Thursday, August 14, 2008

Wok Me Like A Hurricane

Let's face it: most of the time, fried rice is the second half of a cheap Chinese takeout combo meal used to validate charging you an extra three bucks when, if you had stopped and thought about it beforehand, you would have realized that all you really wanted was an egg roll with your moo goo gai pan. It's an afterthought.

If it's done right, though, right the way Chen Kenichi does it, fried rice is a ballet, a collection of textures and flavors simultaneously working together and fighting with each other - gooey enough to be lifted with chopsticks, light enough to avoid feeling greasy, and spicy enough to singe your eyebrows.

Chef Chen makes it look easy and it's easy to describe with words, but honestly I've never had fried rice that good in my life. Not even close.

The concept of fried rice, though, is a fundamentally sound one, and one you can apply to less austere, more utilitarian (and less Chinese) dishes - take some day-old rice you don't want to go to waste, heat it up in a pan with some oil in it, add some vegetables and call it a carbohydrate.

is one example that happens to work excellently as a side dish, just like its forefather, but a side of a different sort. If you'd like to use it as a main course, double it. Oh, and don't be scared by the vanilla - it's used purely as an aromatic and won't appear in the finished dish as anything more than a pleasant background note.


  • 1/2 cup cooked brown rice (fresh or day old, but day-old is actually tastier)
  • 1 red onion, roughly chopped
  • 4 white mushrooms, chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp at a time
  • 1/2 tsp minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • Salt and Pepper

The Gist:

If you don't have any leftover rice handy, make some. The method is up to you - I have a rice cooker, but a pot on the stove with some water in it works fine, too.

Combine everything but the rice, the turmeric and 1 tbsp of the olive oil in a bowl and let it sit at room temperature while you heat a pan over medium-high heat.

Speaking of pans: do you have one of these?
A slope-sided, flat-bottomed pan will make cooking this easier - while it's totally possible to do it in a frying pan, a wok pan will keep the oil hot, make the rice easier to move around and help you not get food all over your stove-top.

Anyway. Once the pan is hot, add the vegetable mixture. Keep it moving so it doesn't burn, and cook until the onions soften and the mushrooms brown. It should take 5 minutes or so. Pour the vegetables into a bowl and rinse out your pan.

Add the second tbsp of oil and heat it up to medium again before adding the rice and the turmeric. Keep moving the rice as you did before with the vegetables for 5 minutes or so before adding the vegetables back to the pan. Work them together and get them off of the heat before it burns.

Eat up! I made this as a side for pork chops and peas and it was fantastic. I'm sure it would work great as a main dish tossed with shrimp or ham, as well.

Mmm. Ham.


  • Turmeric, though tasty, will turn everything it touches (your hands, your stove, your pets) a frightening shade of yellow. Try not, as I did when I cooked this, to pour it while standing under the influence of a ceiling fan. (oops)
  • Stir-frying with olive oil is usually a bad idea - while it's more flavorful and healthier than its cousins, it also starts to smoke and at a much lower temperature than, say, canola or peanut oils do. To that end, you don't want the heat to go any higher than a tick over medium. You can get away with it here, though, because nothing you're going to be cooking is going to kill you if it isn't cooked through; just don't try this with chicken.

Serves 2 as a side dish or 1 as a meal. It doubles, but only up to a point - any more than double this recipe and you might have to cook it either in a stock pot or in shifts.


iratelobster said...

The title of this post cracked me up.

I make a variation of this with leftover brown rice whenever we order Chinese food, and for this reason I actually look forward to the leftover rice much more than the MSG-sodden crap to which it played a supporting role.

I put in onions, peas, and whatever veggies happen to be handy that would make sense, and usually drizzle a tiny bit of sesame oil in it while it's cooking, just for a hint of flavor.

I really like your turmeric/vanilla combo, and would like to hear more about your turmeric uses sometime in the future.

Jack Thompson said...

For an extra kick of protein in your fried rice, crack an egg into it next time towards the end of the stir-frying and scramble it with a pair of chopsticks.

The next time I use turmeric, it's going to be when tie-dyeing shirts in the tub.

Misanthrope said...

Congrats on the blog, Jack! :)

It rocx0rs

Whiskey Daemon

Jack said...


Let's hope I can keep it interesting.

Paul said...

The idea of turmeric and vanilla evoke delightful thoughts of the cuisines of Singapore and Sichuan province. One thing that you forgot to mention is that, while the pan you illustrate (a flat-bottomed wok/pan) is good, one must make sure to have plenty of room to move the rice around or it will surely stick. Really fluffy, light fried rice is created with a minimum of oil and a maximum of hard work stirring with both arms and two tools. The egg is also, in my humble opinion, a must. Finally, for a special dinner, go to a store that sells whole vanilla beans and utilize the seeds from within one of the beans to flavor your rice (bottle the bean in vodka to use as a flavoring later).

Jack said...

You're not a man I'm qualified to argue with on this one, Paul. :) I'll try it your way next time the requisite ingredients fall into my lap.