Last night's plan was for a rather more elaborate meal than I wound up serving, as the much-vaunted freedom of freelance life had yet again bitten me in the ass. That is to say, I had been working on a relatively easy job with a long deadline, affording me lots of time for shopping and prepping. Within two hours, however, I had a fiddly on-screen job and a rush job, and the idea of all those extra pots suddenly had no appeal. Neither did leaving the house. Nor did cooking, for that matter.
Taking stock of what was around, I came up with two smallish pork cutlets and some bean sprouts in addition to the usual staples. Fried rice was the way to go.
Fried rice is usually made from leftover chilled rice, as it has lost all stickiness and won't turn into an Italian riceball in the frying pan. Of course, I had no leftover rice. Solution? Cook the rice, cool slightly in the pan, dump onto a plate, and shove in the freezer for a while. Check on it every five minutes or so, moving it around so that all the grains chill equally. It should be good to go in under 15 minutes. If you're really pressed for time, stop at the Thai joint on the corner, buy a container of rice, and do the same. The guy behind the counter may look at you oddly; buy a summer roll if you feel guilty.
Neither the ingredients nor the method would be considered authentically Chinese, but serving fried rice as a main course (that is, not sided by chicken chow mein, eggrolls, fried noodles and yet more rice, followed by all-American fortune cookies) most certainly is.
2-3 tablespoons neutral oil, preferably grapeseed
3/4 pound of pork cut into smallish cubes*
2 chopped shallots
1 red bell pepper, seeds and ribs removed, chopped
2 cups chilled rice
about 1 cup frozen peas**
3 tbs soy sauce, combined with1 tbs sherry (optional), and a pinch of sugar
1 capful Gravy Master,optional***
handful of bean sprouts
scant 1/4 minced chives
1 beaten egg
Have your mise en place ready. In other words, have everything lined up and ready to go; cooking will take about 10 minutes. Heat the oil over high heat; toss in the pork. As it begins to brown, add the shallots and pepper. As they begin to soften (3 minutes or so), add the rice, tossing furiously to coat with the oil. If no rice has landed on the stove, you either have an enormous wok or are not stirring furiously enough. Lower heat, add the peas and the soy-sauce mixture. Move the rice around until the peas have thawed and soy is distributed. Stir in the Gravy Master (hang on, all will be explained). Add bean sprouts and chives. Turn off heat. Now, make a little well in the middle of the rice and pour the egg into it. Let it sit for a few seconds, then mix throughout rice. Serve in bowls, with polka-dot chopsticks.
This took me far longer to type that it will take you to cook.
Serves 2 as a main course.
*Got leftover pork, chicken, shellfish? Toss in with the rice. No meat? No problem. Up the egg, add more veg, tofu always good, too.
**All vegetables welcome.
***I read in the indispensable Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbookby Gloria Bley Miller that this is what Chinese restaurants use to give their fried rice that appealing dark-brown look. It was a relief to discover this; my earlier fried rice attempts had looked anemic.