Many of you think that only tai chows or Chinese restaurants can whip up a good dish of fried rice because of the presence of wok hei or 'breath of wok' using commercial stoves. You are half right. Breath of wok is essential but it is not the whole story. In fact, if you are a home cook and cannot work as fast, you run the risk of burning your rice if you are using a very high heat. Use one that you are comfortable with.
I have a lot to say about this topic. I have been cooking fried rice commercially since I was 13. So just consider me a half professional (half because I later took on a totally different path). Let me just make clear that I don't flip my wok like the tai chows (at 13 you wouldn't have the strength to do so). Then how is it even possible? Are you ready to learn some tricks to cooking a good plate of fried rice? If you are already a fried rice expert, skip this. If you are ready to learn some new tricks, read on....
Cooking a Good Plate of Fried Rice
1. Wok hei/Breath of WokOk. Let's get this over with. We already know that for home cooks, this is not so possible. we still have wok hei but lesser. So how do we do it? Use a wok or something with a large surface. The idea is to maximise contact with the wok so that those rice have individual contact with the oil and heat. This serves to further dry up the rice and each grain would get to be fried in oil. If you cramp everything up, chances are you are just cooking it with steam.
Once you understand the workings, you would not think of any number more than two to three plates per wok. When I did it commercially, it was a general rule (yes, my rule) not to fry more than 3 plates of rice. Fair enough, as the commercial stove has a bigger fire. But for home cooking, well, you do the math.
2. Rice and grainsA good plate of fried rice has individually separated whole grain that is not too soft. A lot would depend on the rice itself. Try not to use starchy rice as it tends to stick together and get mushy. Long grain rice serves this purpose better than its rounded peers.
My mother swears by just cooked rice (cooked with lesser water) because it is easier to manage and separates easily without breaking the grain. But the idea of cooking a pot of rice just for frying is a bit drastic for me. In my mind, fried rice is always meant to finish off old leftover rice. If you are using leftovers, fluff it up before you put into the fridge so that it doesn't become a block. Cold rice tend to be drier and firmer making it perfect for frying. Whichever you prefer, the bottom line is the rice should be a bit chewy and separates individually.
3. OilOk, this is one rule that I don't follow exactly because I really do not like fats. I normally put lesser than necessary. But this is just personal. My customers got the perfect plate.
Don't hold back on this. I am not asking you to soak the rice with oil but a good amount of oil is essential to cooking a good plate of fried rice. Each grain should be coated with a light layer of oil and it should glisten when in contact with light. Only when you have fats with the rice could you fry your rice properly and make it fragrant. However, if your fried rice forms a layer of fats at the bottom when plated, this means that you have overdone it.
4. Fry your aromatics thoroughlyThe fragrance is all in the aromatics. Therefore, give extra care when you are dealing with it. Fry until it almost turn crispy and fragrant in medium fire (yes not hot as you would burn the aromatics before it has a chance to develop flavours). Then followed by other ingredients, whichever that needs longer to cook first. I find that cooking the eggs longer would also make the rice more fragrant. Tip: I use both garlic and shallots. Shallot gives not only a strong aroma but also a hint of sweetness when caramelised.
5. IngredientsLet's just assume that frying rice is to finish off leftovers. You could basically put anything into the rice...with the condition that the ingredients are not too wet and doesn't release too much water. Put scallion in the last minute so that could enjoy the fresh smell and crunchiness of the greens. Tips: if it is not too much to ask, do fry your rice with a few fresh prawns. You would get a more fragrant fried rice. My preferred ingredients would be fresh prawns, Chinese sausage, eggs, long beans and scallion.
All in all, cooking fried rice should be a breeze. It is an ingenious way to cook up a quick dish and finish off whatever leftovers you have hanging in your fridge. If you find that taxing, you are doing it wrong. Try to relax and reap the flavours. I am confident if you follow all these pointers, it would taste better than your local Chinese restaurants, minus the msg!