A couple of years ago we traveled to China because we wanted to see their culture while it's in rapid growth mode as they transition to capitalism. The pace and scope of their growth is absolutely staggering. For example, it's a really big deal when an American city has a new skyscraper of 75 or more floors being built, but there must have been over 100 skyscrapers under construction in Beijing alone. We were on a tour and our guide proudly told us the public restrooms had been greatly improved in preparation for the Beijing Olympics, which had occurred the previous year. Hoo boy. All I can say is that I'm glad we didn't go before the Olympics. All meals were provided on the tour, and dinners were inevitably what I came to term "spinner dinners" because they consisted of multiple dishes served family-style on a large Lazy Susan in the center of the table. Some things we could identify, and some we couldn't. When asked what any particular unidentifiable dish was, the answer (in very limited English) was usually "chicken". Right. Anyway, there was always a huge bowl of white rice but never any fried rice, which led me to believe fried rice may be more of an American Chinese food tradition.
I think fried rice is something most people like but would regard as somewhat of a guilty pleasure. It is, after all, typically fried in copious amounts of oil. The good news is that you can make it at home and cut down on the oil and sodium while amping up the fresh veggies to make it healthier and just as good as any restaurant. The other advantage of making it rather than buying it is that you can use up any leftover meat or vegetables you have on hand, or take advantage of whatever is in peak season at the farmer's market. The end result either way will be much more fresh and appealing than takeout.
One of the unique garnishes that I've discovered for fried rice is shredded radishes, lightly seasoned with vinegar. The peppery tart flavor and beautiful color are a wonderful contrast to the rice. Although they're not essential to the dish, I would really encourage you to give the radishes a try. It makes the dish kind of special.
There are only two key things that you need to know about making fried rice successfully, and they both involve the rice. First, the rice must be cooked and be completely cold before you start cooking, so plan in advance and cook it the day (or morning) before you plan to serve it. If it's not cold, the grains stick together and become a big lumpy mess. The second tip is to spread the rice in the pan, press it down, and let it cook for a while to get a little crispy before stirring it. This is not stir-frying where your utensils and the food are in constant motion - that part comes later when you add the other ingredients. You want the rice to have some crispy bits for flavor as well as texture.
I started with some beautiful raw shrimp but chicken, pork, duck, or any other meat would also work. I like medium-sized shrimp for this dish because they're just the right size to pop whole into your mouth after removing the tail.
For the vegetables, I chose a combination of regular peas, sugar snap peas, and snow peas but you could use literally any vegetables you like.
The vegetables are briefly blanched in boiling water, then shocked in ice water to stop the cooking process.
The shrimp and eggs are cooked and removed from the pan, then the rice is added.
After the rice is cooked all the other ingredients and sauce are added to the pan and stir-fried until hot. Yum.
Shrimp Fried Rice
1 cup thawed frozen peas
1 cup sugar snap or snow peas (or a combination), ends trimmed
2 eggs, beaten
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1 cup finely chopped yellow onion
½ lb peeled and deveined medium raw shrimp (31-40 per pound)
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
3 cups cooked and cooled brown or white rice (approximately 1 cup uncooked)
1 cup coarsely shredded radishes (about 5 large)
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce (plus more to pass at the table)
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
Blanch the thawed peas and sugar snap or snow peas by dropping in boiling water for 30 seconds, then drain and immediately submerge in ice water. Drain again. Cut the sugar snaps or snow peas into ½ inch pieces. Set aside.
Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, then add one tablespoon of oil. Add a pinch of salt and pepper to the beaten eggs, then add them to the pan and swirl to coat. Cook for 30 to 45 seconds, then turn the eggs over and cook for another 10 seconds. Remove from the pan and set aside.
Add ½ tablespoon of oil to the pan, then add the onion. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes. Add the shrimp and cook, stirring, until almost cooked through, another 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and return the skillet to the heat.
Add the remaining 1 ½ tablespoons of oil to the skillet, then add the rice, pressing it flat with the back of a nonstick pan-safe spatula. Cook until the rice is slightly crispy, turning it over with the spatula, about 8 to 10 minutes.
While the rice is cooking, combine the radishes and vinegar in a small bowl. In a second small bowl, combine the soy sauce and sesame oil. Chop the egg and add it along with the peas and sugar snap or snow peas to the bowl with the shrimp.
When the rice is nicely crisped, add the contents of the shrimp bowl and the soy sauce mixture to the skillet and cook, stirring, until the mixture is heated through. Serve in bowls and top with radishes.
Serve with extra soy sauce on the side.