Fried rice revisited
I discovered fried rice right about the same time I fell in love with poutine, at the age of nine or ten. Poutine was much easier to come by, a bicycle ride away, but fried rice was something I needed to plan out. It required a trip to the mall which was a long ways away; thankfully it was near my elementary school. I figured out that I could miss the school bus after school, trek to Place Laurier, and call my parents from there, giving me time to go to the ‘Chinese’ food court counter and order some up, with spare rib juice on top. All for a buck or two. Given my meagre allowance at the time - lawn mowing, baby sitting, marble betting and all, I could not afford fried rice and poutine on the same week. This was surely a good thing for my poor parents who always had their kid disappearing on some food quest or another.
These noshes were the highlights of any week though. At home, we ate boring English fare, boiled beef and potatoes, mushy broccoli and healthy homemade brown bread. Luckily, my neighbourhood buddies and school friends were around to introduce me to all kinds of more ‘exotic’ things – be it paté chinois (better shephard’s pie), ratatouille, rare roast beef and garlicky romaine salad, Vietnamese sandwiches, greek salad and sauerkraut - with their lunches, after school snacks and birthday parties. Life wasn’t so boring even if I couldn’t make it to the mall. Altogether, I gradually entered a new phase, where Friday night pizza or KFC was no longer the ultimate treat. (There was no McDonalds near us then). Still, I managed my fried rice or noodles every now and again and Americanized Chinese became my thing, remaining a weakness until adulthood when I moved to Montreal and tasted better Chinese. Then Indian and Thai, and more Vietnamese. Primo Italian. And everything else.
Fast forward 30 years. Although I eat basmati rice by the ton, I make stir-fries and noodles and use Asian flavours in my cooking quite regularly, I still get cravings for the kind of Chinese you can only get at the restaurant, that you want to go out for or order in. The only problem is that now I live in the country, miles away from Chinatown, and the only available take-out (or restaurant for that matter) offers pizza and poutine. Although perfect on other occasions, great poutine does not make up for a lack of chow mein. There is no Chinese - good or bad, to be had in these parts. I’ve learnt to live without.
On one of those ‘Chinese would be perfect’ nights, when I was perusing the fridge trying to figure out what to eat, in no mood to eat meat or fish, I decided an egg would be my protein, and there were greens, cucumber, and a batch of left-over rice looking back at me. Fine. But instead of combining them as is, a favourite meal of mine being rice topped with a mix of cooked and raw veg and a fried egg, I decided it was time to make some fried rice to change it up. The idea quickly had me salivating so I went to town.
Yum. Surely better than the fast food of my childhood, this dish truly hit the spot. And I will be doing it again very soon, trust me. A perfect trashy treat at the end of a long day, not that unwholesome either, this way..
Sauté garlic and ginger in some oil, add left-over rice and coat well, fry while stirring for five minutes. Add a pinch of curry and a pinch of five spice and chilli, stir-fry, then add a good splash of soy sauce, fry a few minutes more over low-medium heat. Add cut up cooked vegetables and heat through. Crack a couple of eggs on top and mix in. Finish with scallions and fresh coriander, fresh tomato and cucumber, salt and pepper.
Enthralled with fried rice all of a sudden again, I had to put it on my menu at the restaurant too.. So I dressed it up with wild mushrooms, duck egg, and wrapped it in rice lettuce - a killer side for quail with wild ginger no doubt.