Fried rice belongs in a wonderful category I like to call Refrigerator Glue, my mistaken interpretation of Alton Brown’s term: Refrigerator Velcro. (For years I was convinced his term was actually Refrigerator Glue. By the time I realized my mistake it had been too long and now the term has stuck.) It’s a term for those dishes which can take pretty much any leftovers from the fridge and turn them into something brand new. I have put just about everything in fried rice over the years – the last few roasted vegetables, the too-small-to-make-a-meal portion of chicken, the quarter-bag of frozen vegetables in the freezer that are almost freezer-burnt, even the last few spicy pickles from the jar.
I used to make fried rice all the time in college with stolen vegetables from the dining hall and unnecessarily large amount of soy sauce. Sadly, at some point after entering the real world I discovered that soy sauce rice does not in fact, taste very good. (Shocking, I know.) It’s a pretty one-note dish with the note being SALT. I spent a while experimenting with fried rice sauces which were all somewhat lackluster until I recently checked out a copy of Mission Street Food, a cookbook detailing the life of one my favorite restaurants in San Francisco. Looking at their fried rice recipe I was surprised to see no soy sauce – none – which I had always considered a staple of fried rice. Still, I’ve never had a bad meal at MSF (now Mission Chinese Food) so I decided to try it out.
The real key to this fried rice is the smokiness that comes from charring the scallions and adding smoked salt. If you don’t own any I highly recommend hunting some down – it’s fairly inexpensive especially considering the fact that you can’t really use more than a teaspoon at a time and generally that’s way too much. I tweaked it a bit, adding back in the soy sauce since it’s just not fried rice for me without it and I’m not fussy about the sweetened wine that I use. Shaoxing rice wine (Chinese) and Mirin (Japanese) are both sweetened wines that you can use in this dish but Sherry works just as well since it has a similar level of sweetness. Unlike my previous soy-sauce-only, this sauce adds a good background to the rice that ties all the other ingredients together, no matter how disparate they are. When I make rice, I try to make a double batch and keep the extra in the fridge for a few days. The stale rice soaks up the flavors of the mix-ins and the sauce much better than fresh rice and the edges crisp up a bit. No one will complain that you repurposed last night’s dinner.
Adapted from Mission Street Food by Anthony Myint and Karen Leibowitz
For the Sauce:
2 bunches scallions
1 tbs oil
½ cup fish sauce
½ cup sweetened wine – Mirin, Shaoxing, or Sherry
½ tsp smoked salt
2 tbs soy sauce
For the Rice:
2 tbs neutral oil ( only 1 tbs if you are using a fatty meat for a mix-in)
½-1 cup assorted mix-ins – leftover meals, vegetables (fresh or frozen), eggs, bacon, meat, get creative
1 tsp kosher salt
1 cup leftover cooked rice
Turn on the broiler in your oven and let it heat up for a minute. Position a rack on the second highest shelf in the oven. Place the scallions on a foil-lined baking sheet and drizzle with 1 tbs oil. Broil for 3-4 minutes then turn and broil for another 3-4 minutes on the other side .The scallions should have dark brown spots on them but not be completely charred. I often broil extra and break off the too-charred portions to make up 2 bunches.
Puree scallions, fish sauce, sweetened wine, soy, and smoked salt in a blender, food processor, or with an immersion blender. Set aside.*
Heat a large skillet on medium high heat and add 2 tbs oil. Add any raw mix-ins and cook them fully, then add any precooked mix-ins to warm through. Season the ingredients with salt as needed. Turn the heat up to high and add the rice. Cook the mixture for 3-5 minutes or until rice is browned in spots, stirring constantly to prevent burning. It may stick to the pan which is ok, just scrape it off using a spatula. Add the rice sauce 1-2 tbs at a time, until the flavor is to your liking. The sauce is very salty so don’t add too much at once. Stir to even coat all the ingredients with sauce, then remove from heat. Eat immediately.
* This makes more rice-sauce than you will need for a batch of fried rice. I keep the extra in the fridge – it will keep up for up two to three weeks.