We’re having a ridiculous winter this year in DC. This was what my phone told me today, March 8. Seriously. I can’t imagine how this won’t result in a summer full of mosquitoes, no matter what the temperature. The weather people are all a-tingle because it may snow on Sunday. I’ll believe it when I see it.
I’d normally be making hearty soups and stews. Or pot pies. Or vegetable tagines. I feel robbed, really, because those are some of my favorite foods. Sure, I could make them anyway. But when it’s warm enough to have a cocktail on the porch before dinner IN FEBRUARY AND MARCH you kind of lose all sense of what’s right and proper.
So what kind of meal works for weather like this? Cy suggested fried rice earlier this week and it was a perfect choice. I started looking for recipes, and put the parts I liked together.
Normally, fried rice is the king of leftovers – already cooked meat or seafood, already cooked rice, and (in most cases) those frozen peas and carrots thrown in. (Sometimes there’s corn, too, because it’s the frozen peas, carrots, and corn.) If you have the leftover rice and meat/seafood and a few fresh vegetables, it’s a snap. But if you don’t have leftover rice, you can still put a great fried rice on the table with about 40 minutes of total prep/cooking time and an hour to let the rice cool off before the final cooking and assembly. Plus a little help from some pre-cooked items at the grocery store.
It’s important to use either leftover rice or to let your freshly-cooked rice cool off for an hour on a large cookie sheet before frying it for the dish (it is called fried rice, after all…) The starch dries out and the grains separate. When you fry the rice, there’s a little crisping that happens, which wouldn’t if you used rice you’d just cooked. About five minutes in really hot oil gives the pre-cooled rice a great texture, not at all gummy.
The second tip is not to use too much sauce. Some recipes call for up to a cup of sauce for around 3 cups of cooked rice. But that means you’ll mostly taste the sauce and not the rice, which has great flavor after frying. I found that 4 or 5 tablespoons of soy sauce, plus a little chili-garlic paste, was just enough to add the salt and flavor necessary.
Finally, a lot of recipes tell you to scramble the eggs in the pan with the rice after frying it. I found this doesn’t work very well, I like the egg pieces to be separate. It’s easy enough to fry the eggs in a separate small nonstick skillet while you’re frying the rice. You want the eggs just set but a little soft, they’ll cook a bit more when you add them into the skillet.
The warm weather also means you can drink lighter wines. And since this dish is mostly rice, whites and rosés work well. All our rosés are on sale through the end of this month, be sure to e-mail me here to get the discount code if you don’t already have it. If I had to pick a favorite for this dish, it would be Bodega Hiriart Lágrima Rosado ($13), which has more oomph to it, good with the little bit of heat from the chili paste.
And if it does snow this weekend and you’re making this dish, never fear. Red wines work too!
Serves 4 for a main course, 6 for a first course
1-1/2 cups leftover chicken or ham, cut into ½-inch dice (a rotisserie chicken works well for this), or ¾ pounds pre-cooked small shrimp, or a 12-ounce package of extra-firm tofu, drained, patted dry, and cut into 3/4-inch cubes
2 carrots, peeled and cut into ½-inch dice
2 stalks celery, trimmed and cut into ½-inch dice
3 eggs, well-beaten
6 scallions, roots trimmed, cut in ½-inch slices
2 cups broccoli cut in 1-inch pieces, microwaved for 4 minutes
3 cups cold leftover rice, or 1-1/2 cups raw long-grain rice
4 tablespoons soy sauce
½ to 1 teaspoon chili-garlic paste (depending on how hot you like it)
½ teaspoon black pepper
8 tablespoons vegetable oil for frying
If you’ve got leftover rice, spread it out on a large baking sheet, rubbing the rice gently between your hands to separate the grains. Let the rice warm up to room temperature, about a half hour. If you’re cooking rice, bring 6 cups of water to a boil. Add the rice and 1 teaspoon of salt, bring back to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Drain the rice, then spread it on the baking sheet, and let it cool for an hour.
Put the meat or shrimp or tofu on a microwave-safe plate and heat for 30 seconds, to take the chill off. Set the plate aside.
Heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat. When the oil shimmers and moves easily, add the carrots and celery. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring, then turn the heat down and cover the pan for 2 more minutes. Uncover the pan and cook for another minute – the vegetables should just be starting to soften but still have some texture. Put them on the plate with the meat or shrimp.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a medium nonstick skillet until very hot. Add the eggs and scramble them until they’re set but look just a little wet. Put them back into the same bowl you beat them in initially while you fry the rice.
Mix the soy sauce, chili-garlic paste, and black pepper together and set aside.
Heat up 4 tablespoons of vegetable oil in the same skillet over high heat. This time, bring the oil just past the shimmer point, you will see a tiny wisp of smoke come up. Add the rice, and stir fry it, moving the rice around continuously. It will start to smell good and roasty, and the rice grains will look just slightly yellowed. Add the scrambled eggs and break up the egg into about ¾-inch pieces. Then stir in the meat/shrimp and all the vegetables and the scallions and cook for about 30 seconds, stirring everything around. Stir in the soy sauce mixture, tossing to combine everything. Taste, and add another tablespoon of soy sauce if you think it needs it. Serve immediately.