Deep-fried, cream cheese-filled wontons were pretty much the closest I got to authentic Chinese food during my youth (which I’m still in, right??), and I really have no regrets about that. It still baffles me why people would ruin such perfection by adding crab, of all things. Maybe throw in some scallions…oh, recipe idea noted. Before I continue with these musings, I have to say I know very little about authentic Chinese cooking, and this recipe is not verified to be culturally accurate. Is fried rice even popular in China? I don’t know. However, I know this rice tastes like savory perfection. More fresh and way less greasy, but just as salty, flavorful, and satisfying, than takeout or P.F. Chang’s.
It sounds corny, but this rice really reminds me of the days when my mom would take my sisters and me grocery shopping at Byerly’s, and we’d stop at the in-store Leann Chin counter for an egg roll or cream cheese puff treat. Could this be how I got my penchant for salty “treats”? Another time, we picked it up and took it “drive-in” style while rolling around town in the minivan viewing all the Christmas lights. More recently, I’d go solo or with coworkers to the Minneapolis skyway location during tax busy season in my accounting days, because a pile of cream cheese puffs and a side of fried rice is pretty much the only solace for working 14 hour days for three weeks on end. P.S., I just looked up “solace” to make sure I had the correct meaning–I did!
In my quest to replicate Leann‘s formula, I read a lot of fried rice recipes, and most of them said to just mix up some veggies and maybe an egg with soy sauce. That did not sound like the flavor profile I was trying to achieve. I adore salty things, but there was a certain flavor, the umami element, if you will, that I knew couldn’t be coming from just soy sauce. After near-defeat, I decided to turn my brain on an checked America’s Test Kitchen…for the win. Obviously they’ve attempted fried rice a million different ways and now hold all the secrets, which they’ve so generously shared with home cooks everywhere.
There’s actually only one minor secret, and that’s oyster sauce (rendering the dish meatless, but not actually vegetarian). It sounds a little gross, but it really adds so much flavor, eliminating the need to use a half cup of soy sauce. Plus, it has a thick consistency, so it helps hold together lots of different components. I had a little trouble finding an oyster sauce that was neither an oyster flavored sauce nor laden with MSG, marked as only legal for sale in the U.S. Eventually, I came upon Tiger Tiger oyster sauce at a totally conventional grocery store. It meets both criteria and was the least expensive option. In the end, I thought the ATK version did need a bit more soy sauce than the way it was written, so my recipe reflects that change. Feel free to add even more to your liking, but promise me you’ll try it this way first.
Since I wanted this dish to be meatless, but also a full meal on its own, I completely changed up the mix ins, swapping out the shrimp and ham for crispy tofu “nuggets” (that’s what they remind me of), carrots, and hearty greens. After pressing is complete, the tofu doesn’t take long and is fried in the same pan used for the rice. However, if you don’t don’t like tofu or just prefer meat, substitute a half pound of pork (ham, bacon, chop) or shrimp. If time is the issue, dice the tofu out of the package and use it plain and simple like that.
Make me one more promise, too, please–do not use canned bean sprouts. I thought they were a convenient, less expensive alternative to fresh. NOT AT ALL. Either get the real, crispy ones that don’t resemble translucent, hairy spaghetti noodles, or use water chestnuts for a crunch, if you live in a remote area and must use canned food. Or if you already have some in your cabinet. Those sprouts are still sitting in a Tupperware in my refrigerator, as if there’s a chance I’ll touch them at some point–no.
In non-recipe notes, it’s Friday! As always, I want to see what you eat or cook up this weekend, so tag #nckhomemade on Instagram if you made it! I’m pretty excited to be making dinner for my sis and her husband at their new apartment in NYC. There will most definitely be a post about how it went with the Italian-Greek-Middle Eastern fusion-y menu I planned and my attempt to actually outsource a couple prepared items. I feel ready, but I’m just trying to plot a non-back breaking way to transport my 7 1/2 quart Le Creuset from Connecticut to New York via public tranportation. Ughhhh…yikes.
Last but not least, I have some exciting news and a special recipe to go along with it that I’ll be sharing in the near future, so stick with me! It might just involve my first dessert recipe in a while–go big or go home.
- ½ C dry jasmine rice, or 1 ½ C cooked, leftover rice
- 1 T vegetable or olive oil (if making rice)
- 14 oz. pkg. extra firm tofu (see notes below for substituting meat)
- 1 t salt
- 3 T cornstarch
- 4 T peanut oil
- 2 T oyster sauce (no MSG)
- 1 T tamari (or soy sauce; plus more for serving)
- 1 egg, beaten
- ¾ C small diced carrots (1 medium carrot)
- ¾ C frozen peas
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 big handful sturdy leafy greens, chopped small (such as Swiss chard, kale, or collards)
- 4 scallions, white and light green parts thinly sliced diagonally, green tops washed and chopped for garnish
- ½ C bean sprouts (fresh) or chopped water chestnuts
- 1 T toasted sesame oil (optional)
- Optional garnish: avocado, lime wedges
- 10 to 12 inch nonstick skillet (do not use a wok)
- Rinse rice in a mesh strainer until cold water runs almost clear, at least 30 seconds (up to a couple minutes). In a medium saucepan, heat a tablespoon of vegetable or olive oil over medium, adding rice once hot. Stir constantly for 2 minutes, then add ¾ C water and increase heat to high. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cover. Simmer 12 to 20 minutes until all the water is absorbed (mine always takes closer to 12). Turn off heat and let rest in pan for 5 to 10 minutes. Uncover and fluff with a fork.
- Spread rice on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or foil and let stand at room temp for up to an hour. Place in refrigerator, uncovered, overnight, or for about 12 hours. After that, move to a loosely covered container (use up to 3 days after preparing).
- Drain block on a folded dish towel covered with a paper towel. Place a flat object (plate, small cutting board or baking pan) on top of another paper towel over the tofu, then balance a heavy object on top of that. Leave for a half hour.
- Cut tofu crosswise into 8 slices of the same thickness (about ⅓ inch), then cut each slice in half lengthwise, and cut each “strip” into thirds (crosswise). You’ll have 48 small rectangles, each about an inch square by ⅓ inch thick.
- If you have time, spread the pieces over a dishcloth topped with a paper towel, and leave at room temperature for another 30 minutes to dry further.
- Put tofu pieces into a large shallow dish or bowl and toss with 1 t salt. One tablespoon at a time, sprinkle with cornstarch (using a mesh strainer if available to coat evenly) and stir, repeating 3 times.
- Heat a large, dry nonstick skillet (10 to 12 inches) over medium high for a couple minutes. Add a tablespoon of peanut oil and heat for another 2 minutes, until very hot. Add half the tofu in a single layer to the pan, and cook on the first side, undisturbed, until brown and crispy, about 5 minutes (it won’t brown for a few minutes, then suddenly it will, so be patient). Flip the tofu and cook the same way on the other side. Remove from pan to cool on a wire rack, and sprinkle with another pinch of salt while still hot.
- Add another ½ to 1 tablespoon of oil to the pan and allow to heat for a minute. Add one piece of tofu to make sure the pan is hot enough (it should sizzle). If so, add remaining tofu and cook as above.
- Mix oyster and soy sauce in a small dish and set aside. Prepare other ingredients and set out so they’re ready as you cook.
- Add 1 t oil to the nonstick skillet used to cook the tofu and heat to medium. Add egg and begin to stir with a wooden spoon to scramble after allowing it to initially set a bit. Cook egg until done but not brown, about a minute, then remove to a small bowl.
- Increase heat to medium high, then add 1 ½ tablespoons oil. Once hot, cook carrots for a minute or two, until slightly softened. Add peas and cook for another minute, until warm. Add garlic and cook for another 30 seconds.
- Add rice, sauce mixture, and greens and cook, stirring constantly to coat the rice, 2 minutes, until heated through and greens are wilted. If using a 10 inch pan (as I did) it will get a little crowded but you should have room if stirring carefully. Reduce heat to medium low, add proteins (egg and tofu), scallions, and bean sprouts, and cook for another 30 seconds, until combined and hot. Stir in sesame oil off heat.
- Season with additional salt or soy sauce, if needed, and garnish with green scallion tops, plus avocado and lime slices, if desired.
Oil type: Peanut oil withstands high heat well (it’s often used for deep frying). If you don’t have any on hand, canola or vegetable oil would work, but I wouldn’t recommend olive oil.
Tamari/soy: The recipe is only gluten free if you use tamari, not soy sauce.