Sunday, February 20, 2011

Turning Vietnamese Episode 1 - Fried rice

And now, we begin the first in a limited edition on and off run of a series of blog postings where I attempt to get closer to my Vietnamese roots. As I may have mentioned earlier, I'm not exactly a model student of Vietnamese cuisine. It's not that I don't like Vietnamese food, quite the opposite. I've just educated myself from readily available cookbooks, none of which have been Vietnamese, and when lessons were available from my mom, I just had a hard time remembering stuff, in general.

Ah, the high school brain.

Anyway, now that I've matured to some small degree and have some capacity to understand and remember verbal instructions I will now make a point of learning enough Vietnamese cuisine so that white folks no longer ask me, "Why not? Do you hate your culture?"

No, I do not. I was just, lazy thank you. And to show you how lazy I am, this post features something I already have learned how to make, but many are still interested in. Fried rice!

You will need:

Cooked leftover rice,
Eggs (usually one will suffice),
Chinese style sausage,
A seasoning liquid (to be authentic, go for fish sauce, but if you can't stand it then soy sauce will make a passable substitution. Still, I recommend fish sauce)
Optional but recommended: onion, garlic
Even more optional: carrots, peas. (I never use these)

Here's most of the ingredients, laid out and ready for destruction. I recommend the absolute largest pan you can find because you'll want the room to mix your fried rice into. By the way the little spouted pot thing is what we use to keep our fish sauce. Stylish no? Please note the odd looking red sausage. There are many recipes that make fried rice without it, but in my opinion it is this sausage which makes fried rice for me. Otherwise why bother? Grab life by the horns!

First I start with a hot pan with a splash of oil. This was a bit too much oil but it doesn't matter that much. In a  medium hot pan (or high heat if you like them to have a bit of cracklin) throw in some of the Chinese sausage links to heat them through and crisp the skin up.

While this is going I prep the egg(s), cracking them into a bowl, beating them and adding a tablespoon and a half of fish sauce, and the egg will indicate a nice darker tone to let you know it's good to go.

When your sausage is ready, slice to the size you want (don't forget to turn off the gas! but leave it on the burner to stay warm). My dad prefers huge hunks, mom slices it paper thin, I find both extremes leaving a bit to be desired, and cut them into what I'd imagine would be an overly thick nickel size. Small enough to have lots of pieces to mix around without being so ephemeral you can't enjoy the texture. Set aside.

Dice up your onion and garlic.

Turn on the gas again and add the onion and garlic to the pan, cooking just to softness, because they will still have plenty of time to cook. Now the moment you've been waiting for, actually frying some rice.

Add the rice about, two scoops at a time, mashing and pulling clumps apart with wooden implements.

Eventually the rice will  heat through and loosen up, allowing you to make the clumps fall apart quite nicely and you can continue the process of adding and pulling apart the rice.

Once you have lots of rice, having two implements and pushing them towards each other is a great method to prevent rice from piling over the edges of your pan.

Then add your egg-fish sauce mixture, and then start mixing it through the rice rapidly to cook it and season the rice simultaneously.

Once you've a lovely yellow shaded rice, add your other stuff! In my case, just sausage. The frowny face is a total accident by the by.

Taste the rice to make sure it is seasoned correctly. Sometimes when the egg hasn't been seasoned enough it may be blander than you like. This can be rectified by adding a spoon or two of more fish or soy sauce, and quickly working it through the rice so that you don't just have one spot of highly seasoned rice. 

And spoon out and enjoy! This goes great with some Vietnamese green pickled vegetables, which I think might be a great next installment to this post. Until then folks, enjoy!