Fried rice: Hearty, simple, satisfying
Mark Bittman got me thinking about making fried rice.
Bittman, author of "How to Cook Everything" and "Food Matters," and a columnist for The New York Times, made a dish called "impromptu fried rice" on NBC's "Today" show recently. Explaining that his new method of making fried rice is to use more vegetables and less rice, Bittman chopped and stir-fried scallions, red bell pepper, asparagus, frozen peas, bean sprouts, garlic and ginger, mixing the vegetables with beaten eggs and then with cooked brown rice, white wine (or was it sherry?), soy sauce, dark sesame oil, salt and pepper. For a finale, he tossed a handful of chopped cilantro at the finished product.
The audience was entertained as Bittman rallied to get all the vegetables into the pan. They probably decided, as I did, to make fried rice soon.
Fried rice is easy to make. You need leftover (cold) cooked rice, eggs, scallions, cooking oil, salt, a drop of sherry and a wok or large frying pan, according to the "Joyce Chen Cook Book," published by J. B. Lippincott in 1968.
Joyce Chen (1917-1994), who moved from Shanghai, China, to Cambridge, Mass., in 1949, did for Chinese food what Julia Child did for French food. She taught New Englanders what it was, how to appreciate it and how to cook it. Chen's method of cooking home-style egg-fried rice is to put the rice in a bowl, break the eggs over it and mix them into the rice along with the scallions, sherry, salt and the monosodium glutamate (which we no longer choose to use), breaking up all the lumps of rice. Then Chen puts oil in a hot skillet over medium high heat, adds the rice mixture and stirs constantly for eight to 10 minutes. She says no soy sauce or any other liquid should be added. This is of interest to those of us who drenched our fried rice, made according to the "Joy of Cooking" instructions, with soy sauce, unaware that we should have been sprinkling it gingerly with salt.
Nina Simonds, our reigning authority on Chinese cooking, agrees with Chen that soy sauce isn't used on fried rice, but says it is fine to have some if you prefer it to salt, and suggests adding curry powder for extra flavor. A Massachusetts resident, Simonds has lived in Southeast Asia, where she traveled and studied cooking, and she has written 10 books about Chinese cooking and culture.
She says fried rice is a dish usually made with leftover cooked rice, vegetables and bits of meat or seafood, which are diced and tossed with the rice. Simonds' rules for fried rice are:
• Use a long-grain rice, such as basmati or Carolina (but brown rice is another option).
• Begin with cold cooked rice so it won't clump when it is fried.
• Choose meat and vegetable garnishes that contrast in flavor, texture and color, and cut them into uniform pieces.
• Use aromatic seasonings, such as ginger, scallions and curry powder to enhance the flavor of the garnishes.
Be creative and enjoy your fried rice dishes. You'll enjoy this barbecued pork brown rice and banana coconut pudding with candied ginger from Nina Simonds' "A Spoonful of Ginger," published by Knopf in 2000, a book that won the James Beard Foundation Award.
Visit Nina Simonds' Web site and blog at spicesoflife.com and watch her prepare great meals.
Barbecued Pork Brown Rice
From "A Spoonful of Ginger: Irresistible, Health-Giving Recipes from Asian Kitchens," by Nina Simonds; Alfred A. Knopf, 2000.
1 pound center-cut pork loin (or purchase barbecued pork loin in Chinatown or use leftover roasted pork)
1 1/2 tablespoons canola or corn oil
1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
2 1/2 cups minced leeks, cleaned thoroughly
1/2 pound fresh snow peas, ends snapped, veiny strings removed and cut diagonally in half
2 1/2 tablespoons rice wine
5 cups cooked brown rice, chilled, then separated with a fork
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon ketchup
1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon five-spice powder (optional)
Sauce (mixed together)
3 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon chicken broth
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. To prepare the barbecued pork, trim any fat or gristle from the meat. Mix the barbecue sauce ingredients in a bowl, add the pork, and toss to coat. Place the pork in a baking pan lined with aluminum foil, and roast for 30 to 45 minutes, until cooked through. Let it cool, then cut into thin slices about 1/4-inch thick, and then into small dice about 1/2-inch square. Skip this step if you are using already barbecued or roasted pork.
Heat a wok or large skillet, add the oil, and heat until hot. Add the ginger and leeks, and toss lightly over high heat about 1 1/2 minutes. Add the snow peas and cook briefly, then add the rice wine and stir-fry over high heat for a minute until crisp-tender. Add the brown rice, breaking it up with a spatula. Cook about 2 to 3 minutes, tossing, until heated through. Add the cooked pork and the premixed sauce and toss lightly to coat.
Spoon the barbecued pork brown rice into a serving dish and serve.
Makes 6 servings.
"This luscious pudding is simple, yet sumptuous," Simonds writes. "The coconut-tapioca pudding is generously studded with bits of banana and candied ginger." This is an applause-worthy dessert.
1 tablespoon small pearl tapioca
1 can (13 1/2 ounces) light coconut milk
2 heaping tablespoons coarsely chopped candied ginger
1/4 cup sugar
Soften the tapioca in warm water to cover for an hour. Drain.
While the tapioca is soaking, heat the coconut milk, candied ginger and sugar in a saucepan, stirring constantly. When hot, remove from the heat and let the mixture stand for 10 minutes to infuse the coconut milk with the flavor of the ginger.
Peel the bananas and cut along the length in half. Cut along the length again and then cut across into dice about 1/2 inch square. Place the bananas and tapioca in the coconut milk and slowly cook over low heat, stirring lightly so as not to break up the bananas. Cook about 5 minutes, until the bananas are barely poached. Remove from the heat, let cool slightly, then ladle into a serving bowl. Chill, and serve sprinkled with additional shredded candied ginger, if desired.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.