At the end of an interminable confab with my family at Christmas dinner, taking into account my children’s admittedly provincial preferences along with the varied aversions and phobias of our invited guests, I huffed in exasperation, “Maybe we should just send out for Chinese!” My daughter yay-ed spontaneously, and Chinese takeout it was.
However, I cannot simply order Chinese. I must over-order, and over-order I did. Lo mein. Chow mein. General Tso’s Chicken. Colonel Wu’s Yam Salad. And rice. Lots and lots of rice. Enough rice, in fact, to earn me the cumbersome nickname, “Mr. Many Extra Cartons of Rice in the Fridge.”
Of course, then the question became, what to do with all that leftover rice? If only there were a way to fry it up and — aha! Fried rice it is.
The premise behind fried rice is as easy as toast: Stir cooked rice into cooked nonrice ingredients, get it piping hot and, as the French say, “Look there!”
But, let’s get something straight from the get-go: Today we’re focusing on using up leftovers. Obviously, you could make fried rice “from scratch.”
Also, even though fried rice is associated with China, we can apply to it any flavor profile we want.
Now, about those leftovers.
The rice from your leftover ordered-in Chinese is perfect, though any leftover rice will do. And really, you don’t even need rice. Any starch will work: couscous, barley, pasta, quinoa, even fried potatoes.
Next, you’ll need some additional color and flavor, because, let’s face it, on its own, white rice is pale and bland. The easiest thing is simply to use leftover meat — chicken, beef, pork — and/or vegetables — broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, peas, whatever. Cut everything into bite-sized pieces.
When you take this easy, precooked ingredient route, all you need do is toss everything in a little oil in a saute pan (or wok), over high heat until it’s hotter than Satan’s minty-fresh breath.
But you might want a little more flavor. Before adding any leftovers, saute some of what the kids call “aromatics,” like onion, garlic, carrot or celery. If you’re staying with Asian flavors, add some fresh ginger.
If you’re using fresh vegetables, approach it like a stir-fry: Long cooking items (like carrots) go in before quick cooking items (like garlic or mushrooms). If you’re using leftovers as well, add them at the end, with the rice.
Egg is also common, scrambled or cooked into a flat omelet and cut into strips. Do this first, in the same pan, then remove it and add it back with the rice.
We’re almost done. You just need to add more flavor and possibly moisture.
First, the moisture. I keep a box of chicken broth in the fridge and add a splash to anything I’m reheating. And, let’s face it, leftover rice can get drier than King Tut’s martini, especially in those oddly shaped, white cardboard containers from the Chinese restaurant.
As for additional flavors, the world is your oystery palette. If you’re staying Asian, try a splash of soy or fish sauce or one of those other tasty condiments, like oyster sauce, fermented black beans or chile paste. Start with a little, and taste as you go.
Or, take a different tack altogether: Go Mexican with pico de gallo or cumin, minced chipotles and cilantro. Or Indian with coconut milk, chutney and garam masala. See what we’re doing?
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 15 minutes
Makes: 4 servings
1 ounce soy sauce
2 ounces chicken stock
1 ounce oyster sauce, optional
2 tablespoons peanut or other vegetable oil
2 eggs, beaten
Kosher salt as needed
8 ounces onion, cut into medium dice
1 carrot, cut into medium dice
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon peeled, minced ginger
1 cup peas (frozen is OK)
3 to 4 cups leftover cooked rice
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 green onions, sliced on a bias, optional
1. Combine soy sauce, chicken stock and optional oyster sauce in a small bowl; set aside.
2. Heat a large skillet or wok over high heat. Add one tablespoon of oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Add eggs, season to taste with salt, and cook until lightly scrambled, about 60 seconds. Transfer eggs to a bowl.
3. Return pan to high heat, and add another tablespoon of oil to coat bottom of pan. Stir in onion and carrot; saute until tender, about 2 minutes. Add garlic and ginger; saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
4. Add peas, rice, cooked eggs and reserved soy sauce mixture; saute until warmed through and liquid is absorbed, about 2 minutes.
5. Remove from heat and stir in sesame oil. Garnish with green onion, and serve immediately.