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Fried rice paradise, part I
All about the two most important ingredients - rice & egg!
We kicked off this year with a pineapple tart deep-dive newsletter series, and I am so encouraged that so many of you enjoyed reading it, implementing the tips when making your family’s pineapple tart recipe, and even attempting your very first batch of pineapple tarts! Your successes make me so happy because this is exactly what Singapore Noodles is about - empowering you to give Singaporean food a go in your own kitchen. If you’ve not started making pineapple tarts for Chinese New Year, it’s not too late!
In this newsletter and the next, we’ll be delving into the world of fried rice, giving you all the tips you need to personalize your perfect bowl, without the need for professional equipment! And then, we will cook it together on 5 February (3pm SGT) in our monthly cookalong (for paying members only) so that you can put what you read into action! 🧑🏻🍳
According to Wex’s dad, the measure of a cook is in his or her fried rice. Just like how French chefs are said to test a young cook’s ability by the way he or she prepares an omelette, my father-in-law believes that fried rice is the simplest dish that requires the most kung fu. It is such a common dish that every mother or domestic helper in Singapore has her own rendition.
When I was a young schoolgirl, my working mother would drop me off at the neighbour’s for lunch till the school bus arrived. Auntie Jenny would dish up fried rice dotted with frozen vegetables and lapcheong, and sprinkle everything with lots of sweet chicken floss. Later in life, our helper would make her own sinful version of fried rice which had pockets of melted cheese in each bite. And whenever we went out to a Chinese restaurant/ eatery for a meal, my mum would order olive fried rice whenever it was on the menu.
Working at Candlenut, I saw how restaurant-style fried rice was made up close for the first time. At home, fried rice is prepared as a quick way to put a meal together. But in restaurants, fried rice is cooked to order, a portion at a time. Homemade fried rice is tasty, but most of the rice would be mushy or broken, as opposed to the separate grains of restaurant-style fried rice, each shiny with a slick of oil. When I started work in Melbourne, the chefs were equally obsessed with the dish, making staff meal fried rice out of charcuterie off-cuts at the end of service or on quiet nights.
I have been asked on more than one occasion for fried rice tips by Australians because it is assumed that if you are an avid cook + Chinese, you’d be expert at making fried rice. But you know what they say: the simplest things are always the hardest to get right. And fried rice, like omelette, strikes anxiety in the hearts of even seasoned cooks - it is extremely technical and if you are working with an extremely fierce flame as you should, the window of time to execute everything perfectly is incredibly narrow. Seconds could mean the difference between rice with no wok hei vs crunchy rice, or fragrant garlic vs burnt bitter garlic.
For that reason, getting your mise together is crucial. You’ve probably heard this before; it means to gather all your ingredients and have them ready before you begin. I don’t cook like this all the time, but doing any form of stir-fry requires this.
Also, if there is one thing I hope you take away from this newsletter, it is this: When frying anything at all, moisture is the enemy. Too much moisture will cause food in a pan to steam rather than to fry. This is something one might not actively think about, but when food steams, it tends to get tender and mushy, and there is no caramelization. With frying on the other hand, food is sizzling, crisping, browning, and flavours are concentrating the whole time. Moisture also lowers the heat of the wok. Moisture = low heat = no/ little wok hei.
Almost every tip we are going to talk about in this newsletter and the next will be pointing towards this principle of eradicating excess moisture.
My favourite rice to use in Chinese-style fried rice is good ol’ jasmine rice. Short-grain rice has a delicious chew, but it tends to be softer and sticker when cooked, and produces a different type of fried rice altogether.
First, you want day-old, dry rice, which has less water content compared to freshly cooked rice. You need to cook your rice a day in advance, spread it out on a tray or large dish, and allow it to dry out, uncovered, in the fridge. This is just for one night, after which you could pack your rice into containers, ready for whenever the mood for fried rice strikes. If you store it in a container from the get-go, the rice in the center will not get a chance to dry out thoroughly.
If you don’t have a day to spare - you could get away with cooking rice with less water than usual to get a drier result. After the rice is done, spread it out on a tray and allow it to cool down completely before use, preferably with a fan to expedite the process and dry the rice out further!
The absolute worst thing, the one cardinal sin when it comes to fried rice is using freshly steamed rice - it is way too moist and will inevitably lead to mushy fried rice. Fried rice always needs some form of forethought. (P.S. we are talking about good restaurant-style fried rice ah, of course you can make mediocre fried rice with any rice)
Once properly chilled, any lumps of rice should be broken up into grains before cooking. Seasoned restaurant cooks do this directly in the wok, using the back of a ladle to press down on the rice to break up any clumps of rice in between tosses. I prefer separating the rice in grains in advance though, as it takes the pressure off the home-cook and guarantees a more even fry.
Also, I believe that our fingers are the best tools, so please use your hands for this even if the rice sticks to them. Using utensils to do this tends to mash up the rice and you don't get the prized long-separated-grain kinda look.
There’s lots of confusion with eggs in fried rice. Mix with the rice before frying? Fry the eggs first? There are four routes you can take that will give you different (and all good) results:
Cook egg in advance and add in later. Fry the eggs in a good amount of oil - the eggs should bubble on the edges upon contact with the oil. Keep moving the eggs and remove the eggs when they are 80% done (still liquid in some parts).
Fry rice, push to one side, then add egg. After frying the rice, push them to one side of your wok. Alternatively, make a well in the middle. Cook the eggs in the space until they are 80% done before mixing it all together.
Cook egg, then add rice directly. Scramble the eggs in the wok till 80% done, before adding the rice directly to the eggs and tossing everything together.
These methods will yield clumpy egg like this:
Mix rice with egg. After having broken up the cold rice into separate grains, mix in just enough raw beaten egg to coat every grain of rice. If you want to make ‘golden’ fried rice, use only egg yolks. If you’d like additional egg/ egg yolk, you can add extra during the frying, but at this stage, you don’t want the mixture to look soupy.
What you get from this technique is that, as the rice fries and the eggs surrounding it starts to cook, the egg will dry up and your rice will naturally separate into individual grains (see below). Unlike the three methods above which produce distinct chunks of eggs, mixing rice with egg before frying does not produce visible egg clumps. So if you like, you can do this in tandem with one of the three methods listed above. Someone shared the method of coating the rice in egg yolks and frying the egg whites separately, which I think is genius!
All of these methods would yield respectable results - there’s no right or wrong, just what you like/ are comfortable with. My personal favourite is 1 - it takes the pressure completely off the home-cook because you’re just focusing on one thing at a time, and the egg will be done exactly the way you like it by the time you’re done with the fried rice.
There is a fifth route that some people take, which I do not recommend from personal experience - adding raw egg to rice in the wok. This produces soggy rice most of the time, especially when the egg is added in large quantities.
Now let’s talk egg options:
Duck eggs. If you can find duck eggs, use it!! It produces a richer-tasting fried rice and has a more beautiful golden appearance.
Salted eggs. To make salted fried rice, where salted egg is mashed and fried in the oil until foamy before the rice is added.
Egg yolks only. Luxuriously rich and beautifully golden.
Egg whites. The “healthier” option, commonly paired with dried scallops in fried rice.
Now that we’ve covered the two main ingredients of fried rice (rice and eggs), in the next newsletter, we will talk about other ingredients, the cookware, and how to get the elusive wok hei at home!
P.S. If you are a paying member of Singapore Noodles, you can sign up for our olive fried rice cookalong here 🧑🏻🍳