“To me, gently massaging these beautiful Chinese mushrooms as they begins to soften in cold water is a zen and gentle way to slowly bring them back to life.”
– Chopinand, on re-hydrating dried Chinese mushrooms
Fried rice has so many different variations, especially in Asian food culture. The Japanese have their own version of garlic fried rice, while the Indonesian and Malaysian versions of nasi goreng take on different ingredients and flavours. Yet, there are countless versions of fried rice in Chinese cuisine from different provinces in China. Fried rice with SPAM is another version which has truly become a popular household meal throughout the world.
Fried rice is a relatively easy dish to cook and it depends on how elaborate you like your version to be. A fried rice with all the “correct” ingredients can elevate this dish from being your average staple at the end of a chinese banquet to be the star of the meal.
I am rather particular with fried rice and if I am cooking it at home, I would prefer to use ingredients which add flavour and more importantly, complements each other. Some of the most usual ingredients may include ham, chicken, prawns, corn, peas, carrots or salted fish (a popular chinese version).
The Chinese style fried rice which I like to cook at home is a version that uses Chinese sausages or lup cheong (literally meaning ‘waxed intestines’ in Cantonese). There is something magical about these Chinese style sausages that add so much taste and flavour to what would otherwise be an ordinary fried rice.
There are two versions of these lup cheong usually found hanging in the open in Asian butchers and BBQ shops. The lighter red version consists mainly of pork meat and fat while the darker ones consists of liver which has a more intense flavour. These sausages are normally smoked, sweetened and dried hard and will keep unrefrigerated for weeks, if not months.
The easiest way to cook the lup cheong for making fried rice is to steam them together with rice in a rice cooker. If you are not using a rice cooker, steaming the sausages in medium heat for about 30 minutes will render them soft and edible.
Most rice cookers come with a perforated steamer gadget that allows a small plate to be placed above the rice to allow another item to be cooked simultaneously.
Depending on how much rice you cook, the rice may take less than 20 minutes in which case you would need to steam the lup cheong for a little longer for it to be soft and edible.
The diced lup cheong is tasty enough that I find it very difficult to resist nibbling on a few pieces as I cook.
There are 2 schools of thought about how to re-hydrate Chinese dried mushrooms – either using cold or hot water.
Unless you are short for time, I believe using cold water to re-hydrate dried mushrooms to be far superior than soaking them in boiling hot water. Cold water allows the mushroom time to soak and reinvigorate without wilting and losing too much flavour to the boiling hot water.
To me, gently massaging these beautiful Chinese mushrooms as they begins to soften in cold water is a zen and gentle way to slowly bring them back to life.
I love the vibrant colour of fresh green peas because they add so much wholesomeness to a dish.
Yes, they can make a dish look a little retro from the 1970s but I still love it, especially in fried rice.
Ginger and garlic are two quintessential ingredients in Chinese cuisine and a good fried rice will not be great without a fresh and healthy dose of both.
A common mistake that many home chefs make is to add oil to a wok and slowly heat the oil as the wok becomes hot.
One of the tenets of good Chinese cooking is to begin with a very hot wok even before adding the most primary ingredient like cooking oil.
My tip to home chefs is to be patient and wait until your wok is very hot. The cooking oil must immediately start to simmer and smoke when added to the wok.
Avoid overcooking the onions because you will still have a fair bit of frying time when the steamed rice is added.
Another common mistake when cooking fried rice is adding warm rice to the wok.
If the rice is even slightly warmer than room temperature, it has a tendency to become too soft and starchy when done. I always let the rice cool and better still if the rice is left overnight in the fridge.
For best results, I like to add cold steamed rice straight from the refrigerator. This is because when steamed rice has been rid of its moisture, it tends become firm and fluffy when fried in a hot wok.
The moment the cold rice hits the wok, you should hear the “crackling” sound which indicates the wok is sufficiently hot and the rice will be fluffy and eventually separate into individual grains.
Most cook stoves at home do not have the intense heat of commercial wok burners in restaurants and I find that spreading the rice over the surface of the wok allow the individual grains of rice to sear and separate, making it more firm and fluffy when cooked.
At this stage, I would also add a good splash of Chinese Shao Xing wine.
Light soy sauce is another key ingredient that adds a lot of taste and also some colour to the fried rice.
If you prefer not to use light soy sauce, then it can be substituted with more salt but my preference is to use a combination of salt and soy sauce for a better salt complexity.
Add the green peas right at the end because they need very little cooking time and also to maintain its vibrant green colour.
Add in the egg omelette to the rice at the end of the cooking process.
So here is my recipe for Chinese style fried rice and I hope you will have fun cooking this comfort meal at home for your family and friends.
Ingredients Method Useful tips
My last tip is to eat this classic Chinese style fried rice with chopsticks.
It might be a little more challenging that a pair of fork and spoon but believe me, it will be tastier as you pick up each clump of rice with all the beautiful ingredients.