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Fried rice turns leftovers into masterpieces

Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune
The recipe for fried rice is just a launching point: mix and match ingredients and create your own flavor profile.

Well, that was a surprise: This past Christmas, after a lifetime of lapsed Roman Catholicism, I came to the realization that the Jews are right.

I’m not talking about matters of religious faith. Where those are concerned, I stand firmly in the corner of songwriter Iris Dement: “But no one knows for certain, and so it’s all the same to me.”

No, I’m talking about Christmas dinner. At the end of an interminable confab with my family, taking into account my children’s admittedly provincial preferences along with the varied aversions and phobias of our invited guests, I huffed in exasperation, “Maybe we should just send out for Chinese!” My daughter yay-ed spontaneously, and Chinese takeout it was.

As those of you to whom I am currently married will attest, however, I cannot simply order Chinese. I must over-order, and over-order I did. Lo mein. Chow mein. General Tso’s Chicken. Colonel Wu’s Yam Salad. And rice. Lots and lots of rice. Enough rice, in fact, to earn me the cumbersome nickname, “Mr. Many Extra Cartons of Rice in the Fridge.”

Of course, then the question became, what to do with all that leftover rice? If only there were a way to fry it up and – aha! Fried rice it is.

A bowl of fried rice can be whipped up from scratch or use up the leftovers in the fridge.

The premise behind fried rice is as easy as toast: Stir cooked rice into cooked nonrice ingredients, get it piping hot and, as the French say, “Look there!” (Of course, they say it in French – Voila! – so it sounds classy.)

But, let’s get something straight from the get-go: Today we’re focusing on using up leftovers. Obviously, you could make fried rice “from scratch.” But, if you’re hankering for organic heirloom rice simmered with Himalayan spring water and Pomeranian cloud salt in a hand-tooled copper vessel over smoldering peat embers, then perhaps you should be reading something else.

Also, even though fried rice is associated with China, we can apply to it any flavor profile we want.

Now, about those leftovers.

The rice from your leftover ordered-in Chinese is perfect, though any leftover rice will do. And really, you don’t even need rice. Any starch will work: couscous, barley, pasta, quinoa, even fried potatoes.

Next, you’ll need some additional color and flavor, because, let’s face it, on its own, white rice is pale and bland. The easiest thing is simply to use leftover meat – chicken, beef, pork – and/or vegetables – broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, peas, whatever. Cut everything into bite-sized pieces.

When you take this easy, precooked ingredient route, all you need do is toss everything in a little oil in a sauté pan (or wok), over high heat until it’s hot.

But you might want a little more flavor. Before adding any leftovers, sauté some of what the kids call “aromatics,” like onion, garlic, carrot or celery. If you’re

For the sauce, combine soy sauce, chicken stock and oyster sauce in a small bowl.

staying with Asian flavors, add some fresh ginger.

If you’re using fresh vegetables, approach it like a stir-fry: Long cooking items (like carrots) go in before quick cooking items (like garlic or mushrooms). If you’re using leftovers as well, add them at the end, with the rice.

Egg is also common, scrambled or cooked into a flat omelet and cut into strips. Do this first, in the same pan, then remove it and add it back with the rice.

We’re almost done. You just need to add more flavor and possibly moisture.

First, the moisture. I keep a box of chicken broth in the fridge and add a splash to anything I’m reheating.

As for additional flavors, the world is your palette. If you’re staying Asian, try a splash of soy or fish sauce or one of those other tasty condiments, like oyster sauce, fermented black beans or chile paste. Start with a little, and taste as you go.

Or, take a different tack altogether: Go Mexican with pico de gallo or cumin, minced chipotles and cilantro. Or Indian with coconut milk, chutney and garam masala. See what we’re doing?

Good. Now, start cooking.

FRIED RICE

Makes: 4 servings

1 ounce soy sauce

2 ounces chicken stock

1 ounce oyster sauce, optional

2 tablespoons peanut or other vegetable oil

2 eggs, beaten

Kosher salt as needed

8 ounces onion, cut into medium dice

1 carrot, cut into medium dice

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 tablespoon peeled, minced ginger

1 cup peas (frozen is OK)

3 to 4 cups leftover cooked rice

1 tablespoon sesame oil

2 green onions, sliced on a bias, optional

Combine soy sauce, chicken stock and optional oyster sauce in a small bowl; set aside.

Heat a large skillet or wok over high heat. Add one tablespoon of oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Add eggs, season to taste with salt, and cook until lightly scrambled, about 60 seconds. Transfer eggs to a bowl.

Return pan to high heat, and add another tablespoon of oil to coat bottom of pan. Stir in onion and carrot; sauté until tender, about 2 minutes. Add garlic and ginger; sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Add peas, rice, cooked eggs and reserved soy sauce mixture; sauté until warmed through and liquid is absorbed, about 2 minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in sesame oil. Garnish with green onion, and serve immediately.

PER SERVING: 352 calories, 13 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 93 mg cholesterol, 46 g carbohydrates, 5 g sugar, 10 g protein, 490 mg sodium, 3 g fiber

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