Cooking for One

Takeout Rice: So Nice to Use It Twice

Thai Fried Rice With Soft-Yolk Egg comes together in a hot wok.
Thai Fried Rice With Soft-Yolk Egg comes together in a hot wok. (By James M. Thresher For The Washington Post)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 23, 2008; Page F01

My weekly call to a favorite Chinese takeout place for delivery, usually on a night I'm particularly tired, hungry and a little cranky (a combination I call "hangry"), comes at a price. And I'm not talking about the typical $18 or $19 bill.

I'm talking about all that leftover rice.

The restaurant's minimum requirement for delivery forces me to get two entrees and save one for another day. And since I try to eat no more than a cup of rice with the meal the first time around, that leaves another two or three cups sitting in my fridge, drying out and hardening as the days go by.

I'm trying to be more frugal, so rather than toss those telltale red-and-white cardboard containers when they're half-full, I transfer the rice to zip-top bags and freeze it, or I plan yet another rice-oriented meal within a few days.

My longtime strategy has been an off-the-cuff version of traditional fried rice, throwing those little white grains into my nonstick saute pan along with leftover meat and maybe some veggies, then tossing it around until things seemed done, more or less. But that started to feel too uninspired to do very often. And for this solo cook, all that rice started to add up more quickly than I could find interesting uses for it.

So I decided to raise my fried-rice game.

More than anything, I needed a good recipe or two, based on a solid technique and flavor base yet easily adaptable to the ever-changing contents of my fridge's crisper, which should probably be renamed the "rotter."

As it turns out, that required an equipment upgrade.

The recipes came from cookbooks by authors with chops: Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid's 1998 book "Seductions of Rice" and Grace Young's "The Breath of a Wok" (2004).

From Alford and Duguid, I developed an instant addiction to a classic Thai-style fried rice spiked with fish sauce, chili peppers, lime juice and cilantro, particularly once I tried the authors' suggestion to top it with a runny-yolk egg; the dish became rounded, creamy and indulgent in addition to the requisite hot, sour, salty, sweet.

From Young, I boned up on my stir-frying technique and learned an easier way to add an egg to fried rice. (Most recipes call for making a separate little omelet, slicing it up and adding it to the rice at the end. But one of Young's recipes suggests making a well in the middle of the rice to expose the bottom of the wok, adding an egg and then stirring it all together.)

Because I'm a firm believer in an egg as the solo cook's most efficient protein source (less perishable than fresh or cooked meat, individually portioned, quick cooking), I had my two new go-to dishes.

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