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The Way of Cooking: Fried Rice

Welcome to the Way of Cooking: cooking with a Taoist perspective.

Verse 8 Tao Te Ching

Omu-rice (short for "omelet rice") -- a true Japanese classic. Strange that a dish that features hot dogs and ketchup would be a Japanese nursery favorite, but there you have it.

As odd as omu-rice may look or sound, I think it sums up what this site is about --- namely, being open, flexible and creative with what you have. And making delicious food with it. In the post-War era, the Japanese took strange, but ubiquitous, ingredients (ketchup and hot dogs) introduced by the American military and combined them with the long-learned Chinese technique of chowing, or stir-frying, to create a uniquely Japanese dish.
Picture of Japanese omu-rice
The Tao Te Ching tells us to be like water, to flow around obstacles rather than to stop short before them; and to make the most of what we find, and leave something better in our wake.

The Way of Cooking is a way to cook with this Taoist perspective. Take what you know, adapt it, create something different. Other times it may be a matter of just changing our perspective on a "problem."

I remember one time when T and I were with his parents at their lakeside camp in north Maine and my mother-in-law (G) was preparing spaghetti bolognese for that evening. As we sat down to table, she mentioned that she had made a serious mistake while cooking, and that we may not be able to eat what she had prepared. She had mistaken the cinnamon bottle for something else, and added it to the sauce before she caught her mistake. If we couldn't bring ourselves to eat it, she said, she would understand and take no offense. When we tasted the sauce, however, we could detect only a hint of cinnamon in the perfectly seasoned sauce. I told G that the Greeks make a pasta with a cinnamon-laced meat sauce called pastitsio. She hadn't made a mistake, she had just made a different dish! (OK, it didn't have a bechamel topping, but let's call that a technicality).

Since Omu-rice is used as the example of the Way of Cooking in action, I've taken the basics of it's underlying method, frying rice, for the first Way of Cooking Basic Method.

The Way of Cooking considers these elements:
1.
Essence: what defines the dish, what method or combination of ingredients give the dish its character.
2.
Components: what are the basic ingredients
3.
Proportion: how much of each ingredient is needed

Essence
The
Essence of Fried Rice is, of course, rice, oil, aromatics and seasonings quickly cooked in a hot wok; fillings are optional, but often included.

The secret to fried rice, no matter the ingredients used, is this: you have to season and cook the fillings (aromatics, meats, vegetables) before you add the rice.

Components
Completely different styles of fried rice all have the same basic
Components

Cold Rice,
Oil,
Basic Seasonings,
Additional Seasonings,
Meat and/or Vegetable Fillings

that are quickly cooked in a hot pan. Change the rice, the seasonings, the filllings, even the oil, and your finished rice is a wholly different product. Most people have had fried rice as a side dish with a Chinese meal, but there are also Indonesian nasi goreng, Korean kimchi bokkum bap, Japanese omu-rice, pineapple rice, and breakfast fried rice (SPAM, ham or sausage with vegetables).


Proportion
The Way allows for doubling, tripling --- as much as needed. The amounts given are only to give you a sense of the
Proportion of the ingredients, but the whole point is to put more or less according to your own taste and what you have on hand. I have only ever used a wok to make fried rice, and I think the wok’s sloping sides help the dish come together. It's a worthy investment (not just for fried rice, of course).

(Side note: don't buy a non-stick wok --- it is an oxymoron of the highest order. More on this later.)



The Way of Cooking: FRIED RICE
(Meal for 2 persons, side dish for 4)

BASIC INGREDIENTS

4 cups (500g) cold Rice (refrigerator-cold works best – hot rice, especially medium or short grains, can come out clumped and sticky for novice cooks)
2-3 TBL (20-30 ml)
Oil
½ cup (75g)
Aromatics (One or all: onions, shallots, garlic)
1-2 tsp (5-10ml)
Basic Seasoning
(Choose: salt AND/OR ketchup, soy sauce OR kecap manis)

OPTIONAL INGREDIENTS
(Meats and Veg/Fruit should total about 1½ - 2 cups together):
½ -1 tsp (total)
Additional Seasoning
(Choose one or mix: pepper, curry powder, turmeric, black or brown mustard seed, onion seed, cumin, coriander, etc.)
½-1 cup (125-250g)
Meat (Chinese sausage, SPAM, hot dog, char siu pork,
beef, chicken, shrimp, etc.)
½-1 cup (125-250g)
Vegetable/Fruit (mixed vegetables, peas, edamame,
pineapple, bamboo, bean sprouts, raisins, beans, kimchee, etc.)

ADDITIONAL INGREDIENTS
egg (hard-boiled, fried, scrambled in)
green onions or chives, cilantro

Heat oil and cook any raw meat/sausage.
Add Aromatics and cook until softened and transparent.
Add cooked meats (if using), vegetables and HALF of Basic Seasonings and ALL of Additional Seasoning.
Cook together 3-5 minutes, until everything is seasoned and heated through.

Push ingredients up the sides of wok/pan, creating a space in the center of the wok.
Add a touch more oil if necessary, then other half of Basic Seasoning, then cold Rice.
Using a flat spatula, GENTLY press the rice in the center, and bring the filling ingredients over from the sides of the wok, onto the top of the rice.
Press through again, cut through and over the center of the pan, and again bring over the ingredients that have pushed up the sides of the wok.
Work all the way around the wok. The motion is similar to folding in egg whites to a cake batter.
Repeat until all ingredients are blended thoroughly and rice is heated through.

We have rice with our evening meals at least 3 times a week, and even with T taking left-overs for lunch, we often have cold rice in the fridge. With the exception of the glutinous rices, cold rice becomes fried rice for at least one other meal. We have made fried rice with short grain, medium grain, long grain, Basmati, jasmine, and brown rices. Lately we have been using our own blend of brown and white rices as our basic rice, and have found that it makes a great pineapple fried rice. The chewiness of the brown rice complements the sweet tartness of pineapple, while the white rice absorbs the flavors of the seasonings to carry them through the dish. If you're not ready for fried rice for breakfast yet, pineapple fried rice is a delicious side dish with grilled or roasted meats.

Now to get you riffing on your own, the
Fried Rice Chart has some variations to get you started. Remember the important things are to look at what you have in your well-stocked pantry, and taste as you go along.

If you didn't grow up with a Japanese mother or have never been to Japan, Omu-Rice will sound pretty strange, but if you try it, I think you will find it quite addictive.