Friday, June 19, 2009

Freelancing the Fried Rice

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 Cookbook by 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. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Spring Strawberry Risotto

Despite all the rain (or because of all the rain, what do I know?), this year is great for strawberries; the Union Square market is swoony with the seductive scent of ripe, red berries. Sadly, those berries don't look nearly so good after the quart you impulsively bought has gone a bit sloppy--or even moldy--in the fridge. No one can drink that many strawberry margaritas.
Strawberry risotto is not, as far as I can tell, a recent invention. There is nothing fussy or fusiony about it. Nor, oddly enough, is there anything fruity. The taste is a bit vegetal, with a lingering memory of strawberry insinuating itself into the sauce. Light yet hearty, it is a perfect dinner for cool spring nights. I served the risotto with veal meatballs and a watercress-arugula salad, but it can certainly stand alone as a lighter vegetarian meal.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1-2 shallots, chopped
1 cup strawberries, pressed down a bit
1 cup arborio rice
1/2 dry white wine, heated
3 or so cups chicken or vegetable stock, heated
Parmesan, grated
salt, black pepper

Melt the butter over medium heat in a 2 or 3 quart pot. Add the shallots. When they start to soften, throw in the strawberries. As they soften, squish 'em around. A potato masher is useful here. When the berries give off their liquid, add the rice, stirring until rice is nicely white and opaque. Lower heat to medium low. Pour in the white wine, stirring. When it is more or less absorbed, add some stock, 1/3 to 1/2 cup will do. Stir. (Note: You do not have to stir constantly; every couple of minutes will do. Go pet the cat, read a few pages , pour yourself a glass of wine, go back to the kitchen, stir, repeat.)
When the stock is absorbed, add more. Keep doing this until the rice reaches the texture you prefer; traditionally, there should be some "bite" in the middle. The degree of bite is up to you; I like it just a bit past discernible. The rice should be creamy, saucy, but not at all sloppy.
Add a handful of parm, salt if necessary, and a good grinding of black pepper. Serve with the rest of the wine, which I hope you remembered to put back in the fridge.

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I'm a ninth-generation Brooklyn native living in Manhattan.