Saturday, March 7, 2009

Yang Zhou Fried Rice (PTC - DS)

I've been making fried rice ever since I first started living on my own. Mostly it's based on a recipe from chef Stephen Yan (from his Wok With Yan cookbook), but since then I've done a few variants, based on techniques I've seen in other Chinese cookbooks and TV shows.

Personal Trainer: Cooking has a recipe for Yang Zhou fried rice, essentially their version of what's more commonly known in the West as Yeung Chow fried rice. I figured it wouldn't hurt to try it out.

Ingredients: The basics for Yeung Chow fried rice are rice (of course), plus char siu (a sweet-sauce basted, roast pork also known as BBQ porty), and shrimp. PTC lists these ingredients, plus peas, eggs and green onions which are common enough. What isn't common are dried, rehydrated shiitake mushrooms, Chinese soup stock and boiled sliced bamboo shoots. Certainly I'd never tried those before, and so I figured this would be interesting.

A note about the rice: because this recipe uses boiled rice, a common enough staple in Japan, PTC also includes a sub-recipe for how to cook rice. Handy for the beginner cook with a minimal kitchen. Since I already have a rice cooker I settled for making 4 cups of Uncle Ben's converted, rather than use the calrose rice that PTC lists as its default.

As for other substitutions, I used ham instead BBQ pork, and low-sodium tetra-packed chicken broth for the Chinese chicken stock. PTC also lists jumbo prawns; as a substitute I used frozen small shrimp that I thawed with running water in a colander.

Techniques: The thing to remember about Chinese cooking is that it's usually characterized by very careful preparation of ingredients followed by a super quick cooking time. In PTC's case, this meant rehydrating the mushrooms, chopping up the bamboo shoots and green onions, chopping up the now-moist mushrooms, cubing the pork and the prawns, simmering the mushrooms, bamboo and prawns in the chicken stock, reserving a bit of the stock to mix with soy sauce and sesame oil, beating the eggs. You then pour the eggs into a hot frying pan or skillet, put the rice in just as the eggs are starting to set, and start stir-frying. During the stir you add the chopped up bamboo, prawn and mushrooms that were used in boiling the stock, then the pork, then the green onions, and then the seasoning. Once the seasoning's been added, stirred in and evaporated, you're good to go on the serving. Nothing really controversial about it or hard, apart from the usual microphone idiosyncracies.

Results: After having tried this, I think I would have left out the boiling stock / mixing seasoning bit. It doesn't really add anything that I can tell, and you have another saucepan to wash up afterwards. (I should say that, after trying out this recipe, I did try a variant, mixing the sesame oil with the eggs and then stirring the raw egg into the rice during the stir-fry phase, as well as tossing the shrimp, mushrooms and bamboo shoots straight in without the boiling in stock. The mushrooms and shoots wound up having a slightly stronger flavour, but it wasn't really overpowering the shrimp or the ham.

Since I have enough experience frying rice that I can pretty much cook it without a recipe, I don't need to cook this one again. And if I were a beginning chef using this recipe, I'd definitely leave out the stock boiling / seasoning steps (you could also leave out the mushrooms and shoots, but that's just a matter of personal preference). Fried rice is a hard dish to make because it's a test of how you master simple techniques; there's no need to complicate things further.

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