KUALA LUMPUR, July 4 — Cooking with rice feels like going back to the basics, every grain a homage to traditions and to good eating.
I’ve made sushi. I’ve made wild mushroom risotto topped with a single poached egg. I’ve even created my comfort food staple in the form of miso rice soup, almost porridge like and full of my favourite ingredients: tofu, tomatoes, baby peas, kimchi and miso, of course.
Which is why I’m surprised I haven’t yet included a recipe for fried rice in all my years of writing Weekend Kitchen. Perhaps I neglected it in favour of more exciting dishes (“exciting” in this instance almost certainly means “weird” and “something only I’d cook and consume”).
Or perhaps it’s because fried rice seems like such a fundamental dish, one that is less a recipe than a means of using up any leftovers, particularly from a large dinner party, and a good amount of extra, overnight rice.
That is until a recent string of subpar experiences with fried rice: both via food delivery as well as socially distanced dining out. Some were too moist (“wet” would be a closer approximation of the texture, such sacrilege!); others bland, half-hearted attempts, bereft of even a hint of wok hei.
Clearly, good fried rice isn’t a simple matter.
To be honest, it still feels like a simple dish, something our parents or grandparents could dish up in a jiffy with no fuss at all (Malaccan men, at least of yore, were decent cooks, so no children of my generation had a lacklustre meal simply because Mom was at the hair salon or Grandma had a mahjong date).
There does need to be some attention paid to details though. The aforementioned wok hei (you can definitely fry rice in an ordinary, Western saucepan — just be prepared for it to taste lacking somehow), the rice (always overnight, never freshly steamed and too moist), the ingredients (yes, any leftovers will do, but they all have to be chopped up in more or less the same bite-sized chunks, not only for easy eating but the speed of wok frying).
Maybe we simply need something extra to get us off our butts and into the kitchen to make our own fried rice rather than tapping away at a food delivery app. For me, that something extra is the pungent perfume of petai.
Love it or loathe it: hardly anyone is ambivalent about petai or stink beans.
Though there are nutritional benefits — research has shown that stink beans can help reduce blood pressure and blood sugar — those of us who adore these emerald pods are fans for their flavour and their fragrance, the texture (never overcook them!) akin to a yielding crunch.
Really, what’s not to love (the haters would have left after scanning the headline, in case you haven’t realised that by now, so rest assured we’re all in agreement here)?
And as a key piece in a dish few can say no to? Well, let’s go ahead and call this a classic. The only question left ought to be: Why don’t we make petai fried rice more often, especially with the easy-peasy recipe that follows?
PETAI FRIED RICE
There are two things I do differently than others with my fried rice. Feel free to follow the conventional way if it’s more to your liking. With fried rice, other than You Must Use Overnight Cooked Rice, there really aren’t any hard and fast rules.
(And even then, many years ago, when I was stuck only with freshly cooked rice, I managed to resolve this by ladling the moist rice onto a large plate and leaving it in front of a fan on high speed for a few minutes. That dried it out in a jiffy, and ready to go into the wok for frying.)
Firstly, I prefer not to have too many moving parts once the wok frying gets going as I’m likely to forget one ingredient or more. To get around this, I prepare most of the aromatics — the usual suspects such as chillies, red onions/shallots and garlic — ahead of time by pounding them into a sambal paste. This means all the aromatics are added as a single step during the wok frying process.
Secondly, instead of trying to figure out whether to scramble the eggs first then add the rice or fry the rice first then add the beaten up eggs, I soak my rice in the eggs then add them all together to the wok. Sounds strange but we get such beautifully uniform bits of cooked egg and rice this way without any large clumps or burning.
A few extras: parboiled rice has more of a bite (at least it seems that way to me), not to mention plenty of resistant starch that purportedly lowers blood sugar levels. Having some cooked parboiled rice in the fridge or freezer is a must-have for me.
To get a bit more crunch, consider slicing your petai crosswise instead of lengthwise. This way, in terms of its shape, you get bite-sized chunks rather than almond-like slivers.
Ingredients: Sambal paste
5 dried chillies
5 fresh cili padi
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons dried shrimps, soaked in water for 30 minutes and drained
2-5 red onions (or shallots)
2-5 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon white pepper powder
Ingredients: Fried rice
2 large eggs
2 cups leftover cooked white rice, preferably parboiled rice
2 tablespoons coconut oil
½ can of luncheon meat, cut into cubes
1-2 tablespoons aromatic paste (see above)
100g petai, cut crosswise
Fish sauce to taste
To make the sambal paste, add the dried chilies, cili padi and salt to a mortar. Pound with a pestle until well combined.
Add the rehydrated dried shrimps, red onions, garlic, turmeric powder and white pepper powder. Keep pounding until you get a uniform paste. Set aside.
Beat the eggs until well combined then pour over the leftover rice. Allow to soak for a few minutes while you begin to cook the rest of the ingredients.
Add the oil to a large wok set over high heat. When hot, add the cubes of luncheon meat and stir-fry quickly till there’s a nice sear to the edges but not burnt. Remove the luncheon meat and set aside.
There should be some oil left in the wok, especially with the rendered fat from the luncheon meat; just a film would do. Add the sambal paste and stir-fry till fragrant.
Now add the egg-soaked rice. Never stop stirring to make sure you break up large clumps of rice and to prevent any from sticking to the bottom of the wok. Quick stirring will also help incorporate the aromatic paste with the rice and ensure an even scrambling of the eggs.
Depending on how cooked you like your petai, you can add it once the cooked egg bits have formed and stir-fry a bit more. Season with a bit of fish sauce to taste.
Return the luncheon meat cubes to the wok briefly to warm them up and mix well, then remove the wok from the heat. Dish the fried rice into individual bowls or a large platter, and serve immediately.
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