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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Chicken Fried Rice

I love fried rice.  Its comfort food to me.  But I'm a little opinionated about how it should be prepared...sort of. 

For me, fried rice must have a few specific basic elements.  Once those elements are in place, the recipe can be varied to suit different tastes, preferences, and moods.  This means that when I make fried rice, I almost never make the same recipe twice.  I like to change it up depending on what I happen to have on hand or what I am in the mood for.  However, the recipe always starts the same way.

Here are the "essentials":  long grain white jasmine rice, eggs, carrots, lots of fresh ginger and garlic, and lots of soy sauce.

Anything else is just a bonus.

So, for today's recipe, keep in mind that any ingredient I use that is not on the list of essentials is completely open to substitution depending on your personal preferences and taste, but DO NOT MESS WITH THE ESSENTIALS!   I promise you that you will not be disappointed as long as you start with the basic recipe and then, build to suit. 

I've learned a few things about cooking Asian style dishes, but the number one thing I've learned is that Asian cooking is about 80% prep work and 20% actual cooking.  Keeping that in mind, there are a few things we need to do before we get this dish under way: 

1.  Make some rice.  It works best if you have the rice prepared and waiting at least 30-45 minutes before you intend to use it.  Letting it rest allows the rice to dry ever-so-slightly so that it more easily absorbs the oil when frying and you don't end up with a sticky, oily, wet mess. 

2.  If you're going to add meat, cook it first and set it aside.  I cubed up some chicken for today's recipe. 

3.  Steam your green veggies.   I like to do this for fried rice because it softens the veggies pretty evenly without turning them to mush and helps to develop that lovely, bright green color that makes this dish look so lively.  You can do this in a veggie steamer right on the stove top or you can do it the easy way, like me, and steam them in the microwave for 2-3 minutes. 

4.  Have all your ingredients chopped, diced, sliced, or what have you, and all other spices or flavorings out and within arm's reach before you are ready to cook. This is because of the second most important thing I've learned about Asian-style cooking:  it happens FAST! You don't want to be rummaging around your fridge or spice cabinet for an essential ingredient when you should be tending to your stir-fry.  That's the quickest way to ruin a dish. 

Now that all that is outta the way- ready, set, COOK!

Add some oil to a large pan or wok (if you have one.  I don't.)  Let it get very hot. 

Add all of the rice and press it down over the entire surface of the pan.  Now leave it alone for about 3-4 minutes.  Try to resist the temptation to stir or turn it. 
This will allow the rice to begin to develop a subtle crispness on the underside. 

After 3-4 minutes, turn the rice over in sections so that what was on the top is now on the bottom of the pan.  Don't break it up or stir it around.  Just flip.  Again, let it fry for 3-4 more minutes without disturbing it.

Now go ahead give in to your heart's innermost desire and stir that stuff up.  Press it all against the sides of the pan, creating a ring with a large open center in the middle of the pan. 

Add some more oil (about a teaspoon) and let it heat up for a good 30 seconds or so.  Pour the eggs in and scramble them right in the center of the rice ring. 

When they are still slightly wet, push them into the sides of the ring.

Add a little more oil (another teaspoon or so), let it heat, and add in the carrots, ginger, and garlic. 

Stir fry these until the carrots begin to soften on the outside.  At this point, you can also add any other crunchy veggie you like (celery, beets, leeks, bell peppers, whatever you like)  I added some mushrooms here because they tend to take a little while to soften.

Now add your green veggies.  Drop them right on top.  I used broccoli and sugar snap peas.  I also threw in a handful of sliced green onions (not steamed).

Go ahead and throw the meat back in there, too.

Add your soy sauce to the center of the pan and start incorporating the rice into the rest of the ingredients.

 Stir, flip, toss, whatever you feel comfortable with, but try to be a little gentle.  You don't want rice flying all over your kitchen.  When all the rice has been incorporated evenly through out the pan and seems to be generally uniform in color, you are done!
Fried Rice Essentials
5 cups cooked long grain white jasmine rice
1/2 c diced carrots
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 tbsp freshly grated ginger
1 tbsp freshly minced garlic
3/4 -1 c soy sauce
1/4 c vegetable oil, divided

Add-ins
1 c. cooked, diced chicken breast
1/2 c. diced mushrooms
1/2 c. steamed broccoli
1/2 c. steamed sugar snap peas
1/4 c. sliced green onions

Other Add-in options/substitutions
1 c. cooked shrimp
1/2 c. baby corn
1/2 c. peas
1/2 c. diced bell peppers (any color)

Directions
Cook rice 30-45 minutes prior to use.  Cook meat, set aside.  Steam green veggies, set aside.  Chop all other veggies,  mince garlic and ginger.  Fry rice for 3-4 minutes letting it crisp slightly.  Flip rice and fry for 3-4 minutes longer.  Push rice to the side of the pan, add egg and scramble in the center of the rice ring.  Move egg to the side of the pan, as well.  Stir-fry crispy veggies with garlic and ginger until softened slightly.  Add steamed veggies, meat, and soy sauce.  Gently incorporate rice into the center of the pan, mixing with other ingredients until fully incorporated and soy sauce is uniformly distributed throughout the rice.

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