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03.26.2007

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fry me a river
how to make fab fried rice

by Yee-Fan Sun |
1 2 3

Fried rice is one of those dishes that should be in everyoneís cooking repertoire. The necessary base ingredients can almost always be scrounged up in your kitchen. Itís infinitely adaptable to the contents of your fridge and freezer. And itís a smart way to recycle tired leftover odds and ends, transforming them into a fresh, new, and always satisfying dish.

Having grown up in a Chinese-American household, though, I have to admit: Iím kind of picky about my fried rice. Too often, Iíve encountered versions that are gummy and gross, or drowned in so much soy sauce I can barely make out the flavors of any of the other ingredients. The thing is, good fried rice is actually really, really easy to make. Keep just a few tips in mind, and youíll be able to create a fab fried rice that works equally well as either a one-dish meal, or part of a bigger feast.

rice-n-easy
Fundamental to a good bowl or platter of fried rice is, of course, the rice itself. So what kind of rice should you use? I like long-grain rice a bit better than short-grain, as the latter tends to be a little sticky, but if all you have on hand is the short-grain stuff, thatíll work as well, provided itís the Asian sort rather than, say, Italian Arborio. What's more important is to make your fried rice from cooled rice* Ö which is why the best candidate for this dish is last nightís leftover plain rice. Hot freshly steamed rice has more liquid in it, and will result in a soggy final dish. If you donít have any leftover rice on hand, however, never fear: try transferring the cooked rice to a metal baking pan, then fluff and toss it all around to help release the steam and get it cool.

*NOTE: Do make sure to cool your rice safely -- no letting it sit out on the counter for a couple of hours while you wait to put it away. Get it reasonably cool, popping into an ice bath if needed, then store in a clean container in the fridge. Rice can contain a bacterium known as B. cereus that causes nasty food poisoning.

wok out
The ideal vessel for making your fried rice is, naturally, a wok. The generous size and scooped-bowl sides of the wok allow you to toss and turn the rice and ingredients with wild abandon Ė without having to worry that youíll end up with rice all over your kitchen floor. If, however, youíre lacking in the wok department, you can make do with a nice big skillet or sauté pan. The key is size: youíll want the pan to be capacious enough to accommodate all your ingredients, and still give you enough room to stir-fry things up. Meanwhile, be aware that if you're using a regular flat-bottomed pan, you'll need to cook over a lower heat since a greater area of the pan will be in direct contact with the burner.

When cooking your rice in a wok, the usual stir-fry rules apply. Prep all your ingredients ahead of time; stir-frying is a quick process, and you wonít have time to fuss around with chopping and dicing once you get going. When youíre ready to start cooking, get your wok nice and hot before adding the oil (my electric stove runs very hot, so I end up cooking at medium-high, about 8 on a scale of 10, rather than full-blast; depending upon hot your stove is, youíll need to cook at either medium-high or high. If in doubt, start at medium-high and if ingredients donít seem to be cooking quickly, up the heat). Let the oil heat up briefly, then add the aromatic ingredients (in this case, garlic and scallions/onions) and start a-stirring. Once you have stuff in the wok, keep it in constant motion to ensure that everything cooks evenly.

shimmy along this way for the base recipe

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