What do you like to put in your fried rice, or will you be celebrating Chinese new year with something a little more sophisticated?
There’s something suspicious about egg fried rice. Like garlic naan, or sausage pasta bake, it seems too perfectly tailored to British tastes to have ever seen the light of day in its alleged homeland.
But, if the living legend that is Ken Hom is to be believed, I malign it falsely: he claims to have “grown up” on the stuff at Chinese banquets – no one, apparently, actually eats the dishes of fried rice which herald the end of festivities, but their belated arrival hammers home thehost’s generosity in allowing you to fill your boots with pricey meat and fish first. Personally, I’d rather eat a vat of fried rice than a plate of cold jellyfish or a tureen of shark fin soup any day, but then my tastes are not exactly refined.
The other major market for fried rice is as a snack food – it’s the ideal way to use up your leftovers, and this time, there’s the distinct advantage of actually getting to eat it.
So, even if you’re not sitting down to aneight-course banquet for Chinese new year this week, you can have a little taste of one of the best parts of the menu, with the distinct advantage of no jellyfish as a distraction.Although in British restaurants, we tend to hoof down fried rice as a side dish, it can comfortably serve as dinner itself, especially if you throw in a few extra vegetables or some chopped up meat or seafood.
Rose Prince puts it perfectly in The New English Kitchen when she says that “an enormous bowl … on the knee – a big cup of jasmine tea beside – makes an immaculate dinner on its own”. The only thing I’d add is that a big glass of cold beer is an excellent substitute. If, you know, you’ve had a bad day.
The consensus is that egg fried rice should be made with long grain rice , as is commonly eaten in south and eastern China, where such dishes originate.
Most recipes are no more specific than this, although Ching-He Huang jasmine which, although long-grained, is slightly stickier than most varieties.Obviously, as fried rice is generally made with leftovers,
the type of rice will depend on what you’ve been cooking the night before, but I think basmati is wasted here – the delicate aromas are lost in the brutally hot wok. Simple long grain is fine, but jasmine is even better – its slight stickiness keeps it feeling moist, which contrasts pleasingly with the crunch of the toasted bits from the bottom of the pan.
Delia echoes popular opinion when she says that “the golden rule of stir-frying rice successfully is to always make sure the cooked rice is absolutely cold”.
If you try and make it with freshly cooked rice, she says “it goes all sticky”. This makes sense – freshly cooked rice is necessarily moist, which is not ideal for throwing into a hot wok, but it’s frustrating if you fancy fried rice on a whim, and the cupboard is bare.
BBC Good Food has made a brave stab at a “fast and easy”version , where the rice is boiled and drained, then added straight to the wok. It’s tasty (frying generally has that effect on food, I find), but although it doesn’t quite go as “soggy and oily” as predicted by rice expert Sri Owen, author of the indispensable Rice book , it also doesn’t quite come together in the way I expect. Damp, is the word. And damp is not what I’m after.
I also try using rice that’s cooled, but not fridge cold, and, although the difference isn’t huge, it does seem slightly mushier. The rice doesn’t need to be left overnight, as some suggest, but for best results, it should definitely be refrigerated before use.
One of the beauties of fried rice is that it will gratefully embrace just about any old leftovers you throw at it (hunks of stilton excepted) but whatever you put in, egg should be mandatory
. Not only does it add protein, but a delicious richness too. When you add it, however, is up for debate.
Ching-he huang scrambles the eggs first ,then removes them from the pan while she cooks the rice, before combining the two.Allegra Mcevedy “half scrmble” them in the hot wok for 20 seconds before adding the rice.
Rose Prince stir-fries the rice first, then pushes it back and scrambles the egg in the centre of the pan before mixing the two together, whileKen Hom adds the beaten egg to the rice and stirs it all together so the egg is absorbed by the rice.
I like Ken’s method best – the others seem to give large, dryish flakes of egg, which remain quite separate from the rice, while his rice is richly golden all the way through.
Sylvia Tan’s Singapore Heritage food, which has a helpful section on the traditional snacks of the country’s Chinese community, also cooks the egg in the centre of the pan, in extra oil this time, and then piles the rice on top and leaves it to steam.
This very curious indeed – I end up with a chewy base of singed rice and rubbery egg, and it’s difficult to see how this method would ever work, unless something vital is missing from the recipe.
The heat is on
Rose Prince suggests cooking the rice in a mixture of groundnut and sesame oils, while Ken Hom adds a little sesame oil to the beaten egg.
I’m not keen on either approach however – like soy sauce, or fish sauce (which I see recommended as a magic secret ingredient on an American cookery forum) the nutty flavour of sesame overpowers the toasted rice. Both should, in my opinion, be added at the table if desired.
Fried garlic, as suggested by Good Food and Sylvia Tam, is just unpleasant in my opinion – this is one of the few places where it’s not welcome.
The fresh greenness of a few finely chopped spring onions complements the rich rice far better. They also add a dash of Chinese five spice, which I quite like, but again, less is more when it comes to such simple pleasures. Let the rice do the talking.
Perfect egg fried rice