I cooked a lot of fried rice before I learned to take the frying seriously.
When I used to stir-fry it, I focused on the stirring part of the equation. I’d move the rice across a hot oiled pan with vegetables and the occasional pork product, seasoning it with soy sauce and sesame oil. It tasted great, but the texture was soft. Really, I was making zipped up, sauteed rice, without any of the deeply crisp edges I didn’t know I could achieve.
Then I witnessed a friend fry rice, and saw the error of my ways.
He cooked the vegetables and aromatics first until they softened and browned, just as I always did. But instead of tossing the rice around in the pan, he spread it out in an even layer on the bottom and up its sides. Then, he let it sit without touching it.
I grew antsy watching it, and had to resist the urge to jump in with a spatula. But just as I was about to offer a gentle reminder about the stir in stir-fry, the nutty scent of caramelization wafted across the room. The rice hissed, then crackled and sputtered.
When he finally tossed the ingredients, the rice was golden and crisp. The prolonged contact with the hot oil made the grains supremely, wonderfully crunchy.
Since that day, I’ve never looked back, and my fried rice has been all the crunchier for it, especially when I plan ahead and use leftover rice as the base. Leftover rice has less moisture than the fresh stuff, which encourages browning.
This said, I do have a trick for using just-made rice. I cook it, then spread it out on a sheet pan and let it dry out for an hour or so. Stirring it as it cools helps the cause, releasing the steam.
You could even stick the pan in a low oven for a few minutes, which I’ve done when I’m in a big hurry. It’s not quite as good as the leftovers from your 3-day-old takeout. But it will do when a fried rice craving hits.
This fried rice variation has bacon for brawniness, lots of wilted cabbage for sweetness, plus kim chee (a nod toward bokkeumbap, Korean fried rice) for a spicy tang.
You can use the technique as a template, substituting other vegetables and meats, or nixing the meat altogether.
Just remember that with fried rice, less is more: less stirring, more crunch.
CRISPY FRIED RICE WITH BACON AND CABBAGE
- 5 tablespoons neutral oil, such as grapeseed or sunflower, divided, plus more as needed
- 3 slices thick-cut bacon, in 1/2-inch pieces (about 3 ounces)
- 1 small bunch scallions, whites and greens separated, sliced
- 4 cups shredded cabbage (from 1/2 small head)
- Salt, to taste
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 6 cups leftover cooked rice, white or brown
- 2-1/2 tablespoons fish sauce, plus more as needed
- 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce, plus more as needed
- 1/2 cup drained and chopped kim chee
- 1/2 cup green peas (thawed if frozen)
- 4 fried eggs, for serving (optional)
- Toasted sesame oil, for drizzling (optional)
In a large nonstick skillet or wok over medium-high, heat 2 tablespoons oil until almost smoking. Stir in bacon, and cook, stirring constantly, until bacon is golden, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a heatproof bowl, leaving as much oil in the skillet as you can.
Add scallion whites to pan. Cook until soft, stirring frequently, 1 to 2 minutes. If the pan looks dry, drizzle in a little more oil, then stir in cabbage and a pinch of salt. Cook, continuing to stir frequently, until cabbage is soft, 2 to 4 minutes.
Stir in garlic, and cook until fragrant, another 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to bowl with bacon.
Add remaining 3 tablespoons oil to skillet and raise heat to high. Add rice and a large pinch of salt, then toss thoroughly to coat with oil. Spread out rice in an even layer along bottom (and sides if using a wok), and drizzle with fish sauce and soy sauce. Let rice sit until sizzling stops and it starts to crackle and crisp, 1 to 4 minutes. Toss, taste and add more fish sauce or soy sauce if necessary.
Fold in bacon mixture, kim chee and peas, then transfer to plates. Top with scallion greens and fried eggs, if using. Drizzle everything with sesame oil and soy sauce, if you like, and serve immediately. Serves 6.
Nutritional information unavailable.
AND TO DRINK
The pungent, savory flavors of this dish are not easy to pair with wine. Kim chee and fish sauce in particular are difficult, which is why I gravitate to the all-purpose solution to spicy pairings: well-balanced, moderately sweet German rieslings like kabinetts and spatleses, which will also go well with the bacon and cabbage. Sweetness melds well with spiciness, while the balancing acidity adds refreshment. For a red wine, try a Loire Valley cabernet franc. Other than wine, dry cider or lager beer would also be excellent.
— Eric Asimov, New York Times
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