One of the easiest of all dishes to make, fried rice nonetheless seems to daunt many a cook, and there are a few things to know before you reach perfection. Most important, don’t worry about having fine ingredients to hand; popular as the dish is all round Asia, it’s invariably made when there are leftovers to use up. In fact, it can only really be made from them: the main mistake many people make is to start from scratch with making a nice batch of fresh rice. It doesn’t work. The rice ends up tasting rather mushy, and is no comparison to anything that a street vendor would make. So the first rule is to have some day-old rice that’s ready to use. The reason for this is that the grains of leftover rice are firmer and the excess moisture has all evaporated, making it easy to separate. If you use fresh rice, there’s simply too much moisture and once you start frying it, you’ll see it simply turns to mush. It’s not inedible, but won’t taste as good. If you have no leftover rice to spare, then you can get away with making some rice and letting it cool for a few hours. Once you get in the habit of keeping your leftover rice either in the fridge or freezer, then you’ll never be short of a good meal.
Each Asian country has its own variations on fried rice. In China, for example, you’ll find plenty of sweet sausage used, along with ginger and scrambled eggs that are folded into a very tempting mix. You can also find this variation in Thailand, due to there being so many Thais of Chinese origin. If you’re in Korea, your fried rice won’t be just leftover rice but old kimchi as well, which results in a piquant dish. Everybody has of course heard of nasi goreng, which is the Indonesian version and relies on a soy sauce that’s sweetened by palm sugar. Sometimes chilli paste is also used, and nasi goreng is popular not just at lunch or for dinner, but for breakfast, too.
But what about in Thailand? Here, there are many variations within the country with perhaps the most formal being ‘khao op sapparot’, or fried rice that is served in a half pineapple that’s topped with curried crab meat. This is a special treat, however, and most people won’t eat this as they go about their day.
The general rule for Thai fried rice is to have that trio of tastes, fish sauce, lime and chilli. These are the basics, but again, you’ll need to look in the fridge and see what you can add to the mix. Virtually anything can go in – one particularly international neighbour of mine swears by the marginal additions of miso paste and marmalade!
Thai fried rice is often classified as a dish from Central Thailand. In Thai, ‘khao’ means rice and ‘pad’ means stir-fried. As you can see, nothing complicated about that. In Thailand the best rice to use is jasmine, and it’s very common to add in chicken, shrimp or pork. You’ll also find onions and garlic and sometimes diced tomatoes and carrots. It’s not a spicy dish and if you want to heat things up, then simply add some flaked chilli. (If you’re eating in the kind of fast food place where fried rice is commonly to be found, there’ll almost certainly be a bowl of chilli flakes available, just begging you to turn your rice dish into a bowl of fire. Be cautious.)
Just as with a pizza, you can add extra ingredients to your fried rice. This is ideal if you want to clear out your fridge, or if you have small quantities of different foods that you want to use up. Any kind of meat will do, just make sure it’s cooked before you use it. Ham and sausage can be also added, just cut up small. For vegetables you can use almost anything and you’ll find peas, carrots, corn, tomato, bell pepper and broccoli are used. Fruit can also be added, but this may add too much sweetness to the dish. You’ll often find pineapple is thrown in and sometimes raisins.
Thai fried rice really is a cinch to make – just a tad more difficult than instant noodles. In 15 minutes it’s on the table, ready to eat. No special skills are required and no tricky ingredients. It’s a perfect recipe if you’re learning to cook Thai.
Chicken Fried Rice
Ingredients: (makes about 4-5 servings)
• 4 cups leftover cooked rice that’s been left in the fridge. Do not use any rice that you think might taste off, or which has turned greasy.
• 2 cups thinly sliced chicken breast
• 4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or grated
• 1 small onion, sliced
• 1/4 cup vegetable oil
• 1/4 cup soy sauce, which can be flavoured
• Sugar to taste (up to a tablespoon is fine)
• 5 eggs
• 5 green onions, chopped
• pepper to taste (best to use powdered form, rather than ground)
• chopped up coriander, a few slices of cucumber as a garnish
• a wedge or two of lime, chilli flakes
Use a wok if you have one, otherwise a heavy-duty frying pan. Heat the wok or pan over high heat. Add half of the oil, then when hot, add the eggs, scramble until almost virtually cooked, then push to the side of the wok. If using a pan, then cook completely, and remove.
Add the remaining oil, followed by the garlic, onion and chicken. Keep stirring quickly, until the chicken is completely cooked.
Now add the rice and stir. Be prepared to add a little more oil if necessary.
Now pour in the soy sauce, immediately followed by the sugar. Keep stirring.
Finally, throw in the green onion and the pepper. (If you have previously removed the scrambled eggs, now’s the moment to put them back into the pan.) Give a last stir.
Serve immediately. Don’t forget to add the accompaniments. Place a few leaves of coriander on top of the rice, add the lime wedges and the sliced cucumber.