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.  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


6 thoughts on “how I learned to stop worrying and just love to make fried rice

  1. So, let me get this straight…you’re saying the pan has to be hot, right?…just kidding. Great description. I used a lot of bacon last week.

  2. Hahah, yes, very hot… and even then, sadly, it will never have that “seared in the wok” taste that any decent Asian takeout place will impart.

  3. my sister, in about a year, will be that person in the silo with the red phone. if you knew my sister, this would terrify and disturb you. she would never have the patience to wait for the pan to be hot enough.

  4. Yipes! I will take no comfort in the fact that the people with their fingers on the button are nourished by insufficiently hot fried rice.

  5. Spread the word brother! Spread the word! Extremely high flame, super hot wok, shmokin oil, small amounts of ingredient. And nothing but a rinse and a wipe of the wok afterwards. If you do all that, after a few batches you will get that smoky flavor. Yum!!! :)