It is often said, as with most things that are mostly true, that traditional Chinese cooking stretched whatever meats, seafoods or vegetables were available with lots and lots of rice. In that case, fried rice must by the absolute poster child for traditional Chinese cooking.
And it’s actually been that way for a long time.
For lovers of Asian flavors, fried rice has been the quintessential comfort food since its invention/discovery during the Sui Dynasty – which, in case you don’t remember, lasted from 589 to 618 A.D. And this happy invention or discovery took place in the eastern Jiangsu province, in or near the town of Yangzhou – long spelled Yangchow in the West since it looks so much easier to pronounce. Yangzhou fried rice, usually made with shrimp as well as pork, remains the standard for fried rice everywhere.
The value of fried rice should be obvious. First, there’s the value itself: rice was typically abundant in China, especially as the staple grain in the southern regions, and therefore never expensive. The same is true in this country, with tons of rice grown in Louisiana and nearby east Texas. In the past few decades, our domestic rice has even been sold to China, Korea and other Asian nations, which must win some kind of award for sheer irony.
Since rice must be cooked (simply steamed or boiled) at least one day, but preferably two or three, before you can make decent fried rice with it, it is the ultimate fate for any rice that’s leftover in your fridge. And truth be told, fried rice is the perfect fridge emptier, using up whatever you have in there from dinner the night before – meat, vegetables, whatever. Only the eggs are single-use, and most of us always have a few eggs in the fridge.
It is important to use an appropriate rice, regular long-grain always working far better than short grain. And just about anything works better than the soft short grain rices like Arborio or Carnaroli that are just right for, say, Italian risotto.
If you prefer, you can upgrade to the aromatic rices we have available at the supermarkets today, with basmati holding together better than jasmine. But to each, his or her own. The big deal here is choosing rice that remains individual, with a subtle pop when you bite into each grain. Rice mush is the opposite of traditional Chinese fried rice.
As for “seasoning,” many Asian cooks use this word to describe the sauce they add to this or any other classic Asian dish – most often some mix of soy, garlic, ginger and sugar, perhaps with a hint of sesame from sesame oil. That’s where prepared stir-fry sauces like ours step in as a delightful shortcut, letting you skip that step (and the need for all those ingredients). You can then simply focus on turning every leftover in sight into one of the true classics of world cuisine.
PORK FRIED RICE
As you know, fried rice in a Chinese restaurant is traditionally an accompaniment to a larger main course after a smaller appetizer. Such is restaurant dining, in any culture. But we also enjoy serving (and eating) fried rice as the entire meal. You can add extra pork, and even some shrimp, thus giving your own spin to the most famous fried rice of all, from Yangzhou.
1/2 pound lean pork loin, cubed or sliced
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup finely chopped onion
½ cup chopped green onion, white part only
½ cup finely sliced red bell pepper
½ cup thinly sliced carrot
½ cup finely chopped bok choy or celery
½ cup frozen peas
½ cup sliced water chestnuts
½ cup sliced bamboo shoots
1 cup broccoli florets
2 tablespoons dry sherry
Salt and black pepper
4 cups day-old rice
1 cup Fischer & Wieser’s Savory Honey Garlic Stir-Fry Sauce
3 eggs, scrambled and cooked separately
Sliced green onion, green part
In a wok or large skillet, stir-fry the pork sliced until cooked in the olive oil, then transfer to a boil. Use the remaining oil to stir-fry the vegetables until starting to brown but still crisp. Add the sherry for flavor and steam. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Return the pork to the wok, followed by the cooked rice. Toss quickly over high heat to combine, add as much sauce as you like, and toss again. Add the scrambled eggs and toss, keeping their color by adding after the sauce. Serve hot topped with sliced green onion. Serves 6-8.