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Water Cooler: Stir-fried rice is the ultimate leftover

UPDATED: Thu., March 25, 2021

Fried rice is one of the most widely loved Asian dishes consumed in the United States. It is delicious, nutritious and best of all, incredibly affordable. That is, as long as you make it at home, and finding it in the freezer aisle to later heat up in your kitchen doesn’t quite count.

For the average serving of take-out or commercially prepared fried rice, you’re coughing up at least $5. You can usually find a 5-pound bag of rice for about the same price and eat fried rice for a week.

It is simple to make, and its flexibility gives you the freedom to stick to an authentic recipe or customize it to your liking.

Fried rice is thought to have originated in China, but it is popular in East Asian, Southwest Asian and some South Asian cuisines. Different regions have their own versions, meaning even “authentic” stir-fried rice comes in countless varieties. The following recipe is based on the Malaysian, Indonesian and Singaporean version, called nasi goreng, which is unique for its widespread use of soy sauce to season the rice.

The essential component of any fried rice is cold, day-old rice. That is what makes it such an easy and useful dish. It is generally agreed that fried rice was created by the Chinese as a way to use up leftovers.

The rice is chilled so the grains can dry out and separate, allowing them to stir-fry without becoming mush. Rinse the rice with water, until the water runs clear, before cooking to wash away the excess starch. Drain well and cook as usual. Refrigerate overnight, or at least for an hour if you’re in a pinch, and break up any clumps into individual grains.

The rice is usually cooked in a wok, but any frying pan will do if you don’t have one. Just make sure to not overfill it. Stir-frying requires space.

Frying rice is a quick process, so prepare all the ingredients before you start cooking.

For about 3 to 4 cups of cooked, chilled rice, you will need: 4 minced garlic cloves, 2 finely diced shallots (a yellow onion can also work), 2 chili peppers (if you like spice), 2 sliced green onions, 3 whisked eggs (add extra egg yolk for richness if desired), 2 teaspoons white pepper, 2 teaspoons MSG (for the umami flavor, but you can opt for salt), 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 teaspoon grated galangal (ginger also works), 1 tablespoon sambal (or any chili sauce or paste) and a bit of sesame and canola oil on hand. Although it’s not as strictly authentic, you can incorporate various cooked proteins such as chicken or pork and vegetables like carrots, peas or long beans if you like.

Combine galangal, soy sauce, a tablespoon of sesame oil and sambal to make the sauce and set aside. Get the pan hot and put in about 2 to 3 tablespoons of canola oil to start, adding more if need be. Add the aromatics – the garlic, shallots and chilis. Fry until soft and fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the beaten eggs. Once the eggs start to become solid, add in the rice. Stir for a few minutes until hot and lightly toasted. Add in any cooked proteins or vegetables at this time. Add in the white pepper, MSG and the sauce and stir until distributed. Garnish with green onions before serving.

That’s all there is to it. You can even pare it down to just the aromatics, oil, egg, rice and some soy sauce if needed. Feel free to adjust the seasonings and portions to your liking. Have fun making it your own and stir-fried rice will quickly become a leftover staple.

Rachel Baker can be reached at (509) 459-5583 or rachelb@spokesman.com

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