There are common misconceptions I faced growing up as a Taiwanese American. First, it’s that many people believe I’m “Chinese.” This isn’t a blog about politics, so I’ll let that one float out there (p.s. It’s not “Chinese Taipei” either). Second, other kids in elementary school believed I grew up exclusively on a diet of fried rice. This, as set forth below would be impossible, because in my family, fried rice relies on leftovers. We don’t just “make fried rice” for dinner. We make it because we have to–and we never serve it to guests.
Fried rice is the topic of today’s post. Truth be told, I didn’t eat a lot of fried rice when I was growing up. I NEVER ate it in restaurants. I still don’t. This is because my mom indoctrinated me with the notion that fried rice was “always” made with day old leftovers. Take leftover rice, leftover veggies, and whatever hodgepodge that “needs to be eaten” and throw it together. Not exactly a description of what you are expecting when you step into a restaurant. On the other hand, my mom made great fried rice. Because of my mom’s concoctions, in my mind, there are two types of fried rice. With ketchup and without. In my opinion, both are delicious, but ketchup is better. The ketchup adds a sweetness and depth of flavor that helps to pull all of the components of fried rice together. It mellows out overpowering flavors and brings the best out of the more subtle ingredients. Trust me, you aren’t getting this at your local Chinese restaurant unless you know the owner. Even then, peer behind the counter and look for a bottle of ketchup.
When I started cooking for myself in my first tiny one-bedroom apartment, I asked my mom how to make fried rice. True to her style, she was at a loss for a concrete recipe. It went something like: “Just stir fry some vegetables, add old rice, ketchup, salt and pepper. Oh, you like peas, so you can add some frozen peas too.” (Mom, don’t deny that you do this all the time when people ask you for recipes.) I’ll admit that when it comes to fried rice, I do subscribe (or at least I’ve been brainwashed by) my mom’s philosophies. It is the perfect dish for leftovers, especially leftover rice. And, because it is so reliant on leftovers, it is hard to articulate a recipe. What you put into it is so dependent on what you have on hand. So, a few weeks ago, when my mom and sister were in town we gorged ourselves on some pretty delicious dim sum. With our eyes bigger than our stomachs, we brought home about 1/4 of a roasted duck. They left, and with the duck in my fridge as inspiration, it was time to cobble together some fried rice.
What do you like to add in your version of fried rice? Is there an ingredient you wish you could incorporate?
DUCK FRIED RICE
1 tablespoon olive oil or vegetable oil
1 small onion, diced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 bell pepper, chopped (any color, use whatever you have)
10-12 Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
1 cup frozen peas (yes, my mom was right, I like peas in my fried rice)
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 teaspoon Sriracha sauce, or more to taste (optional)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/4 roasted duck, with bones and skin (you can use almost ANY protein, tofu, chicken, beef, etc. Leftover stir-fry or Chinese take out is the perfect starter for fried rice! You can also use scrambled eggs, leave a comment if you want to know how to use eggs as a protein base)
about 1 cup of day old rice (Brown rice is fine, but whatever you do, make sure it is a day old. Freshly cooked rice doesn’t work)
2 tablespoons Heinz Ketchup
2 stalks fresh scallions, chopped
In a large frying pan or wok, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook for 2 minutes, then add garlic, peppers and Brussels sprouts. Stir and cook for 4-5 minutes until the peppers and sprouts are beginning to soften. Add frozen peas, sesame seeds, Sriracha sauce and soy sauce. Stir together. Cook for another 2-3 minutes, allowing the peas to thaw and the sauce to thicken just slightly. Remove the veggies from the heat and place into a large bowl. Set aside.
In the same pan, heat the duck over medium-high heat and begin to render some of the fat. If you are using a leaner protein, you may need to add some oil to the pan.
Once the duck fat begins to render, but not splatter (about 2 minutes) add the rice and keep it over medium-high heat. There is an irresistible temptation to stir the rice. WALK AWAY. Let the rice sit in the duck fat, over medium-high heat for at least 2-3 minutes. This will allow some of the rice to toast and develop a nice crispy crunch.
Add the veggies with the sauce and stir to coat the rice. Add the ketchup. Stir to coat. When all the ingredients are re-warmed and the dish is heated through, turn off the heat. Salt and pepper to taste, top with fresh scallions and serve immediately.