First, my wife, Jackie, and I were preparing to travel to Japan. 1A: We needed to use as many leftovers as possible. 1B: There were lots of eggs in the house as well as a small bowl of Thai jasmine rice cooked, pilaf -style, in chicken broth. 1C: There is a strikingly unappealing Japanese dish called omuraisu, which is a fried-rice omelet served, generally, with ketchup. Fried rice with eggs in it is one of the world’s great dishes, but omuraisu just doesn’t do anything for me.
Second, there is a noble — certainly nobler — tradition of rice-and-egg dishes in Western cooking. 2A: I remember schoolmates from Italian families occasionally toting rice frittatas in their lunchboxes, though they didn’t call them frittatas. They were just “rice and eggs.” 2B: Post-elementary-school experience confirmed the existence of these, notably when cooked with risotto-type rice.
Finally, another leftover was 2/3 cup of defrosted tomato sauce made from this past summer’s amazing crop. As a ketchup-surrogate and as a Euro-Mediterranean flavor, that tomato sauce brought (1) and (2) together, and the path to dinner became clear.
In an eight-inch nonstick skillet, I sweated a minced shallot in butter (the original pilaf had been made with butter, and why change a good thing?), added some diced red bell pepper and cooked this for a couple of minutes over medium-low heat. I then mixed in the 1 1/3 cups of leftover rice, stirring it from time to time with a heat-proof silicone spatula until the rice was hot. While this was happening, I beat three large eggs — exactly 100 strokes of the fork — and salted and lightly peppered them.
Now I added the hot rice mixture to the eggs, stirred for a few moments and let the whole thing stand for two minutes or so. This valuable trick is borrowed from the Spanish way of cooking the potato-and-onion tortillas that you get, seemingly, in every bar from the Pyrenees to the Portuguese border and perhaps beyond.
The hot rice starts, barely, to thicken the eggs but doesn’t shock them into solidity. I put another teaspoon or so of butter into the same skillet over medium heat, then added the egg-rice mixture. I gave it a stir to distribute the rice evenly, then left it alone, covered, until the bottom was golden brown. I then slid it onto the skillet’s lid and turned it over. From that point, it took perhaps 20 seconds to finish cooking, and I slid it onto a plate, golden-brown side up.
We ate half of it, with heated-up tomato sauce, to fill us after a skimpy first course. The other half we had the next night as a side dish with pan-fried duck breast.
There were two amazing things about this frittata/tortilla/omelet. The first was its texture: Once warmed, leftover rice grains get their softness back but retain their separateness. We could really feel the kernels as we ate, as we might have with, say, corn pancakes (or, dare I say it, tapioca pudding). The other surprise was how aromatic the rice was. More so than it had been as the original rice pilaf.
Could it be that the egg liaison somehow captured the perfume of the jasmine rice? I have no idea, but this thing was more delicious than we had any reason to expect.
Schneider’s Cooking Off the Cuff appears Fridays in All We Can Eat. Follow him on Twitter @TimeToCook