how I learned to stop worrying and just love to make fried rice

You know those guys who work in the nuclear silos?

I would presume their daily to-do list is hardly rigorous.    Sit in the chair, wait for the red phone to ring.  If it  rings, destroy the world,  If not, read the magazines and play 80s-era MUD games on the terminals.  

Now, my knowledge of day-to-day nuclear silo operational details is limited to Cold War-era still photographs and charming films starring Matthew Brodderick.  But i would imagine that most of the training is mental.   You hardly need a skill set to turn a key, but the sheer willingness to unleash a nuclear apocolypse is something that has to be coached, carefully honed and reinforced over a long time.  This is not a job where one can just falter at the moment of  truth.  You have one thing to do, and when the moment comes, you DO it.

Such is the case with fried rice.

There is a lot of very zen-like advice about making the stuff at home.  About how “it’s not a dish it’s a philosophy” and all of that. Yes, you are basically throwing leftover rice and veggies into a pan and cooking them.  And, yes, it is true that the ingredients can vary infinitely and the method is simple (note: I did not say “easy”).   But, again, to paraphrase Walter Sobcheck, it is not Nam, it is fried rice.  And there are rules.

1. the rice should be cooked and cooled.
2. the rice should be at room temperature.
3. all add-ins, garnish, plating must be ready prior to heating the pan.

and number four…

the pan must be very, VERY hot.

Rocket Hot. White Hot. Mira Sorvino circa 1994 Hot.  Hot.

And this is why I liken this dish to a nuclear crisis.

The pan will “seem” hot.  The oil will be shimmering, you’ll feel warm just standing near it, and you’ll get nervous.  You’ll be tempted to chicken out and just to toss in the rice and get cooking, before the pan is ready. 

You have to hold back… wait it out.  Wait until you see little whisps of smoke coming from the pan and the entire kitchen is smoldering.  And this is the most difficult part; and you need to train yourself.   You have to be willing to wait until the last possible moment before the smoke alarms go off and the pan itself combusts into a giant ball of flames.

Not easy, isn’t it?

The reason you need to wait so long is that the starch from the rice will “leak” from the kernel and stick to the bottom of the pan.  The pan needs to be hot so that this “sticky starch” can burn away.  If the starch remains, the pan will not  be hot enough to cook the rice.

On a similar note, you need to add the rice slowly, a little bit at a time.  Each “add” reduces the temperature of the pan, which, as I have mentioned, needs to be hot enough to burn away the pan starch.  Going slowly minimizes the thermal fluctuation of the pan.

So.  This is how I do mine:

Pork Fried Rice

2 cups cooked yesterday’s jasmine rice
6 ounces pork shoulder, cubed into small pieces and salted
1/3 cup peanut oil (or other oil w/ a very high smoke point)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup onion, chopped fine
1 carrot, diced fine
A little green pepper, for color, diced fine
1 egg
lime wedge

Note: all ingredients except for “rice” and “oil” are optional.

Chop everything.

In a clean flat-bottomed skillet stir-fry pan (as tempted as you might be to use a wok, don’t. It’s odd shape means that it will absorb less heat from your silly American cooktop and lead to dissapointment), place a drop or two of the oil into the skillet, turn it to medium, and cook the pork.  Undercook it.  Remove the pork.

Add the rest oil and  Turn the heat to VERY VERY HIGH.  Obviously make sure that ventilation is active.  Also, make sure that your utensils are dry.  I learned this one the hard way.

Wait

Wait

Wait.  Think red phone.

When you see the oil just barely start to whisp, add a pinch of the rice to the pot, and stir.  It will hiss.  It will bubble and splatter a little.  But it should not leave a lot of starchy residue at the bottom of the pan.  If it does, you may need to wait a second.  Or stir a little bit and wait until the stuff burns away.

When the bottom of the pan is sufficiently hot, add the rice a little (two tablespoons) at a time. Sear, and make sure that there is no residue, repeat. Add a little more oil if needed.

Note that the sides of the pan will likely “starch up.”  this is unavoidable. 

When all of the rice has been cooked, add the veggies all at once, cook for a nother minute or two (remember that you chopped them deliberately small), then add the pork.

I like to finish this with an egg.  Just turn the heat off, and crack the egg into the pan.  There will be enough heat to cook it.

Plate and serve with soy sauce and lime wedges.  Garnish with scallions if you have a food blog. 

(eta)- a better picture

 

BYOM

Well, the Blackout of 08 has come and gone.  I more or less survived with only minor food losses.  I happened to be out of chicken stock and had only half a bag of IQF shrimp and about 8oz of pork shoulder in the freeze.

One of my two office mates endured some pretty serious house damage. The other told me that his next door neighbor had life-sized cardboard cut-out of John Wayne… and put it at the streetcorner with a huge sign reading, “THIS IS THE ONLY DUKE WE’VE SEEN.”

Anyway, when my power went out I was at a cookout at my friends’ place.  My own contribution to the event was two fold:

1.  A par-braised rack of pork ribs ready to be finished on their grill
2.  An eagerness to watch their two young children attach each other with every available household object.

It should be noted that my friends are vegetarian.  As per our usual practice, It was understood that I would bring meat.

and I am happy to submit Leslie’s description of the event:

Bacon connoisseur and food blogger Jeff is coming to our house for a cook-out.  Absolutely nothing qualifies us for this affair other than knowing Jeff for quite a long time.  We don’t eat meat, let alone bacon, and as working, community-engaged parents of two precocious young boys, cooking at our home usually means making boxed macaroni products with “cheese” in a foil packet.  So aside from the directive of BYOM, how do you prepare?

First you buy your cook-out staples otherwise known as BBQ potato chips and store bought mustard potato salad.  My husband is actually quite the home-made potato salad aficionado but for quick cook-outs, store bought mustard is the way to go.  I decided on two side-dishes that I would make myself and dessert.

I am also a lazy gardener and found that I was able to salvage sufficient decent leaves from my basil plants to do a plate of insalata caprese.  I will suffer the chiding for the big box store-bought pre-sliced fresh mozzarella and tomatoes (being a lazy gardener I only had a few tomatoes) as I consider this a summer classic and celebrating summer is what a cook-out is all about.
Insalata Caprese
Place thick slices of mozzarella on plate

Top with thick slices of tomato

Top with fresh basil leaves

Drizzle on olive oil

Season to taste with salt & pepper
Nostalgia is also a really big thing for me.  Jeff and I used to like to stop off at Chili’s after shopping at the Tri-County Mall or cruising for video games at Best Buy.  The big appeal was always that awesome blossom onion appetizer thing (or the creamy dipping sauce that came with it).  I actually made one of these the first time that I cooked a Thanksgiving dinner.  I realize that pilgrims didn’t eat at chain restaurants but it seems that you don’t cook an onion blossom to eat at home alone.  Thus I arrived at my second side-dish selection.

Editor’s Note.  Lies.  Filthy Lies.  I have never eaten at Chilli’s or any other culinary whorehouse.  Never.  ALL LIES!!!
Chain Restaurant Rip Off Onion Appetizer

Sauce:  equal parts mayonnaise & sour cream
Chili powder
Cayenne pepper
Garlic Salt

Onion:  Large peeled onion (Vidalia)

Flour
Egg
Milk
Oil for frying

Slice onion in a cross-hatch pattern.  Place in cold water for 1 hour to open up the onion.  Mix together ¼ cup flour, egg and 1 Tblsp. Milk. Coat onion with batter and fry in hot oil until golden brown.
Finally I offered to make dessert.  I rarely make any kind of dessert but when I do it is generally a guise to use whatever fruit is still in my fridge/pantry.  Today I have bananas.  After quick perusal of my cookbook archive, the gem is found — Moosewood Cookbook recipe for Banana Cream Cheese pie.  Sounds yummy!
Graham cracker crust (you can make it but you can also buy it!)

12 oz. cream cheese
2 ripe bananas (1 mashed & 1 thinly sliced)
¼ cup yogurt
3-4 Tblsp sugar
2 Tblsp lemon juice
¼ tsp. almond extract
½ tsp. vanilla

Make the graham cracker crust, if you didn’t just buy one.  Toss all of the other ingredients sans the sliced banana into a bowl and mix with electric mixer until smooth.  Fold in sliced bananas.  Pour into graham cracker crust & spread evenly.  Refrigerate (the recipe said for 24 hours….), slice & serve.

The natives are restless so cross your fingers & wish me luck!

Once You’ve Had Meat, You Cannot Retreat

The following fact may shock you.

But in 2005, I turned vegetarian for a short time.

A month actually. And, you know, the really shocking part is that I rather enjoyed it. I lost weight, I felt healthier and more energetic…

I might have lasted even longer were it not for a horribly complicated breakup and the sight of Alton Brown smoking a pork shoulder in a couple of flowerpots.

When I look back on that summer, I realize that what I missed wasn’t meat as a stand-alone food choice, burgers, chicken breasts, pork chops… what I missed was meat as an ingredient. The thick fragrant broth, the savory bits of a stir-fry hat balance out the crispness of the veggies, and, yes, the gooey rendered fat that made everything else taste more unctuous and satisfying.

Case in point is the following soup. The first time I made a barley soup was late into my Magic Month, but I used a vegetable stock and, of course, omitted the bacon. It was obviously disappointing.

A shame, really, because I like barley a lot. It has this way of thickening a broth without overwhelming it, and it adds a subtle grainy fragrance that I can’t get from anything else.

Spellcheck note: “grainy” was “granny” for a long time. That is not the fragrance I am talking about.

Okay, barley for soup requires special handling. The stuff absorbs at least three times its volume of liquid, so a undercooked barley inserted into a soup will pretty much turn your soup into a patty. Barley also takes a while to cook.

I tend to solve both problems via a quick par-cook. The barley will still absorb SOME of the liquid, and thus thicken the soup a little bit, but you won’t have a soggy casserole on your hands the next morning.

The other thing I do is make sure to cook the barley in with the rendered fat before adding the broth. It gave it a rich, roasted flavor which I enjoyed.

Aside from that, this recipe pretty much writes itself. You can use bacon… you can use salt pork, or, if you are me, you can use both.

Barley and Pork Product Soup

1/2 cup uncooked pearl barley
2oz salt pork, diced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 big carrot, chopped
2 ribs of celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic minced
5 cups chicken broth
3 strips cooked bacon, chopped
salt and pepper to taste (but you won’t need much salt, trust me)

First, par-cook the barley in 3 cups of boiling water for about fifteen minutes. Drain, rinse, and set aside.

Render the salt pork in your large soup vessel, cooking on medium-low heat until the solids have yielded all their fat. Remove the solids. You may add them later to the soup if you wish, or, just eat them as a snack if you must.

Place the vegetables and the garlic in the pot, and cook until translucent.

Add the barley, and cook on medium heat, constantly stirring, for five minutes, or until it smells very nutty.

Add the broth, bring to a boil, and simmer for 20 minutes. Note the broth might look a little thin, but as it cools, the barley will absorb some of the liquid.

Add the bacon.

Cool and serve.

 

The Bacovore’s Hundred

I’m seeing a lot of these lists, lately.  First it was the  Omnivore’s Hundred and then the  Vegetarian Hundred and the Vegan Hundred and Julie’s Carnivore’s Hundred.

Well, I cannot and will not be left behind.  This shall be my contribution to internet memedom.

You know the drill.  Mark the items that you’ve tried and post to your own blog.  Be sure to link back, k?

The Bacovore’s Hundred

1.  bacon
2.  bacon, center cut
3.  bacon, applewood smoked
4.  bacon, cob smoked
5.  bacon, jowl
6.  bacon, whatever is at the store
7.  bacon, artisanal
8.  bacon, mail order
9.  bacon, carefully cooked
10. bacon, deliberately undercooked
11. bacon, passive-aggressively undercooked
12. bacon lettuce and tomato sandwich
13. bacon lettuce and tomato sandwich on freshly baked bread, homemade mayonnaise and garden tomatoes at their peak.  Hell yes!
14. bacon mac and cheese
15. bacon, quiche with
16. bacon, omelett containing
17. bacon, alongside an omlett not containing
18. bacon and eggs
19. bacon and eggs served in a diner between the hours of 2am and 6am
20. bacon with eggs comma poached
21. bacon with eggs comma poached served over a salad
22. bacon with eggs comma poached served over a baby green salad with a vinaigrette containing non-negligible quantities of the rendered bacon fat
23. bacon fat used as a cooking medium for potato pancakes
24. bacon fat used as a cooking medium for other meats
25. bacon fat used as a cooking medium for other meats, specifically, other bacon
26. bacon fat used as thickening agent for a bechamel
27. bacon fat used as thickening agent for a bechamel, where eventual dish will contain additional bacon
28. bacon fat used as culinary-sexual leitmotif during phone-sex
28a Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share that, by the way.
29. bacon infused vodka
30. bacon lettuce and tomato: a cocktail containing bacon infused vodka, dry vermouth (as the lettuce) and tomato juice
31. bacon, eating a pursulane-celeriac salad while looking at a picture of
32. bacon, peanut butter and (sandwich)
33. bacon cream cheese
34. bacon cream cheese on a bagel
35. bacon cream cheese on a bagel with bacon
36. bacon toffee
37. bacon brittle
38. bacon cheesecake
39. bacon cookies
40. bacon ice-cream
41. bacon ice-cream (chocolate based)
42. bacon ice-cream garnished with bacon
43. bacon corn bread
44. bacon muffins
45. bacon with sautéed brussels sprouts
46. bacon, New England baked beans with
47. Frisee Au Lardon FREEDOM SALAD
48. Frisee Au Lardon FREEDOM SALAD prepared only a few minutes after garnering dumbfounded looks at the IGA after you spend  twenty minutes or more picking every last bit of frisee out of the bulk mesclun bin
49. Bacon Barley Soup
50. Bacon Barley Soup with salt pork, because you forgot the soup was made with salt pork and you added the bacon anyway
51. Bacon Barley Soup with salt pork, just because
52. bacon on pasta
53. bacon in a pasta sauce prepared by a significant other who refuses to prepare puttanesca because you insist on explaining, each time in insufferable and excruciating detail, its tawdry origins in Roman brothels
54. bacon on pizza
55. bacon that was recently on pizza
56. bacon with pizza
57. bacon, scallops enrobed in
58. bacon, drumsticks wrapped in
59. bacon, melon encrusted with
60. bacon, rosewater meringue enshrouded by
61. bacon, potato gratin with
62. bacon, Canadian
63. Canadian Bacon
64. bacon, American, while being vaguely funnier yet smug
65. bacon, eaten with “sounds.”  You know what I mean.
66. bacon, grilled cheese sandwich containing
67. bacon salt
68. bacon seasoning, other
69. bacon toothpicks
70. bacon mints
71. bacon bandages
72. bacon air freshener
73. bacon air freshener fashioned from the packing material of mail-ordered bacon.
74. bacon-themed clothing
75. bacon gum
76  bacon wallet
77  bacon place mats
78  miscellaneous bacon novelties
79. bacon, used as a garnish/condiment on one or more of the following: baked potatoes, rosemary squash bisque, cheese fries
80. bacon, used as a garnish/condiment/supplement, for your plate only, during a romantic dinner for two when the dinner guest is a vegetarian.
81. bacon, conversation starter
82. bacon: the microbrand
83. bacon club
84. bacon cheeseburger
85. bacon double cheeseburger
86. bacon double cheeseburger consumed late at night in a strip mall parking while allowing John Deliberto’s voice to drown out the gluttonous self loathing
87. bacon and lentil soup, traditional recipe
88. bacon and lentil soup, recipe originally vegan
89. bacon, rice pilaf with
90. bacon, risotto with
91. bacon, raw, in front of your refrigerator door at 2am because your vegetarian dinner guests have left for the evening and trichinosis seems a reasonable alternative to gnawing your arm off
92. bacon, deep-fried. You heard me.
93. bacon, something fussy containing it along with two or more of the following, goat cheese, philo pastry, spinach and portabella mushrooms
94. bacon, french fry coated on a stick
95. bacon, nitrate free
96. bacon cornbread
97. bacon biscuits
98. bacon, as a prop during a historical re-enactment of Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.
99. bacon, the morning after the following dream:  You are walking through a train station in a large metropolitan city.  You put a wooden nickel into an automated coffee vending machine.  The holy grail appears in the dispenser.  The chalice fills with bacon.
100. bacon, in the following manner:

2 strips of bacon, slightly undercooked in a cast iron skillet and set aside.  Leave the skillet on medium-high
3/4 C flour
pinch salt
pinch “something” (garlic powder, Mexican oregano, paprika, etc.)
pinch baking powder
1/4 cup grated parm-reg

Drizzle about two tablespoons of the flour on the flour on a clean surface.  Add the backing powder, salt, and mystery spice
to the remaining flour (obviously this should be in a bowl of some sort.  Just saying)

Add water, while stirring, until dough resembles a loose paste, knead on the floured surface and press into a flat disk.

Fry on both sides in the rendered bacon fat.  Add grated cheese. Eat, along with the bacon.

Friends Don’t Let Friends Miss Death Week

As many of you know, I went to Memphis over Memorial Day Weekend.  I planned the trip as a sort of BBQ tour-d-farce, intermingling stops at many fine eating establishments with live music on Beale Street, a chance to fawn over the ducks in the Peabody Hotel, and a possible search for Elvis’ toenails in the plush Jungle Room Carpeting.

I have to admit, I really didn’t intend for the  trip to be educational, per se.  I knew there was a difference between “wet” and “dry” bbq, and that while Memphis embodies several separate bbq traditions, including the rural bbq tradition of smoking whole animals. But traditions can fade, and geographic distinctions can be fleeting as people migrate or as tastes evolve-  BBQ still involves that almost mystical trinity of  meat, smoke, and time.

I did, however, learn two things worth mentioning.  I learned what a “HoCake” was.  To be fair, I think it’s spelled “hoe cake,” but I was still taken aback when I was first offered one.

And, this may be TMI for some of you, but this child of Mormons learned what a whippet was. My hostess came back into the living room with a whipped cream dispenser and I naively said, “You’re going to put whipped cream on your Hamburg?…OOOOOHHHHHHHHH!”

Anyway, it’s a shame I lost most of my pictures.  Even my non-meat related ones, like a fantastic shot of the Orpheum Theater, or the Skyline as seen from Mud Island at sunrise.  This one is all I have left:

I guess I am mentioning all of this for a couple of reasons.

First, I became aware recently that Memphis actually celebrates the anniversary of Elivs’ death with a weeklong celebration of  the King, in the form of BBQ, old-time rock music, drinking, and the occasional martial arts demonstration.   That pretty much encapsulates the perfect Jeff weekend,  by the way.

It was sort of bittersweet that I wasn’t able to go.  Why was i not informed of this sooner?  I could have made plans, taken the time off work, tuned up the Hoopty and been down in time for the first fried PB&B.  Next year, definitely.

Secondly, we started the summer with BBQ, and I had planned to end it with a BBQ, but, this dip was the only thing I had the time or energy to make this weekend.

It’s one of “taste the memory” kind of things, it’s the cheese dip served at El Azteco, my favorite restaurant in my hometown of Lansing, Michigan.  There were two locations, one was a couple miles away from my childhood home, the other, across town in East Lansing, where I went to school.   Anyway, they do their own tortilla chips, and to this day they are the best I’ve ever had.

Which is fitting… because if I had a choice to only dip a tortilla chip into ONE thing for the rest of my life, without any hesitation, it would be this.  The recipe was a closely guarded secret in the 80s and 90s, but a while back, various versions of it started leaking out.  The first one I saw, in the Lansing State Journal,   did a decent job with the texture but not the flavor, mainly because they suggested muenster cheese.  No.  So I tinkered quite a bit.

Now, the purchase of something called “Chihuahua Cheese” is admittedly disconcerting.  But after using queso fresco, queso blanco, monterrey and muenster, THIS is the cheese that gives the dip the right tang.  I have no inclination to verify if this is, in fact, the cheese they use, but this recipe will bring you damn close.    

1 cup small curd cottage cheese
1 cup sour cream
8 oz Queso Chihuahua
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced
1 large bunch scallions, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 t mexican oregano
1/4 t cumin

Mix it all up.   This will be even better on the second day!

Now, I admit, this is not the most optically pleasing chip dip.  Trust me, however, it’s amazing.  The tang of the Chihahua cheese is balanced by the acidity of the sour cream and the heat of the jalapenos and the sweet crunch of the onions, and I love the earthyness the hint of cumin adds.

Anyway, happy end of summer.