Friday, August 7, 2020

Fried Rice: Most Universal Meal Ever??

A bowl of fried rice covered with a rich, cilantro peanut butter sauce
Fried Rice with Cilantro Peanut Sauce

If you are like me, then for the past few months you have been spending perhaps a lot more time at home and eating out a whole lot less than you used to. While these have been trying times, they have also provided moments of inspiration, and once the produce began really flowing out of the garden, I have to admit that inspiration often was found in the kitchen when I tried to figure out what to do with all this great, fresh produce.  

Which brings us to the topic to today's post and I want to offer up an opinion.  I think fried rice might be the most universal meal ever invented.  

Now, before the comment thread blows up with counter proposals (I can't wait to hear your thoughts actually) I want to make my case for the humble bowl of friend rice, especially for those of us who are homesteading, gardening, and looking to live a slightly more sustainable lifestyle. 

When I make fried rice, I generally follow a very simple approach. 

Fat, Fluff, and Rice with sauce  

Allow me to elaborate.  

Fat:  

I start every batch of fried rice with some version of fat.  Without fat, I don't know that you can really call anything fried, but I digress.  Now for me fat comes from generally one of two sources.  Either I start with some kind of oil, such as olive, canola, or coconut oil, or some sort of fatty meat like bacon or sausage. The point is you want a slightly oily base.  If I use a meat source that is lean, like chicken breast or lean pork, I will start by cooking it in oil.  It's that simple.  And before we move on, I usually season this starting point with my desired seasonings.  The sky is the limit here.  Cajun, Brazilian, Asian, garden herb, curry, it really doesn't matter as long as you are blending flavors that will play well together. 

Fluff:  

Okay, this maybe isn't the best name ever for this category, but bear with me.  When I say fluff what I mean is all the stuff that isn't meat, if your even using it, and isn't rice.  There is really no limit to the creativity you can have here.  Zucchini, Egg Plant, Onions, Peppers, Green beans, Garlic, Sweet Potatoes, Pineapple, Celery, Peas, Corn, Carrots, and so many more ideas can add be added to the flavorful oily base you have created.  And it doesn't matter if they are fresh, frozen, or even drained out of a can.  Your goal here is to add some bulk to the dish and its a great way to utilize those light harvest when you only have one or two of this or that from the garden and it isn't enough to make a full dish in its own right. 

Once the fluff mixture is nice and cooked through, I may or may not add in some delicate fluff.  These are things that don't take nearly as long to cook, but can really help the dish pop.  I commonly use fresh herbs here towards the end, maybe a beaten egg, or a really delicate fruit that doesn't need too much time to cook.  

Are you getting the idea here?  It's fluff.  There are no wrong answers as long as it tastes good when it all comes together. 

Rice with sauce:  

Finally, we are ready to add the rice.  My most common approach here is to cook the rice in the rice cooker a day or two before hand and then hold it in the fridge until I am ready to make fried rice.  What you should read there is this is a great way to use left over rice.  White rice, brown rice, wild rice, even other rice like grains such as quinoa are all fair game.  You can also make rice and use it fresh if you want.  Refrigerated rice is dryer to some extent, and seems to come together nicer than fresh, still sticky rice might, but I am not sure as I have only done it with cold rice. I add it to the hot, oily mixture and stir it all around to coat it evenly. 

Now we are ready for the last piece of this four part puzzle, and that is some sort of sauce.  Traditional fried rice is finished with soy sauce, but I find that we all really enjoy it when we use Memii noodle soup base.  Once again though, the sky is the limit here.  You are imparting flavor as well as giving the dish a good steam bath since this liquid will quickly evaporate while you stir the dish to coat it evenly.  I haven't yet, but I am debating how shots of other soup broth would shake things up.  It doesn't take much so go easy.  You can always add more, but it's hard to take it out if you get too much in there.  

Fried Rice with Spam, Squash, Peas and Carrots

There you go.  I think I have done my best to make the case for the extremely adaptable and versatile dish that is fried rice.  I recommend that you try a batch next time you have some left over rice.  Its such an amazingly easy way to bring together a small amount of varied ingredients into a delicious one pot meal with an infinitely variable flavor profile. Can you think of another dish that offers the same level of versatility and adaptability.