Even though fried rice is a hands-down Chinese restaurant favorite, its fans may not attempt to make it at home, at least after once trying a recipe that sounds easy but results in a wokful of gooey-soy stained rice cemented together with egg and speckled with leftovers.
Fried rice has so much going for it--it's inexpensive, can be made ahead of time, requires no special equipment or exotic ingredients, lends itself to almost endless combinations and variations, goes with almost anything and when approached correctly is really quite easy to make.
The biggest stumbling block to making good fried rice is the rice itself. Start with the correct rice; long-grain rice is essential. (Short-grain is too sticky and converted rice has the wrong flavor and texture.) Wash the rice thoroughly in many changes of cold water to remove all surface starch, which causes rice to stick together in clumps.
Drain the rice thoroughly and place in a heavy saucepan or dutch oven with a tight cover. There are two methods of determining the correct amount of water. The first is to measure both the rice and water; the other is an age-old Asian method: point your index finger into the pan so the tip of your finger rests on the surface of the rice. Pour in cold water until it comes up to the bottom of your first knuckle (about 3/4 inches).
With this method it doesn't matter how much rice you use or what size the pan is; the proportion of water to rice will always be correct. Always use cold water.
Place the uncovered pot of rice and water over high heat and bring to a rapid boil. Continue cooking on high or medium-high heat until "phoenix eyes," geysers of steam, appear in the rice, and no water can be seen above the surface of the rice (3-5 minutes).
Cover, turn the heat low and leave five minutes. Remove the cover and invert the pan on a cookie sheet, dumping out all the rice. If there is a crust on the bottom of the pan set it aside to dry and deep-fry it later for sizzling rice soup. With a pair of chopsticks spread the rice out to allow the steam and heat to dissipate. When the rice has cooled to room temperature, put it in a plastic bag and refrigerate until thoroughly cold. Once chilled, the rice can be used immediately or kept refrigerated 3-4 days before using. The rice in the bag will be somewhat lumpy but the grains can be easily separated by pinching and kneading the chilled rice while its still in the bag.
Now the question of when and how to add the eggs. The purpose of eggs in fried rice is to add colorful flecks of flavor and protein. It is not meant to glue the rice together. The beaten eggs must always be cooked separately to make a thin omelet, which is then cut in strips and added to the fried rice just before serving. It can either be tossed into the fried rice or added as a garnish.
Other ingredients should be cut in uniform pieces and stir-fried in the wok before the rice is added. When the vegetables and meats are cooked, add the rice, reduce the temperature to medium-low and stir-fry constantly, scraping the bottom of the wok to prevent the rice from sticking. When the rice is heated through, add the seasoning and stir to combine garnish and serve--hot or at room temperature. Leftovers are best reheated in a steamer.
Almost any fresh vegetable makes a crunchy colorful ingredient in fried rice. Leftover vegetables are marginal at best. Any fresh meat, fish or seafood can be cut in small pieces, and stir-fried to enhance the fried rice. Leftover roast or grilled meats are also tasty. Chinese lap cheong sausages, available in Asian markets, give fried rice an exotic sweet-spicy flavor. MANY-FLAVOR FRIED RICE (6 to 8 servings) For the omelet: Oil to lightly brush pan plus 3 tablespoons oil for stir-frying 3 large eggs, beaten For the rice: 1 tablespoon ginger root, minced 1 clove garlic, crushed 1 cup carrots, peeled and diced 4 lap cheong sausages, thinly sliced on the diagonal, or substitute Chinese barbecued pork, cubed 1 cup scallions, chopped 3/4 cup water chestnuts, quartered 5 Chinese dry mushrooms, soaked and sliced 1/4 pound snow peas, trimmed and sliced crosswise 3/4 cup sweet red pepper, peeled and diced (optional) 8 cups cold cooked rice For the seasoning mix: 1 tablespoon rice vinegar 2 tablespoons oyster sauce 1 tablespoon rice wine 1 to 2 tablespoons soy sauce to taste 1 teaspoon sambal olek (optional for spicier rice) For the garnish: Cilantro (coriander) leaves (optional) Minced fresh chilies (optional) 1/2 cup scallions, shredded
To make the omelet, brush an omelet pan or skillet lightly with oil. Heat to medium heat and add enough beaten egg to come to a depth of 1/8 inch. Cook gently until the top of the omelet is set and the bottom is slightly brown. Turn and lightly brown the other side. Remove to a plate and when cool slice in strips or shreds. Repeat with remaining egg mixture.
Heat oil in a hot wok and stir-fry the ginger, garlic, carrots and lap cheong 2 minutes over moderate heat. Add the scallions, water chestnuts, mushrooms, snow peas and red peppers and stir until the peas turn bright green. Add the cooked rice to the wok and stir constantly until it is quite hot. Add the seasoning mix and stir in the omelet.
Arrange the hot rice on a warmed platter, garnish and serve hot or at room temperature.