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Fried Rice

A UNIQUE PERSPECTIVE REVEALS COMPLEXITY IN THIS HUMBLE DISH

Fried rice is the frugal cook’s template for using up leftovers: Take cold cooked rice, stir-fry it with whatever meat, vegetables, and aromatics are on hand, and toss it in a sauce that lightly coats the mixture and rehydrates the grains.

While this clean-out-the-fridge approach has its place, in Indonesia they take fried rice more seriously. The garden-variety brown sauce is replaced with a pungent chili paste called sambal, along with fermented shrimp paste and a syrupy-sweet soy sauce known as kecap manis. And instead of being loaded up with a hodgepodge of meats and vegetables, the rice is garnished with fried shallots, strips of tender omelet, and lime wedges. The final dish (called nasi goreng) boasts so much complexity in flavor and texture that it hardly seems like the typical afterthought.

To translate this dish for the American home kitchen we needed a workaround for some of the specialty ingredients as well as a plan for making this dish when leftover rice is not available. The latter proved far more challenging.

Leftover white rice that’s been thoroughly chilled—essential to making any kind of fried rice—is a staple in Asian households but not something that most of us keep on hand. To condense the overnight chilling process, we came up with a three-pronged approach that produces comparably dry, firm rice in less than an hour. In addition to devising a hurry-up chilling method, we had to cook the rice differently—sautéing the grains in oil to create a greasy barrier and then reducing the amount of water. The end result is cooked rice firm enough to fry. Best of all, you don’t have to wait for leftovers to enjoy this dish.

WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS

Create a Potent Paste

Sambal, or Indonesian chili paste, is essential for the heady heat in this fried rice. We coarsely puree garlic, shallots, and Thai chiles (found at most supermarkets) in the food processor before sautéing the mixture to deepen its flavor. Once the rice is added to the skillet, the paste will coat the rice with its complex, savory flavors.

Season with Sweet Soy Sauce

Along with heat, Indonesian fried rice is seasoned with salty-sweet kecap manis. Bottled versions contain soy sauce and palm sugar and have a caramelized flavor. To improvise your own, sweeten soy sauce with brown sugar and molasses.

Build a Briny Character

Shrimp paste imparts a briny essence to this fried rice. This ingredient can be hard to find outside of Asian markets, but a reasonable version can be replicated with sautéed chopped fresh shrimp and fish sauce.

Add a Simple Omelet

In addition to frizzled shallots, fresh-cut cucumber, and tomatoes, Indonesian fried rice is typically garnished with a fried egg or omelet for richness and contrasting texture. Making a rolled omelet ahead is much easier than frying eggs at the last minute. Simply pour the beaten eggs into the skillet and cook until just set, then slide out, roll up, and slice.

Fast-Forward Fresh Cooked Rice

Unlike freshly cooked rice, which forms soft, mushy clumps when stir-fried too soon, chilled rice undergoes a process called retrogradation, in which the starch molecules form crystalline structures that make the grains firm enough to withstand a second round of cooking—that’s why fried rice is tailor-made for last night’s leftover rice. But there’s a way to condense the process: Sauté the rinsed rice in oil and then cook in less water for more rigid grains. You do need to chill the rice, but just for 20 minutes.

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Spirals of tender omelet and chilled, fluffy rice are key components in this one-dish meal.

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Indonesian-Style Fried Rice

SERVES 4 TO 6

RECIPE DETAILS

Timeline

  • 40 minutes to cook and cool rice (prep other ingredients during this time)
  • 20 minutes to chill rice (fry shallots and cook eggs while rice chills)
  • 10 minutes to cook shrimp and fry rice (don’t start until rice is ready)

Essential Tools

  • Large saucepan for cooking rice
  • Rimmed baking sheet for cooling rice
  • Food processor for pulsing chiles, shallots, and garlic
  • 12-inch nonstick skillet for frying shallots, cooking eggs, and cooking shrimp and rice

Substitutions & Variations

  • If fresh Thai chiles are unavailable, substitute 2 serranos or 1 medium jalapeño. Adjust the spiciness of this dish by removing the ribs and seeds from the chiles.

This dish is traditionally served with sliced cucumbers and tomato wedges.

  • 2 tablespoons plus ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 2 cups jasmine or long-grain white rice, rinsed
  • 2⅔ cups water
  • 5 green or red Thai chiles, stemmed
  • 7 large shallots, peeled
  • 4 large garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • Salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 12   ounces extra-large shrimp (21 to 25 per pound), peeled, deveined, and cut crosswise into thirds
  • 4 large scallions, sliced thin
  • Lime wedges
  1. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in large saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add rice and stir to coat grains with oil, about 30 seconds. Add water, increase heat to high, and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until all liquid is absorbed, about 18 minutes. Off heat, remove lid and place clean dish towel folded in half over saucepan; replace lid. Let stand until rice is just tender, about 8 minutes. Spread cooked rice onto rimmed baking sheet, set on wire rack, and let cool for 10 minutes. Transfer to refrigerator and chill for 20 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, pulse Thai chiles, 4 shallots, and garlic in food processor until coarse paste is formed, about 15 pulses, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Transfer mixture to small bowl and set aside. In second small bowl, stir together brown sugar, molasses, soy sauce, fish sauce, and 1¼ teaspoons salt. Whisk eggs and ¼ teaspoon salt together in medium bowl.
  3. Thinly slice remaining 3 shallots (you should have about 1 cup sliced shallots) and place in 12-inch nonstick skillet with remaining ½ cup oil. Heat over medium heat, stirring constantly, until shallots are golden and crisp, 6 to 10 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer shallots to paper towel–lined plate and season with salt to taste. Pour off oil and reserve. Wipe out skillet with paper towels 4. Heat 1 teaspoon reserved oil in now-empty skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add half of eggs to skillet, gently tilting pan to evenly coat bottom. Cover and cook until bottom of omelet is spotty golden brown and top is just set, about 1½ minutes. Slide omelet onto cutting board and gently roll up into tight log. Using sharp knife, cut log crosswise into 1-inch segments (leaving segments rolled). Repeat with 1 teaspoon reserved oil and remaining eggs.
  4. Remove rice from refrigerator and break up any large clumps with your fingers. Heat 3 tablespoons reserved oil in now-empty skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add chile mixture and cook until golden, 3 to 5 minutes. Add shrimp, increase heat to medium-high, and cook, stirring constantly, until exterior of shrimp is just opaque, about 2 minutes. Push shrimp to sides of skillet; stir molasses mixture to recombine and pour into center of skillet. When molasses mixture bubbles, add rice and cook, stirring and folding constantly, until shrimp is cooked, rice is heated through, and mixture is evenly coated, about 3 minutes. Stir in scallions and transfer to serving platter. Garnish with egg segments, fried shallots, and lime wedges and serve.

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