Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Cheap Bastid's Foodie Tuesday: Wok's Cookin? Fried Rice

I’m the Cheap Bastid. I like to write about cooking on a budget. There are a lot of us right now who are watching every single penny. That doesn’t mean that we have to eat crap though.

For years I’ve enjoyed cooking the “ultimate leftover”—fried rice. Usually I do it as a one dish main course meal. It’s easy and tasty, is a great use for leftovers (it keeps them from turning into “penicillin” in the fridge) and it’s nutritious.

Quite frankly, if I could only have one cooking utensil it would be a wok. You can fry in it, steam in it, sear, stew, make soup—just about any cooking can be done in a wok. You can get them in different sizes and different materials. My suggestion is to use a good carbon steel and conventional wisdom has been a round bottom if you cook with gas and a flat bottom if you cook with electricity. Generally, it shouldn’t really cost more than $20 or so to get a decent wok.
Fried rice is usually a “leftovers” dish although I typically don’t have any left over rice. If you have a rice cooker, great. If you’re like me and don’t (remember, I’m the Cheap Bastid), it’s pretty easy to make. I have been using the same recipe out of “Madam Wong’s Long Life Chinese Cookbook” for 25 years and it works every time.

Madam Wong’s Rice Recipe:
Put 2 cups long grained white rice into a sauce pan. Cover with water, swirl rice through water and drain. Do this 4 or 5 times. Have stove burner heating on medium high while you’re doing this. After rinsing rice, cover the rice with enough water to reach the first knuckle of your index finger when the tip is just touching the rice through the water.
Put pan of rice on burner and let the water boil almost off (until there’s just bubbles coming out of the “craters” in the rice). This will take about 5 minutes. Turn heat down as far as possible, cover the pan and let it steam for 20 minutes. That’s it! It’s that simple!

For fried rice, you want to cook your rice early enough so that it can cool down in the fridge. This has something to do with food chemistry and gluten (thank you Alton Brown). But, I’ve found out over the years that there is a definite difference between cooling off the rice before using it in fried rice and not.

Fried Rice Recipe:
If you’re looking for exact quantities and ingredients, that’s not going to happen with this recipe. This is leftovers! Last night I made pork fried rice.
I had about a half pound leftover pork chop and some leftover ribs (I pulled the meat from the ribs and diced it). I’ve made fried rice from leftover steak, chicken breast, chicken thigh, shrimp, taco meat, meat balls—even bratwurst!

Prep: Like most oriental cooking, prepping takes the most time and is the most important because everything has to be ready to go when you start the actual cooking. For fried rice, you want to cut everything small—consistent with the idea that the most plentiful ingredient is going to be rice and for a reduced cooking time. You don’t want big hunks of anything in with it.

So what are you going to put in the fried rice with the meat? What have you got? Onion, bell pepper, carrot, celery, jalapeno. Last night I used onion, red bell and carrot. Why? Because it’s what I had in the produce drawer in the fridge. I like to chop up from a cup and a half to 2 cups worth of veggies. Put your chopped meat in a bowl and your chopped veggies in another. They go in at different times.

In another bowl, crack and stir 2 eggs.

Sauces—Last night I made a quick sweet & sour sauce from white vinegar, brown sugar, ketchup, soy sauce, Tabasco and a cornstarch slurry then micro waved for about 3 minutes on high.
Other sauces you might have on hand are soy sauce, Worcestershire, steak sauce, teriyaki, balsamic, left over wine, taco sauce, etc. As you can see, I don’t keep much in the way of “specialized oriental sauces like hoisin or oyster sauce).

Cooking--Put the wok on the stove with the burner set to high. When the wok gets hot, add 2 good glugs of cooking oil (a glug is about a tablespoon). Dump in the veggies and start stir frying (you need a wooden/bamboo spatula and spoon for this). At about 1 ½ minutes add the meat and heat through. After another minute or so push the meat and veggies up the sides of the wok creating an empty area on the bottom about 4-5 inches across. Add the egg mixture; let it sit for about 3 seconds then start working it into the meat and veggie mix. Stir everything together.

Now add your cooked rice. Just reach in the pan and grab a handful, breaking it up in your fingers. When you’ve put in the rice, mix everything together. Then add your sauce and mix, mix, mix for a minute or two.

Turn off then heat. Plate up or put in bowls and enjoy. (This took longer to write and read than the actual cooking).

You’re limited only by what you have on hand and your imagination. Now, let’s look at how much we spent. I used about 12 oz. of meat which cost about $1.50. I used about $.30 of rice (I buy it in bulk at $.79 a pound). The veggies cost maybe $.50 and the sauce quite frankly was maybe $.25 worth of ingredients. Grand Total: $2.55 for dinner for 2 with leftovers for lunch today. That’s the Cheap Bastid way!

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