One of the slighter slight flaws in my character is an unaccountable fondness for bad Americanized Chinese food. When I go to Starbucks to write, I walk right past a Chinese buffet restaurant, and it’s a real effort not to run in and overdo it.
I occasionally try to cook stuff in this general category at home, with fairly mixed results. One thing that I’ve often tried to do at home is fried rice, with fairly mixed results, mostly because I don’t generally have the right kind of rice on had (we mostly use medium grain rice from the “Hispanic” section of the supermarket, for no really well thought-out reason).
Another issue for me is that I don’t particularly like eggs, and fried rice of the steam-table buffet genre always includes eggs. Scrambling an egg in the pan then adding the rice always results in big chunks of fried egg, that I then try to eat around, which isn’t very satisfactory. So one time, a few years back, I was very interested to see an episode of Iron Chef (the original Japanese version, with bad dubbing) where one of the competitors made a fried rice dish, and explained that the secret was to break the egg and mix it in with the rice first, then throw them in the pan together. And, indeed, this works very nicely to provide the egg-ness that the dish needs without big unpleasant clumps of just egg.
Then, one time when Kate was out of town, I attempted to make this only to realize that we were out of soy sauce. Which, of course, I discovered only after the rice was in the pan cooking. Looking for something to flavor the otherwise really bland rice with, I grabbed a jar of that chili paste you see in some Asian restaurants. The jar I have says “Sambal Oelek” on it, which might be a brand name for all I can tell. It’s red, and has bits of seeds floating in it. That worked very nicely, indeed.
More recently,m it occurred to me that the chili-plus-eggs flavor of the thing had a faint Thai sort of character to it. On those vague grounds, I threw a bit of dried basil in, which bumps up the vaguely-Thai character quite a bit.
The result, described below, is now pretty far from the original Americanized Chinese dish, but it’s pretty tasty, in a comfort-food kind of way (comforting only to me, by the way– Kate doesn’t like spicy things, and SteelyKid doesn’t believe that rice is food). I just made another batch for lunch today, in fact. And also, believe it or not, this story is vaguely relevant to the project I’m working on at the moment (though I won’t explain how until said project resolves itself into either a book or a whole mess of blog posts). So, you know, it’s all good.
The recipe, such as it is:
One serving bowl worth of leftover rice
One smallish cooked boneless chicken breast, cut up (pork works, too)
One serving of leftover peas
Heat a pan or wok over high heat, with a little bit of oil in it just on principle. Break the egg into the bowl of rice, and mix until the rice is coated.
When the pan is very hot, dump the rice mixture in and cook it stirring constantly for a minute or two, until it no longer looks like raw egg is involved.
Stir in the meat and peas, and keep stirring until they’re heated through.
Drop in a bit of the chili paste, the exact amount depending on taste. I use something on the short side of a teaspoon, which is pretty good. Don’t put your face right over the pan when you drop it in, because you sometimes get some really viciously spicy steam out of the process. Stir so it’s mixed thoroughly with the rice.
Dump in some basil. Again, I used dried basil from a fairly old jar, and give it a few good shakes. The vague goal, seasoning-wise is to have every bit have a couple of basil flakes and a chili seed or two. If your spices are fresher, you might need less. Unless you really like basil. Mix it quickly, dump it into a bowl, and eat. This goes well with light-ish beer, in the Singha/ Tsing Tao vein.
(It would not at all surprise me to learn that there’s an actual dish with more or less these ingredients. I haven’t made any effort to see if there is, because I arrived at this through the random process described above, not through any knowledge of actual cuisine.)