Sunday, December 9, 2007

The Fried Riceness of the Fried Rice

It seems kind of absurd to even think about making your own fried rice. It's kind of like making a Hostess Twinkie. Really, even if you had all the chemicals you needed and owned your very own countertop vegetable-oil-hydrogenating machine and could therefore turn out a horrible little pastry that was in every way identical to a storebought Hostess Twinkie, could such a homemade, handcrafted object really be called the same thing? Of course not! A Twinkie is a product of space-age food technology, of the American subversion of nature, of the manipulation of our tastes via advertising (without which our hunter/gatherer instincts would never let us even consider putting one of the wretched things in our mouths). A Twinkie is imbued with its Twinkieness by the culture of Big Food. If you create one yourself, it's merely a cream puff made gross.

Similarly, I can't help feeling that the basic meaning of fried rice is changed when you make it at home. As it's known in my particular corner of American society, it's a comfort-foody, too tired/overstimulated/distracted/ uninspired/drunk to cook, Sunday-night-after-the-session thing. It's meant to be shoveled into your mouth directly from the waxed-cardboard container that the guy from Tian Jin palace brought it in (along with the soggy dumplings you ordered so you could make the $10 minimum for delivery), preferably while you're drinking beer and watching lame TV. Is it really legitimate to make the stuff yourself? Moreover, is this really the kind of thing a serious eater would take the time for?

Eh. What the hell. If you have the ingredients on hand, fried rice comes together in less time than it takes to have it delivered, so it's still convenience food. Like Mongolian Lamb, it's a dish with deep, deep roots in the History of Rob, however it's made.

So, your meez. Finely chop a couple of garlic cloves and a scallion or two. If you've got one of those little red Thai chili peppers, chop that up too. Beat an egg with some sesame oil. Prep whatever veggies or meats you want: cut leftover roast pork or chicken into appropriate-sized hunks (and pre-stir-fry if you want); ditto leftover steamed broccoli, a carrot, maybe some nice cabbage; run hot water over a handful of frozen peas to thaw them. Have bottles of soy sauce and oyster sauce where you can reach them.

You need about a cup of leftover cooked rice. Fresh rice will make the dish soggy; with cold leftover rice that's been sitting in the fridge for at least a day or so, you can't go wrong. This is the only element of finesse. If you really want to be a dork, sometime when you have a half-hour to spare you can make a bunch of rice, divide it into individual portions, and freeze it.

Glug some peanut oil into your wok (or a big wide saute pan) and turn that sucker on high. When it's good and screaming hot, add the garlic and scallions (off the heat, so they don't burn), and the chili pepper. Add the egg and stir till it's scrambled and browned in places. Add the rice and stir-fry for a couple of minutes. Stir in a few splashes of soy and oyster sauces. Add your meats and veggies. Turn out into a bowl and dig in.

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