We don’t consume rice like we used to, and it’s not because we’re into the whole low-carb diet, because neither of us subscribes to it. It’s simply because I tend to overeat when rice is the starch. And because I overeat, I don’t get to prepare one of my favorite dishes with the leftover rice, fried rice.
I can limit my portions if the starch is pasta, bread or potatoes. OK, maybe not thinly sliced fried potatoes, but potato chips aren’t usually on the dinner menu. So, combined with over consuming freshly cooked rice and not having ample time to prepare the rice for fried rice (I feel a good fried rice needs leftover rice to be refrigerated for two days) we hardly make the dish at home anymore.
Variants On a Favorite
Many, many years ago, as an undergraduate, my main source of fried rice was the neighborhood Chinese restaurant. On one occasion while I was still employed by the East-West Center as a student in the print shop, we ordered take-out for lunch. While I normally purchased my lunch from the vending machines scattered throughout the University of Hawai‘i, I decided to order a carton of fried rice for lunch. It was your basic restaurant fried rice with bits of char siu, green onion and scrambled egg, but it tasted so good that I consumed the whole take-out container. Other than the severe thirst I developed about 30 minutes after lunch, I also developed nervous system effects, including jittery vision at the periphery of my vision. And when anyone spoke, they seemed to be speaking a lot faster than they actually were. Both of these effects can be attributed to glutamic acid or monosodium glutamate, as MSG tempers the salty qualities on the palate while also making food seem savory (umami). So while the fried rice didn’t seem overly salty, I probably got quite a large sodium dose, leading to my pronounced thirst. And because glutamic acid is a neurotransmitter, I experienced those nervous system effects. Thus, I now prepare my own fried rice so I know exactly what goes into the dish.
One of the simplest versions you’ll find is garlic fried rice, which is usually served as a side at Filipino restaurants. The local I Love Country Café and Adela’s Country Eatery offer a simple garlic fried rice (as well as a great pork or chicken adobo fried rice) served with their lechón asado (crispy pork belly). However, whenever I recreate the garlic fried rice in my own kitchen, I emulate the version created by Chef Wade Ueoka of MW Restaurant, which includes diced kale, grated carrots and edamame, adding both color and flavor.
About 4 cups of cooked rice
5 cloves of minced garlic
Cooking oil (I use garlic infused macadamia nut oil from Oils of Aloha)
2 to 3 cups roughly chopped kale
1/2 cup shredded carrots
1/2 cup shelled edamame
2 tsp shoyu
Black pepper and garlic salt to taste
Sauté the minced garlic in oil just until the garlic starts to lightly brown, then add the kale, carrots and edamame. Once the kale wilts and the carrots soften after three to five minutes, add the cooked rice and toss and break up the clumps of rice. Then add the shoyu, black pepper and garlic salt and mix until uniformly coated.
There’s also another local variant of fried rice that I’ve been preparing for years, but unlike Japanese-style fried rice, it uses long grain rice (which doesn’t need any refrigerator time to dry). Peggy Kaiulani Cowell has a spice line (all are available through mail order) including her Exotic Curry to create an East Indian inspired fried rice. Since there’s minimal ingredients, all you need is day old long grain rice — because long grain rice isn’t sticky — I’ve also made this fried rice with rice cooked on the same day. And for those just discovering the flavor sensations of fresh cilantro, the stems provide a greater cilantro “punch” than the leaves, so you should always add the stems instead of simply using the leaves.
Kaiulani’s Curried Fried Rice
1/4 cup olive oil
2 1/2 tbsp (or to taste)
Kaiulani’s Exotic Curry
1 tbsp garlic, minced
1-2 tbsp cilantro — leaves and stems, chopped but separated
4 cups long grain rice
3 tbsp dried cranberries
1/4 cup green onion stalks — slice small
Heat olive oil in pan on low. When the oil is heated, add Kaiulani’s Exotic Curry, stirring constantly until the Hawaiian salt in the curry is dissolved. Then increase to medium high heat and add garlic, cilantro stems and cranberries and cook until the garlic is done. Add the rice and mix everything together thoroughly until the rice is completely yellow. Add green onions and cilantro leaves to the rice and mix again. Taste rice and adjust seasoning.
The Bomb Musubi
I’ve enjoyed musubi from an okazuya that’s been feeding K-Town masses for years, located right in my neighborhood of Kaneohe, but it’s not your usual musubi. It’s a musubi created from fried rice! How does fried rice remain solid enough to consume with one hand? My guess is that the fried rice is created with freshly cooked rice or perhaps Masa & Joyce Okazuya also uses some glutinous sweet rice to keep the musubi from falling apart. So, of course I had to try and recreate it in my kitchen and …
Instead of frying your protein and veggies before adding the cooked rice, I simply incorporate the cooked proteins and veggies into the freshly cooked rice, then form them like traditional musubi.
1 cup each of short grain rice and sweet mochi rice, rinsed, soaked and cooked as usual
1 cup of any diced protein, my favorite is either chopped teriyaki or char siu chicken
1/2 cup of any mixed diced vegetables, my usual is diced onion, green onion and minced celery or carrots
1 1/2 tsp shoyu
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1/2 tsp Chinese five spice powder
Sheets of toasted nori
Normally, I add almost as much filler (protein and veggies) as rice when I make a “standard” fried rice, but since this fried rice will be shaped into musubi and the rice is what holds it together, I cut back on the filler.
The Refrigerator Spring Cleaning
The beauty of fried rice is there isn’t one specific recipe or ingredient, other than rice that’s necessary, so it’s a great way to do a weekly “spring cleaning” of your meat and produce bins as you can literally use anything, based on your taste preferences. I’ve used the leftover produce in my bin and most proteins, from chopped salami to kamaboko and everything in between. About the only produce I haven’t experimented yet are fruits … but then again, some minced, roasted poultry or pork with diced stone fruit tossed with a touch of savory spices and brown rice … That sounds like a great dressing on its own, perhaps a future column …
The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the University of Hawai‘i and UC San Francisco. He is a clinical pharmacist during the day and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster at night. He writes from Kane‘ohe, HI and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.