried rice at home since we were kids (it helps when you grow up in a Chinese-American household where there is always leftover rice in the fridge), but I have rarely - if every - used carrots or peas or any of the other familiar ingredients you usually see.
Why? Because fried rice is perfect for - and delicious with - just about anything you've got in your refrigerator. I use any green vegetable I have in the kitchen (like the wilting chard pictured above), and whatever else I have around. Today it was a cooked Italian sausage from last night's dinner and some shiitake mushrooms that I'd forgotten about. I combined these three scavenged items with eggs, leftover rice, and some building blocks of Chinese cuisine that I try to always have around: ginger, garlic, scallions, and sauces. I'll talk you through how to put it all together.
The Rough Recipe
Serves 2-ish people, but can easily be multiplied with more eggs and rice. It really depends on the size of your pan, you don't want rice spilling out all over when you stir. Takes roughly 30 minutes, depending on what ingredients you're using.
Here's what you'll need:
- A wok or large skillet (I use a cast-iron)
- 2 or 3 large eggs, beaten
- 1 cup or so of chopped greens - if you're using something with a stalk, divide it into leaves and stems
- 1 cup or so of another vegetable - could be a root vegetable that's already roasted or cooked, or something else raw that doesn't take a long time to cook
- 1 tablespoon-ish of an aromatic like minced garlic or ginger or both, or a few thinly sliced scallions (make sure to use both white and green parts, although you can save some of the green ends for a garnish)
- 2 or 3 cups leftover rice (so it's dry enough to not stick - if you're really craving it and only have freshly made rice, spread it out on a baking sheet to dry out for 10 minutes)
- I like a splash of soy sauce and Shaoxing wine, but Irene likes her fried rice with just salt, so don't feel like you need to have Asian sauces around (although they always come in handy!)
- Neutral oil, like canola or grapeseed
- Kosher salt
Other delicious additions
- Half a cup or more of whatever meat you like - try ground pork or thinly sliced chicken, or bacon or sliced salami or cooked sausage or whatever you've got
- Torn or chopped fresh herbs - stick with the leafy ones like mint, basil, cilantro leaves and stems, parsley
- Other aromatics like onions or shallots
- More veggies! Roasted squash, avocado chunks, sauteed zucchini, pickled carrots, shaved Brussels sprouts, why not?
Ok. The process might seem complicated the first time, but once you get the hang of it you'll be whipping up fried rice with no recipe in no time. The basic idea is to get all your ingredients ready in their own bowls and bring them close to the stove. Once your wok or large skillet is hot, cook them all separately with a little bit of oil (unless it comes with its own fat, like bacon). Ingredients that will cook in similar amounts of time, like the chard stems and mushrooms in the above dish, can go together. Anything leafy can be saved for the end as the leaves will only need a short amount of time to cook. Lastly, have a medium bowl to the side of the stove where you can put each item once it's cooked, then add it all back together with the sauce at the end.
Here's how that might go:
Heat a splash of oil in the pan over medium-high heat. Once it shimmers, add the beaten eggs and let them spread out in the pan. Sprinkle lightly with salt and cook for a few seconds before using a spatula to fold the eggs into a light scramble. Once the eggs are set but still tender, transfer them to the waiting bowl.
Add a small splash more oil and then cook your next round of veggies. In my case this meant stir-frying the chard stems and mushrooms until both tender, adding the leaves and stir-frying for just a few more seconds until wilted, then transferring them all to the bowl with the eggs.
If you have meat, you can cook it now and then add it to the bowl with the eggs and veggies. Make sure to season it with a sprinkle of salt too.
After your eggs, meat and veggies are cooked, add another splash of oil and add your aromatics like ginger, garlic or scallions. Stir-fry for about 30 seconds, then add the rice and spread it out in the pan, using your spatula to break up any large clumps. Let fry for about a minute, then stir and spread the rice out again. Do this a few times until all the rice is hot and getting nicely fried and crunchy.
Pour the contents of your egg + veggies bowl on top of the rice and stir to combine and distribute everything. If you're adding sauce, pour it on top now. Start with a little bit (maybe a tablespoon or so), taste and add as you go. You don't want your fried rice to be too gloppy and you can always add more sauce at the table.
Cook until everything is hot and well-mixed, then transfer to bowls. Add any fresh herbs or scallion greens and taste for seasoning, then enjoy!