I cooked a lot of fried rice before I learnt to take the frying seriously.When I used to stir-fry it, I focused on the stirring part of the equation. I’d move the rice across a hot oiled pan with vegetables and the occasional pork product, seasoning it with soy sauce and sesame oil. It tasted great, but the texture was soft.
Really, I was making zipped up, sauteed rice, without any of the deeply crisp edges I didn’t know I could achieve. Then I witnessed a friend fry rice, and saw the error of my ways. He cooked the vegetables and aromatics first until they softened and browned, just as I always did. But instead of tossing the rice around in the pan, he spread it out in an even layer on the bottom and up its sides.
Then, he let it sit without touching it. I grew antsy watching it, and had to resist the urge to jump in with a spatula. But just as I was about to offer a gentle reminder about the stir in stir-fry, the nutty scent of caramelisation wafted across the room. The rice hissed, then crackled and sputtered.
When he finally tossed the ingredients, the rice was golden and crisp. The prolonged contact with the hot oil made the grains supremely, wonderfully crunchy.
Since that day, I’ve never looked back, and my fried rice has been all the crunchier for it, especially when I plan ahead and use leftover rice as the base. Leftover rice has less moisture than the fresh stuff, which encourages browning.
This said, I do have a trick for using just-made rice. I cook it, then spread it out on a sheet pan and let it dry out for an hour or so. Stirring it as it cools helps the cause, releasing the steam. You could even stick the pan in a low oven for a few minutes, which I’ve done when I’m in a big hurry. It’s not quite as good as the leftovers from your three-day-old takeout. But it will do when a fried rice craving hits.
This fried rice variation has turkey bacon for brawniness, lots of wilted cabbage for sweetness, plus kimchi (a nod toward bokkeumbap) for a spicy tang. You can use the technique as a template, substituting other vegetables and meats, or nixing the meat altogether. Just remember that with fried rice, less is more: less stirring, more crunch.
Crispy Fried Rice With Turkey Bacon and Cabbage
Yield: 6 servings
Total time: 25 minutes
5 tablespoons neutral oil, such as grapeseed or sunflower, plus more as needed
3 slices thick-cut turkey bacon, in 1/2-inch pieces (about 3 ounces)
1 small bunch scallions, whites and greens separated, sliced
4 cups shredded cabbage (from about 1/2 small head)
4 garlic cloves, minced
6 cups cooked rice, white or brown, preferably day-old
2 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce, plus more as needed
1/2 tablespoon soy sauce, plus more as needed
1/2 cup kimchi, drained and chopped, plus more for serving if you like
1/2 cup green peas (thawed, if frozen)
4 fried eggs, for serving (optional)
Toasted sesame oil, for drizzling (optional)
1. In a large non-stick skillet or wok over medium-high, heat 2 tablespoons oil until almost smoking. Stir in bacon, and cook, stirring constantly, until bacon is golden, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a heatproof bowl, leaving as much oil in the skillet as you can.
2. Add scallion whites to the pan. Cook until soft, stirring frequently, 1 to 2 minutes. If the pan looks dry, drizzle in a little more oil, then stir in cabbage and a pinch of salt. Cook, continuing to stir frequently, until cabbage is soft, 2 to 4 minutes. Stir in garlic, and cook until fragrant, another 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to the bowl with the bacon.
3. Add remaining 3 tablespoons oil to skillet and raise heat to high. Add rice, and a large pinch of salt, then toss thoroughly to coat with oil. Spread out rice in an even layer along the bottom (and sides if in a wok), and drizzle fish sauce and soy sauce over. Let rice sit until sizzling stops and it starts to crackle and crisp, 1 to 4 minutes. Toss, taste, and add more fish sauce or soy sauce if necessary.
4. Fold in bacon mixture, kimchi and peas, then transfer to plates. Top with scallion greens, more kimchi to taste, and fried eggs, if using. Drizzle everything with sesame oil and soy sauce, if you like, and serve immediately.