Today: A world-brightening fried rice you could make right now -- not tomorrow -- if you really wanted.
There's something silly about longing for leftover rice. It's one of the easiest things to make, a staple on dinner tables the world over, and yet ... it's never there when you need it. For fried rice.
Just about every recipe and tutorial out there calls for day-old rice. People get really feisty about this. I get it: the grains are drier and firmer than freshly cooked, and will absorb flavor without clumping and sogging.
But I've always felt oppressed by this rule. Fried rice is meant as this hallmark of kitchen efficiency, a catchall for your best scraps -- but not if you can never hang onto yesterday's stash at the right time. This is a dinner that requires leftover coordination, a skill I may never have.
Or so I thought.
As former Food52 intern Will Levitt and blogger Joy Huang both told me, Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Ginger Fried Rice is a dish so good, so comforting and mood-altering, you won't want to save it for just the days there happens to be a quart of jasmine rice in your fridge. And the good news is: you don't have to.
When Mark Bittman published this recipe in his Minimalist column in 2010, he told us to cook the rice just until heated through, over medium heat -- and he meant it. Not a searing wok-fry, just a warm up. (Full disclosure: Bittman also says to use leftover rice, but -- in case you couldn't tell -- I don't think you need to.)
It's because Jean-Georges has you first crisp up ginger and garlic in your oil, till they're so bronzed and crackly you'll think they're burnt. You fish them out and save them to sprinkle on at the end. This texture is a revelation, and takes the pressure off the rice to be perfectly aired out, flaky, and crisp. Those brown bits all the resistance you need.
Of course, you don't want steamy rice porridge either. But here's all you have to do if you're cooking the rice fresh:
• When the cook time is done, leave the rice undisturbed in the pot (uncovered) for 5 minutes, to give it a chance to get some integrity before you go sticking spoons in there.
• Spread the rice on a tray (or two) to dry out. Put it by an open window or a fan.
• To hurry this along, pop the tray in the fridge or freezer if you have room. Move along to slicing leeks and mincing ginger.
• Jaden Hair at Steamy Kitchen also recommends starting with 1/4 to 1/3 less water when cooking the rice, to hedge your bets. I like Jaden.
(If you're the type of person who always has leftover cooked rice on hand, just use that. I salute you.)
You can do this with any fried rice you want to make right this second, but it's especially suited to this gem of a recipe, a marvel of textures and flavors. Here, a little softness is welcome.
From those crispy ginger and garlic bits, which have left behind a deliciously flavored oil to gloss up the rice, the action keeps coming: slippery soft leeks, gently fried rice, and finally electrifying streaks of soy sauce, sesame oil, and a world-brightening sunny-side-up egg.
And you can have it all ... tonight. Not tomorrow. Tonight!
Adapted slightly from "The Minimalist: Fried Rice, Dressed Simply" (New York Times, January 27, 2010)
1/2 cup peanut oil if you're Mark Bittman, chicken fat if you're Jean-Georges
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons minced ginger
2 cups thinly sliced leeks, white and light green parts only, rinsed and dried
4 cups cooked rice, preferably jasmine, at room temperature
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons sesame oil
4 teaspoons soy sauce
Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].
Photos: Jean-Georges by Melissa Hom; raw rice by James Ransom; all others by Linda Xiao