When I was a kid, there was only one Chinese restaurant in our city and it was a nice one. I still remember its name: Pagoda. We went there only on very special occasions, maybe once a year, since it was expensive for my family. But we all just loved it. It was the closest thing we had to a vacation in an exotic land.
The food was so different than what we were used to: sweet and sour chicken, crispy spring rolls, pork with pineapple. These were unheard of flavor combinations and textures in our everyday diet. We kids loved the big round tables with the lazy susan center that allowed everyone to sample from the many dishes without getting up. And I still remember the nice waiter who taught me how to use chopsticks, a skill I proudly demonstrated every time we went back.
You can imagine my delight when I arrived in the U.S. to study and I found out that Chinese food was everywhere and dirt cheap. In Philadelphia, where I lived, there were even trucks selling it on every street corner! My still-new palate found every greasy, overcooked, laden with sugary sauce dish to be a culinary treasure. It took a few years to start relegating American Chinese food to the bottom of the list of my favorite foods.
Fortunately here in New York, along with the abundance of terrible Chinese food, there are also some great places from which we sometimes order food delivery. But every single dish comes with the obligatory box of rice, very little of which we eat. I’ve always hated throwing out the leftover rice until a couple of years ago, I saw Mark Bittman of the New York times introduce a recipe for using it up.
This is technically a recipe by Jean-Georges Vongerichten and it’s really just a simple fried rice recipe. But its simplicity belies the incredibly satisfying combination of flavors and textures that is this dish. It takes just a little chopping and some quick sautéing and it uses things you most likely already have in your kitchen.
So if one night this week you order Chinese takeout (Thai takeout rice works as well. I don’t like to use the rice from Indian takeout because I find it’s too dry for this recipe), save a box or two of that fluffy white rice. A day or two later, when you are breaking the creamy yellow yolk over the richly flavored rice, scooping it up with bits of crispy garlic and ginger, you’ll be happy you didn’t throw the rice out along with the unopened fortune cookies and unused chopsticks.
Fried Egg with Ginger Fried Rice – Adapted from the New York Times
1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil
2 tablespoons roughly chopped garlic
2 tablespoons roughly chopped ginger
1 very thinly sliced large onion (alternatively you can use leeks, white and light green parts only, rinsed and dried, about 2 cups thinly sliced)
4 cups day-old cooked white rice (don’t worry if you have a little less or more; use what you have)*
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons sesame oil
4 teaspoons soy sauce
* The rice has to be at least a day old (keep it in the fridge). Fresh rice is too moist to work for making fried rice.
In a large skillet, heat 1/4 cup of the oil over medium heat. Add garlic and ginger and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp and golden brown. Immediately, with a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels and set aside.
Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until very tender and starting to brown at the edges. Add the rice. Cook, stirring well, until heated through, about 1-2 minutes. Divide the rice among four large soup bowls or plates.
Add the remaining oil in the skillet, and fry eggs sunny-side-up, until edges are set but yolk is still runny.
Top the rice in each bowl or plate with an egg and drizzle with 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil and 1 teaspoon soy sauce. Sprinkle crisped garlic and ginger over everything and serve immediately.
Makes: 4 servings