I once took a short course in Chinese cooking just before going to China for a two-week tour. I tried to teach myself Mandarin from a book called “Chinese in 10-Minutes a Day.” That was a laugh. It was in the 1980s, long before Rosetta Stone, so I was on my own. I learned enough to confuse waiters and to amuse small children. (Actually, I found that kids were more forgiving of a foreigner trying to get the inflections right.)
Made with a Grandmother’s Love
I’ve forgotten what little Mandarin I learned, but I remember the fried rice recipe from my Taiwanese cooking teacher. It was an old family recipe from her grandmother. It seems Grandma was a bit of a stickler when it came to rinsing the rice in cold water before cooking. I never did that; it was just another step.
But according to Grandma the rinse is necessary to remove surface starch, that causes rice to become clumpy or gummy. In class, we had to rinse the rice until the water ran clear. An extra step, but one I’ve come to appreciate.
Wok a Way
My teacher also advised that it’s best to start with cold rice, that’s been made ahead of time in an electric rice cooker. I took her words to heart and bought a small pot, whose sole function was to cook rice. She also cautioned us to use only long-grain rice, such as basmati or a medium-grain jasmine, because it’s fluffier and less sticky.
More Rice Wisdom
My cooking teacher was adamant about one other thing: not only must the rice be cooked ahead of time, it should be refrigerated for 1-3 days. It’s dryer that way. But wait . . . there’s a way around the ancient requirement.
If you don’t have three days, or overnight to spend on this dish, you can spread the cooked rice onto a baking sheet and freeze it for a half hour and it’s almost as good as old rice. I’ve not done this, because I feel certain I would wind up with rice in every crevice of my freezer.
Best of all, any leftovers can be frozen and brought back to life by warming with a little chicken broth. Here’s the recipe for Stir Fried Rice from the grandmother of my Taiwanese cooking teacher from three decades ago. (Though I often personalized it a bit by adding a chopped parboiled carrot.)