Be A Fried Rice Superstar

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Fried rice is definitely one of the most appetizing of all comfort foods. Is it easy to prepare? Yes. It can certainly end up less than perfect if you are not careful, though. Gummy, lumpy, unevenly cooked. This video demonstrates a shrimp, beef and mixed vegetable fried rice in a basically Chinese style. Maybe it’s American fried rice or Texas fried rice. This is not about authentic anything, it’s about delicious. 

Your fried rice can be as good as or better than your favorite restaurant. There are endless variations: Vietnamese, Thai, vegetarian, Cajun, Hawaiian, on and on. Best of all will be your great fried rice. Once you have it down, it is easy to experiment and get creative.

The video is intended to focus on technique and process, more than the particular recipe.

About Woks:

Wok cooking is a great technique, regardless of the flavor profile. Wok cooking is high heat cooking. You can use a wok on the stove or on a propane setup. With propane you have the ability to cook at a higher temperature, which means more control. If you are going to cook inside on the stove, you are going to have a lot more luck with gas as opposed to electric.  If you do not have gas inside and really want to get serious about fried rice, I suggest that you get a propane setup and move it outside. Cooking outside on propane is a lot more fun anyway.

A flat bottomed wok is made to use on any flat cooking surface, electric stove, etc., when you don't want to use a wok ring. With a rounded wok, a wok ring is required for most, if not all, stove tops.

To get good results, you need a good seasoning on your wok. This is the scorched, blackish coating on a well-seasoned wok. This gives you an almost perfect non-stick surface for cooking. If you have a new wok, make sure it is clean, then season it by coating a clean one with a thin layer of oil, then heat until the oil smokes and burns. The seasoning will increase and improve with use. You can also repeat the above process any time to continue building the coating.

I have heard many people say to ‘never wash your wok’. Disgusting! You can see the seasoning on my woks in the video. Washing does not harm the coating. Don’t use steel wool, just put your wok under hot running water, add a little dish soap, and scrub just enough to remove anything stuck on the surface and sanitize the surface. After it is clean, wipe it dry with a paper towel. Then coat the wok with oil, heat until it smokes. Let it smoke for at least 20 seconds or so. You can heat first and add the oil after if you want, but be very careful! Turn off the heat and wipe excess oil from the wok. You should see a nice black coating on the wok now. Let it cool off before storing. Wipe the seasoning oil off of the wok with a paper towel. You should see that the black does not rub off. Store the wok with a thin, fresh coat of oil. When you take it out next time, it will be ready to go.

About rice:

Anyone who has ever looked into how to make fried rice has heard the ‘use day old rice’ rule. This is so that the rice can dry out a little, which prevents ending up with mushy, too soft rice once it has been fried. If you don’t have time to wait, try to undercook your rice just a little so that it is not as soft and will withstand its second cooking in the wok, where it will finish cooking and hopefully not get to soft. Always keep cooked rice in the refrigerator as cooked rice does not keep well and can be dangerous.  Once it is cooked, either from boiling or cooking in the wok, put it in the refrigerator as soon as it cools to room temperature.

The rice needs to be cold before you get to the cooking part, so that the clumps can be separated more easily. So, even if you are using fresh rice, let it cool to room temperature and then put it in the refrigerator to get cold for at least a couple of hours.

Long grain white rice is the rice of choice, but just about anything will work.  The hardest to get good results is going to be any short grain or brown rice.  I would not recommend using either of those types of rice until you have had some practice and are willing to maybe sacrifice some ingredients to experimentation (i.e. good luck with that!)

About soy sauce, dark soy, thick soy, and stir fry sauce:

With fried rice, we usually expect a nice dark color. This will not really happen if only soy sauce is used during cooking. Vietnamese or Thai style rice usually has a lighter color. The darker color can be achieved with one of several ingredients: dark soy, thick soy sauce, or a stir fry sauce. In the video, I am using my own stir fry sauce.

When using dark soy or thick sauce (while frying the rice), start with regular soy sauce and then add the next sauce. Start with a small amount. Add more as needed to get the desired color and flavor.

In the video, I am using my own quick made stir fry sauce. There are many types of dark soy sauce, and they are made differently depending on the country of origin. Without going into detail here, the store bought Chinese style dark soy sauce is actually aged more than regular soy sauce and has molasses added. This is the basis for my quick stir fry sauce:

1 cup soy, 1 tbsp. molasses and granulated sugar (1 or 2 tbsp.).  Heat on the stove and stir until the sugars are dissolved.

Note: I use bold text throughout, not really to emphasize, but really just as a visual guide to the content. Hopefully making it just a little easier to follow along.

Ingredients:

One of the great things about fried rice is that you can use whatever you have available and still end up with a great meal. I did not use a recipe or measure anything when I cooked the rice in the video, but here is a good approximation of what I used that will work just fine:

  • High heat oil, peanut, safflower, canola, light olive (not extra virgin), etc.
  • Long or medium grain white rice, cooked
  • 1 medium white onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • Medium piece ginger
  • 5 to 10 green onion stalks, white and green parts
  • (a) Soy sauce and dark soy or thick soy sauce, or (b) a stir fry sauce
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 package mixed frozen vegetables
    • Substitute any vegetable you like, snow peas, cabbage, cauliflower, bok choy, baby spinach, etc.
  • 1/3 lb. ground beef
    • Substitute ground chicken or pork
  • 1/3 lb. peeled and deveined large shrimp
    • Small or medium can be used just as well
  • Fresh squeezed lime juice if desired. (I used calamondin oranges, see below).

Prepare all of the ingredients (before going anywhere near a wok)

  1. Dice the onion, garlic, ginger, the white part of the green onion and combine. I’ll refer to this as the ‘aromatics mix’ in the rest of the post. 
  1. Dice the green part of the green onion. Keep separate from the aromatics mix. 
  1. Add a little sesame oil and some of the aromatic mix to the shrimp and the ground beef
  1. Get the frozen vegetables out of the freezer. I like mixed vegetables with a beef fried rice. They are easy to cook and delicious. You can get them out ahead of time, but they do not need to be completely thawed by the time you cook. You can substitute almost any vegetable: cauliflower, dandelion greens, baby spinach, Napa cabbage, green cabbage, carrots, sugar snap or snow peas. Whatever you like.  You can cook them as much or as little as you like. 
  1. Crack your eggs and put both the whites and yolks in a small cup or bowl. (I really don’t think fried rice calls for adding milk or cream to your eggs...) 
  1. Take your cold, cooked rice from the refrigerator and spread it out on a baking sheet or other flat surface. While the rice is still cold, separate the clumps so that the rice grains are loose. You really don’t want to deal with all of the little clumps in the wok, trying to separate them as you cook. 

Time to Cook!

Some more notes about cooking:

Cooking most ingredients separately allows each item to be cooked properly and then combined.  With a large wok and high heat, you can cook more items at once.  I prefer the control of cooking most separately. Add more of the aromatic mix between ingredients. 

Try not to over or, especially, under cook your proteins. 

When you add more of the aromatics mix, use an amount proportional to that protein, vegetable or the rice, by volume. 

Have all of your ingredients ready and within reach, ready to put into the wok as you go along. Also have an empty mixing bowl to put all of the ingredients into after each is cooked. At the end of cooking the rice, you will put all of these ingredients back in and mix together.

I use a big stainless steel spoon to stir ingredients in the wok.

  1. Set the propane burner or stove to a high flame
  1. Set the wok on the burne Add your oil just after the wok begins to smoke. Be extremely careful with hot oil. Do not use more oil than is necessary. Try one or 2 tbsp. to start. If you need to add oil during cooking, clear some food from near the center of the wok.  Pour the additional oil directly onto the surface of the wok, not into the food. 
  1. Add a handful of the aromatics mix to the wok, cook until they start to soften, then add in and cook the eggs
  1. Stir almost constantly. When the eggs are cooked and not runny, place them in the mixing bowl
  1. Cook the shrimp
  1. You can again add in more of the aromatics and cook them a bit before adding in the shrimp if you like, even if you mixed some into the shrimp already. This goes for the ground beef as well. 
  1. Cook the ground beef. 
  1. Cook the vegetables
  1. Don’t be afraid to taste ingredients as they cook in the wok to test for doneness
  1. Briefly add the previously cooked ingredients back in with the vegetables, combine and then place all of them back into the mixing bowl until you have cooked the rice. 
  1. Rice. If needed, divide the rice into more than one batch. This will depend on the size of your wok and how much rice you use. You will need to add more oil before the rice goes in the wok. 
  1. Add the rice to the wok. Stir often. You do not need to stir constantly, but be sure to turn and stir the rice many times over the course of cooking it. You want to be sure that as much of the rice as possible comes into contact with the surface of the wok by the time that you have finished. 
  1. Soon after adding the rice to the wok, add some soy sauce or stir fry sauce. The goal is to spread the sauce evenly through the rice. 
  1. If you are using soy sauce and dark or thick soy, add soy sauce first and then after some mixing, add the second sauce. Stir in some more. Don’t use too much, just enough to add some color and a bit of flavor. The sugars will caramelize somewhat. Try adjusting the ratio of soy to dark soy, thick soy or stir fry sauce to perfect the flavor to your liking. 
  1. Some people do not like the somewhat sour taste of (too much) molasses, so be careful, especially with thick soy sauce or one you make yourself. A little goes a long way. Experiment! Try various types and amounts of sauces to get the color and flavor you prefer. Try adding a bit of oyster sauce to the beef, or some fish sauce to the rice, for example (during ingredient prep or cooking). Study recipes of various types of food and note what sauces are used together. 
  1. When you are happy with your rice, add the other ingredients back in and combine. Just don't under cook proteins, taste as you go (e.g. to know when the rice is 'done'), and you will be fine. 
  1. Add the green onion Stir it in just a bit. 

READY TO SERVE

Share and show it off to your friends and family.  They should be impressed.  I bet you never got this much at a restaurant either.   Don't forget the hot sauce and limes!

Tips:

  • A propane burner will provide the highest heat and finest control. Propane burners are available at sporting goods stores. You will also need a refillable propane tank. These are also available at sporting good and hardware stores.
  • In the West, these little citrus fruits are known as calamondin orange or acid orange, among other names. These are very popular in Southeast Asia.  To me, they taste like the combination of a lime and an orange.  Sweet and sour.  I like to squeeze these, or regular lime, onto my fried rice at the table.  Use to your own taste.

There is a great article on these here:

http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/patiocitrus/Calamondin.html

  • Unless you have a very large wok (and like a challenge), cook all of your ingredients separately and then combine at the end.
  • Separate the cooked rice before frying so that you don’t have to deal with the clumps. It is much easier to separate the grains if the rice is cold. I haven’t tried (you can see my hands in the video), but wetting your fingers is supposed to keep the rice from sticking to your hands as much while you are separating it.
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