Saturday, April 25, 2009

Ask MrMartha...Good Fried Rice at Home

Dear MisterMartha:
I love Asian Fried Rice, but my local take out place is now charging over ten dollars for an order. I try to make it at home but it always comes out gummy or gluey. What am I doing wrong?

Dear Reader,
MrMartha loves Fried Rice too. It's a quick and easy weeknight meal, or a special treat for a Saturday lunch. It can be quite literally tossed together from what you have on hand in the refrigerator or pantry, for almost no cost compared to the restaurant price. But often, the texture and finished product is, as you say, gummy or gluey, and the flavors can be either too bland or awfully salty, it is difficult to get the right balance. Most folks don't think about making the dish at home, but it is easy and delicious, if you keep a few things in mind.

The main key to good Fried Rice at home, is very simple --
Cook the rice ahead of time, so it is not freshly prepared when you try to fry it.
Make a batch of rice in the morning when you are having your coffee, or the night before you intend to serve it....and let it cool and air dry before making the dish. It should rest for at least 8 hours before final preparation. You can also easily use leftover rice that is a few days old, so make extra next time you are preparing rice for another recipe, and then have Fried Rice a couple days later.

Read More -- for further preparation hints to make great Fried Rice, and MrMartha's favorite recipe.

Some Tips:

What follows may seem a bit long and involved, but MrMartha is just trying to explain fully and give options. It really is very simple to actually prepare the dish, if you take a few moments to understand the principles.

* When the rice has just barely cooked, turn it out onto a baking sheet, and spread to separate grains into a fairly thin even does not matter if there are a few clumps, don't overwork it.

* The rice can just sit out on the counter for up to several hours. Once it is cool you can lay a piece of waxed paper or a lightweight kitchen towel over the top to cover it loosely.

* If you are preparing rice the evening before --or going to wait a few days to use it, after it has aired a bit and fully cooled, pack it lightly into a sealed container and store in the fridge.

* The true beauty of the dish is that the actual components other than rice are completely variable to your personal taste or what you have on hand....ham or pork, chicken, chopped shrimp, or a combination....and literally almost any fresh or frozen vegetable can work. Scrambling an egg into the mix at the end is traditional, but optional.

* You can use a Wok, but MrMartha prefers a large deep nonstick frying pan. If your pan is not nonstick, you will need to increase the amount of oil used in the recipe and tend it more closely while cooking.

* Experiment and adjust the Soy Sauce mixture components to your own personal taste. MrMartha likes a somewhat assertive and salty soy presence in the finished dish, but you can use a combination of part soy and part water to make your dish milder.

*Keep in mind your goal is to have even distribution of all the ingredients, and at the end, to have the rice moist and with just some slight crisping and the start of some browning. You do not want it dehydrated, crackly crisp, or overcooked.

MrMartha's Fried Rice
Approximately 4 main course Servings....6-8 Servings as side dish.

1 1/2 cups Long Grain White Rice
3 Scant Cups Water
1 tsp Salt - or to taste (MrMartha shorts the salt a bit because of the salty soy sauce added later)
1Tbl Butter

Prepare the rice using just a bit less water than usual, and cook over lowest heat just until water is absorbed - likely just shy of 20 minutes depending on your range and pan.
Turn the hot cooked rice out onto a large baking sheet, distribute and allow to cool and air for several hours at room temperature. If making further ahead, transfer to storage container and refrigerate. If using leftover rice, have approximately 4 cups available.

1 to 1 1/2 Cups of Protein --
Can be cubed ham, chopped cooked pork or chicken, shrimp, tofu, or a combination.

3 to 4 Cups of assorted Vegetables --
MrMartha loves a combination of chopped green onion, red pepper and celery, with cubed or matchstick mushrooms and peeled broccoli stalks, plus a can of sliced water chestnuts. You might also like chopped green pepper, red onion, chopped or grated carrot, bean sprouts, shredded bok choy, or frozen peas.

1/3 cup Soy Sauce, or combination of Soy Sauce mixed with water for milder taste.
2 Tbl Vinegar (Rice Vinegar is preferable)
1 Tbl grated fresh, or 2 Tbl Preserved Ginger (increase or decrease depending on how much 'bite' you prefer)
1 Tbl Honey or a big pinch of sugar
A few drops or a couple of squirts of Hot Sauce - to your personal taste (Asian or Mexican works) plus a couple of shakes of dried Mustard Powder - (optional)
Mix in a microwave safe container, and microwave till hot, but not boiling. Stir to combine, and set aside for ginger to rehydrate/infuse.

Cooking Oil
1 or 2 Eggs (optional)

Heat 2 Tbl Cooking oil in a large nonstick skillet

Add the vegetables and protein, and stir fry until veggies are just tender/crisp. (if using chopped or precooked shrimp, or water chestnuts, wait to add till you introduce the liquid.)

Remove the contents to a bowl and set aside. Add a bit more oil to the pan - another 2Tbl.

Add the rice and heat through, stirring and turning occasionally, Mr Martha likes to sprinkle on a dab of high quality garlic power as the rice reheats and starts to crisp.

Just as the rice is starting to color and crust on the underside, add the sauteed veggie/protein mix back into the pan, as well as anything set aside earlier, and stir and toss to distribute the additions.

Add the warm liquid mixture, and continue to stir and toss until evenly incorporated and the liquid has been absorbed by the rice, which should take on a light mahogany tone.

Push the rice mixture back towards the sides of the pan, and break one or two eggs into the center of the pan. Stir and scramble quickly till cooked through, and then stir rice mixture back into the center of the pan and toss again to incorporate egg bits throughout.

Remove to serving bowl or portion on individual plates.
MrMartha likes this garnished on the side with some chopped cucumber sprinkled with just a bit of salt and vinegar, and a little fresh chive over the rice.

Another Idea -- For a Hawaiian take on Fried Rice, use small cubes of Spam (Really!) as your protein, and include bite sized chunks of fresh pineapple in your veggie mix.