Secrets to Cooking the Best Chinese Fried Rice
Fried Rice is the Chinese version of casserole. Basically, its a great way to use up leftover bits in the refrigerator. My ingredients change based on what vegetables and meat I have on hand.
The only 3 constants are:
2) Fish Sauce
3) Chinese Sausage “Lap Cheong”
The above photo includes 1/4 of a red bell pepper, frozen peas/carrots, 2 eggs, 1/4 of a red onion, lap cheong (Chinese sausage). Sometimes I use bok choy, broccoli, cabbage, baby corn, pork, shrimp, chicken, ground beef, scallops…well, you get the picture. I’ve written a recipe for fried rice already, so instead of another recipe, I’m going to talk about some of the secrets that make the absolutely best fried rice in the world. I might repeat some of what I’ve written earlier, but its worth the read.
Secret #1: The Rice Just freshly cooked rice is hot, steamy, very moist and a little sticky. All of those things would make a very clumpy and soggy fried rice. Thats why day-old rice makes the best fried rice (storing in the refrigerator dries out the rice). My fried rice is flaky, light – which allows the individual flavors of the ingredients to really shine through. I almost always use Jasmine Rice for fried rice. If I want to make fried rice and don’t happen to have day-old rice on hand, here’s what I do: Make a batch of rice, except use 1/4 to 1/3 less water. This creates a rice that is a bit drier. Once the rice is done cooking, spread it out on a baking sheet so cool it off and let the steam (moisture) escape. Don’t try to fry the rice until its completely cool. You can put the baking sheet in the refrigerator, freezer or open window to expedite the process.
Secret #2: The Fish Sauce Many of my non-Asian friends will respond with “ewwwww…..fish sauce?” But let me tell you, most dishes served in a Thai or Vietnamese restaurant contain fish sauce. Its like the SE Asian version of salt. Plus, do you know what Worchestershire Sauce is made of?!?! Just like anchovy paste in Italian cooking, a little goes a long way and once you cook it in a dish, I’ll bet you $10 that you can’t even pick out the taste of it. I use a brand called “Three Crabs”
A sign of good fish sauce is the color. You want to buy a brand that is tea-colored, which signifies that it probably came from the first pressing (best quality). Now, why the brand is called Three Crabs when the fish sauce doesn’t even contain crabs is a mystery. If the fish sauce is any darker, like the color of coca cola, don’t buy it. Ok, so why do I use fish sauce and what does it taste like? Well first lets talk about what it smells like. No. Let not. I’m not going to kid you. It stinks. Don’t even try. But for some mysterious reason (and especially since you only use a few shakes from the bottle in the dish) your final cooked dish will smell nothing like it. Taste: pure on your tongue is very pungent. However once you start adding different flavor notes: like sour (lime), sweet (sugar), spicy (chili) – it transports you into another dimension – many call it “umami“. I use it because it rounds out the flavors – giving the dish a hit of salty/sweet that I can’t replicate with sugar and salt. I add the fish sauce to the fried rice the same time I add the other seasonings, about 1/2 tsp at a time until it tastes just right. Not too salty. Not too pungent. You want to make sure that you have big “wok fry” motions to get the fish sauce evenly dispersed throughout the dish. Last thing you want is one of your guests taking a bite and getting KO’d by a shot of fish sauce.
Secret #3: The Chinese Sausage It’s like pancetta in Italian cooking, where you render the fat (a.k.a. low heat and melt the fat). The fat is where all the flavor is hidden. Chinese sausage also is described as having “umami”. It’s preserved like Italian sausages so they last quite a while in the refrigerator. I dice the sausage into 1/4″ pieces, put them in the warm wok on low heat and just leave it alone for a few minutes. You’ll be rewarded with rich, flavorful fat oozing out – this is what you’ll use to fry the rest of the ingredients of the fried rice in place of oil. (see all those pockets of flavorful fat?!)
Secret #4: The Heat Once you add your rice to the wok, crank up the heat to high. Your wok or saute pan has to be so hot that it heats up every single grain of rice through to the core. The heat does two things: helps meld the flavors together to create a cohesive dish and evaporate any extra moisture from the rice and liquid seasonings (soy/fish sauce/wine). Your fried rice is done with the grains practically dance off the wok.
Secret #5: Storing and Re-heating Store leftover fried rice tightly covered in the refrigerator. The rice will dry out further just by being in the refrigerator, however it will taste just as good the next day. The secret is to wet your hands and “flick” or “splash” water onto the fried rice, cover, and microwave on high. The microwave will heat up the water, turn it into steam and basically re-steam the rice. Don’t use too much water, just maybe a teaspoon or so. For the recipe – use this as a guideline, but feel free to substitute meats/seafood/vegetables. All you need to know to make the most delicious fried rice are the secrets in this post! Enjoy!