After last night‘s very northern, wintry food, I wanted something different tonight, something that would use up the leftover cooked chicken yet taste completely fresh. I was, as ever, expecting a lot. At first I thought of risotto but that is just as heavy and I wasn’t in the mood for arm-wrestling with a pan. Then I thought of a laksa soup/stew but I didn’t have any coriander or beansprouts and I wasn’t in the mood for shopping either. And then, finally, I remembered my other new rice discovery: how to make homemade fried rice taste like the stuff in restaurants.
Now, I don’t know about you, but every time I have made fried rice before, it has always tasted more like oily rice; the necessary lightness of touch evaded me and the egg never seemed to quite work. And the seasoning was always missing something.
Bill came to my rescue again: the tricks are: 1) cook the egg separately from the rest of the ingredients, either by pushing everything else to the side in the same pan or using a separate pan; 2) steam the rice properly in the first place and 3) season it with fish sauce (nam pla) and granulated sugar. The first time I did all three of these things I was in heaven; I’d cooked the rice just with spring onions and a handful of coriander and it was a revelation. The fish sauce is so much nicer, and lighter, than soy sauce and that tiny bit of sugar makes all the difference.
I can’t really give you a recipe for this, apart from the proportions, because I used leftovers and yours won’t be the same as mine. But once you grasp the basics then the world, or the fridge, is your oyster. Tonight I added a handful of cooked chicken, one chopped spring onion and small handfuls of past-their-best Greek basil, broccoli florets and shredded Chinese leaf. If I’d been bothered to dig deeper into the fridge, I might have added sliced red chilli and garlic and if I’d not been in a clear-up-everything-you’ve-got-mood I might have gone to the shop for some coriander. I think experimenting with the contents of your fridge and your tastebuds is key. Using this as a base for flavours, whilst keeping the main components in place, is the equivalent of a very effective fridge hoover. And unlike most rehashes of leftovers this one tastes of more than just virtue.
For 2-3 portions of basic fried rice
cooked steamed rice, 300g
neutral-flavoured oil (like sunflower), 1 tablespoon
fish sauce (nam pla), 2-3 teaspoons (depending on how much saltiness you like you may need a little more or a little less)
granulated sugar, ½ teaspoon
1. Heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan.
2. When the oil is hot, add the rice and stir until coated in oil. Cook for about five minutes until colouring and crisping up a little. Whilst this is happening break the egg into a bowl and beat it lightly.
3. Push the rice to one side of the pan, tip in the beaten egg, let it just set then scramble it on its own first then mix it into the rice.
4. Stir in the fish sauce and sugar and serve.
How to (basic plus…)
Once you’ve mastered the basics you can start to add your own flavours.
1. Heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan. Once the oil is hot add any onion-type flavours (spring onions, leeks, onions) and any crisp or green vegetables.
2. Once the vegetables are colouring and softening just a little, add any protein (cooked chicken, tofu, prawns, fish).
3. Add the rice and stir until coated in oil. Cook for about five minutes until colouring and crisping up a little. Whilst this is happening break the egg into a bowl and beat it lightly.
4. Push the rice to one side of the pan, tip in the beaten egg, let it just set then scramble it on its own first then mix it into the rest.
5. Stir in the fish sauce and sugar, any herbs and serve.