Fried rice is a popular dish in most countries around the world. In America, the dish can be found at any Chinese-American restaurant or on tables in many homes. Cooking this dish is a wonderful way to use up leftover rice and spice up a humdrum dinner. Fried rice can be made with vegetables and served as a side dish or with the addition of meat, poultry or seafood, fried rice can be a meal by itself.
The basic ingredients in the dish are pre-cooked white, long-grain rice, scallions and egg. The wok is pre-heated, an oil with a high smoke point such as peanut, canola or grapeseed oil is added, and then the egg is fried until it is just soft. The egg is pushed outward up the side of the pan while the rice heats. To finish the dish, the egg, rice and scallions are stirred together until heated thoroughly. Soy sauce or oyster sauce can be added at the end, although some people believe that the rice should be seasoned with nothing more than salt.
Fried rice is a versatile dish that can be made to suit any person’s tastes by adding a few extra ingredients. Vegetables like carrots, broccoli and pea pods make a colorful, tasty side dish that go well with chicken main courses, while adding bean sprouts, water chestnuts and bamboo shoots makes a wonderful accompaniment to a beef meal. Garlic, onions and bell peppers also make a great tasting dish that complements just about any entrée.
Adding diced beef, pork, chicken, shrimp or prawns to fried rice creates another dimension to the dish. A popular Japanese dish is Omurice, or Omelette Rice. In Omurice, the dish is made with vegetables and meat, encased in an egg omelette and seasoned with ketchup. Yangchow or Yangzhou Rice is a Chinese dish named after the city that the dish is believed to have originated from. It mixes prawns, roast pork, peas and scallions, and is sometimes found in Chinese-American restaurants under the name of Special Rice.
Authentic recipes often include the flavors and ingredients indigenous to the area they are created in. For instance, Thai Fried Rice uses aromatic Jasmine rice instead of white rice and is generally served with cucumber slices and a spicy sauce made with fish sauce, Thai chili and garlic. Hawaiian Fried Rice combines egg, peas, carrot and green onions with either Spam or Portuguese sausage, or sometimes both. The best recipes incorporate the cook’s favorite ingredients stir-fried in a seasoned wok to produce a splendor of flavors.
Rice is a nutritious staple that is grown in every country worldwide with the exception of Antarctica. Americans only consume about 25 pounds of rice per year as opposed to the 200-400 pounds consumed per person annually in some parts of Asia. Over the past 10 years, however, consumption has doubled in America. While there are over 40,000 varieties of rice across the globe, only about 25 are actively grown and harvested in America. They are categorized by type and size, and although many are similar in nature, most are not interchangeable.
Perhaps the most common of all varieties found in America is long-grain white rice. Its popularity can be contributed to the grains’ ability to remain separated when cooked, making it a great choice for use in stir-fries or side dishes with sauces. Basmati originated in the Himalayas and is an aromatic long-grain rice that expands only lengthwise when cooked, making it an even longer, thinner rice. Thailand’s Jasmine is another aromatic long-grain that is slightly shorter than Basmati.
Medium-grain rice is shorter, wider and stickier than long-grain. It can absorb a large quantity of liquid and flavor without getting soggy, which makes it the perfect selection for use in risotto and paella. Arborio is Italian medium-grain risotto rice that comes in several grades, the highest of which is superfino. Arborio can also be used in paella, as can Spanish rice, also known as paella rice. Valencia is the most revered Spanish rice, but it can be difficult to find.
Short-grain is nearly as wide as it is long and is the stickiest of the three varieties. This makes it ideal for use with chopsticks, as a main ingredient in sushi, molded in a salad, or cooked into a creamy rice pudding. Arborio can be found in short-grain varieties for use in risotto when a creamier, more liquid dish is preferred. Another short-grain option is pearl, which is also called sticky rice.
Most rice options come in either brown or white varieties. The difference is in the processing. Rice has four layers: the husk or hull, the bran or seedcoat, the germ or embryo, and the endosperm. During the milling process for brown rice only the husk is removed, leaving the nutty bran layer intact. White rice is stripped of its bran and germ, which results in a softer, more delicate grain. Since the nutritional value of the bran and germ are removed from the white rice, it is often enriched with nutrients. Another popular choice in America is instant rice, which has been precooked, cooled and dehydrated. Although it takes less time to prepare, instant rice is more expensive than traditional rice. For the best taste results, take a few extra minutes to prepare a high-quality, delicious long-cooking rice.
Tips and Techniques for Stir-Fried Rice
Many people that enjoy fried rice at Chinese restaurants are afraid to try to cook the dish at home. Using a wok is a foreign experience for many Americans, and they are simply unsure how to begin. While it does take a certain amount of technique to create a perfect fried rice dish at home, there are a few tips to ensure the dish comes out fluffy, light and full of flavor every time.
Rice is, of course, the main ingredient of fried rice, and therefore it should be picked and prepared with care. Use only long-grain rice in the dish as shorter grains have a higher concentration of amylose, which will create a sticky and soggy end product. Aromatic rices such as Basmati or Jasmine are also of the long-grain variety and can produce a sweet, aromatic dish. The rice should be steamed or boiled two to three days before making the stir-fry and stored in the refrigerator to allow enough drying time. For instances when waiting days is not an option, rice can be cooked, spread out across a baking sheet, and placed in the freezer for 25-30 minutes to speed up the drying time. The rice will produce a slightly different consistency, but will be better than using freshly cooked rice.
Measure and cut all ingredients before heating the wok so they will be at hand’s reach when the rapid stir-frying begins. Some people prefer to cook each component separately to maintain each ingredient’s individual flavor and then mix them together in the wok just before serving. Others toss all the ingredients into the wok to cook at the same time. When using the latter method, it is important to make sure the vegetables are cut around the same size so they will take approximately the same amount of time to heat.
The wok should be pre-heated before adding the cooking oil. Some recipes call for a medium heat while others call for higher temperatures; always set the temperature as per the recipe instructions. For best results, use an oil that has a high smoke point, like canola, grapeseed or peanut oil. Stir-frying garlic, scallions or onions in the pan before adding other ingredients will season the wok for added flavor.
The important thing to remember when stir-frying is to keep the food moving. Vegetables, meat and rice should be tossed and stirred constantly to prevent sticking or overcooking in the hot oil. Soy sauce or oyster sauce can be drizzled in for color and extra flavor, but should only be done at the end of heating time to prevent burning. Following these simple techniques can help any cook create savory, delectable stir-fried rice dishes at home.