In cooking terms, mise en place means to have your tools and ingredients prepped and at hand for the dish you’re about to cook. When baking, I tend to grab ingredients out of the cupboards willy-nilly. But I’ve learned that, when making a stir-fry, “meez” (as Anthony Bourdain calls it in Kitchen Confidential) is not optional. A thin wok that conducts heat very quickly is placed over a high flame, and ingredients are added in quick succession, one by one, getting coated with hot oil which locks in flavor, color and moisture. If you stop stirring for a minute to chop a vegetable, the ones in the pot will either burn or overcook and turn soggy and dull. (I know this from experience.)
While I generally don’t condone culinary scare tactics that cause amateur cooks to shy away from making things like pie dough (DON’T ADD TOO MUCH WATER!!!) or ice cream (STIR CONSTANTLY!!!), in the case of stir fry I decree: HAVE YOUR MISE EN PLACE PREPPED AND READY BEFORE YOU HEAT THAT WOK…OR ELSE!!!
Histrionics aside, fried rice has become a secret weapon of mine. It’s a handy way to use up odd vegetables (like the bunches and bunches of greens, turnips, and cabbage we continue to get in our box even though it’s already almost summer; not that I’m bitter). Chewy, comforting rice infused with toasted sesame oil and tamari mixed with gingery vegetables and bits of fluffy, scrambled egg make a quick, nutritious meal that’s appropriate for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
When we’ve used up all the odd produce and have the luxury of actually buying the vegetables we want, this is my favorite version. Crisp-tender asparagus and carrots, glazed and crunchy snap peas, a bunch of scallions, a flurry of cilantro (which, I admit, actually did come in our box, as did the super-golden eggs) make a pretty bowlful of spring.
I like brown jasmine rice best for its deep flavor, but you can use any rice you like: long, short, white, brown, black or red, or a “wild” rice blend (which usually doesn’t include actual wild rice, but makes a pretty dish, nonetheless). Or take a cue from Heidi Swanson and use millet (or quinoa) instead. Either way, I’ve found that adding a bit of oil to the cooking grains helps them separate better, preventing sticky clumps of mushy rice. You can make it vegan by subbing tofu, crisped in oil until golden, for the eggs.
Heidi Swanson is the goddess of one-dish vegetarian meals, and this recipe is adapted from her Millet Fried “Rice” in Super Natural Cooking. Thank you, Heidi, for teaching me the ways of the fried grain!
The recipe isn’t hard and fast, so feel free to swap in your own bizarre vegetables if you like.
But do have your meez prepared before you heat that pan…or else.
One year ago:
Pasta Alla Carbonara(this is all I ever want to eat these days – made it for a dinner party the other night, and was just as enamored as ever!)
Two years ago:
Spring Vegetable Fried Rice
As I droned on about in the post above, be sure to have all ingredients prepped and ready to go before you heat up your wok. A wok is the ideal vessel for cooking the stir-fry (though I’ve found that the eggs stick less in my cast-iron skillet). Lacking a wok, cut the recipe in half (or cook it in two batches) and use a large, 10″ skillet.
If you start with pre-cooked rice, you’ll need 6 cups for this recipe. To make this dish vegan, substitute 8-12 ounces of cubed, extra-firm or nigari tofu, cooked in sunflower oil until golden and crispy, for the eggs. Many other vegetables can stand in for the ones I used here: shiitake mushrooms, spinach, cabbage, bok choy or other greens, English peas, broccoli, cabbage, or anything else you like. If you enjoy spice, drizzle some hot chile oil over the finished rice. I use sunflower oil for a flavorless cooking oil, but coconut would probably be a worthy substitute.
Makes 6 entree-sized servings
1 3/4 cups medium-grain brown rice (such as jasmine)
3 cups water
1 tablespoon sunflower oil
1 teaspoon salt
6 large eggs, well-beaten with abig pinch of salt
1 tablespoon sunflower oil
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
6 scallions, sliced on the diagonal 1/4″ thick, soaked in cool water to clean any sandy dirt stuck in its crevices, drained well
2 medium or 4 small carrots, sliced thinly on the diagonal
1 pound asparagus spears, fibrous ends snapped off, sliced into 2″ diagonals
1/2 pound snap peas, stems pulled off
2 tablespoons sunflower oil
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
2-3 teaspoons minced, fresh ginger
2 large cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce (more to taste)
1/2 small bunch cilantro, cleaned well and chopped
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
Cook the rice:
Place the rice in a mesh strainer, and shake under running water for about 30 seconds to clean the rice of dust and starch. Drain well. In a large saucepan with a snug-fitting lid, combine the rice, 3 cups water, sunflower oil and salt. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to very low and cover the pot. Let cook until all the water is absorbed, about 40 minutes. Check the rice for doneness; if it isn’t soft enough, add a few tablespoons more water and continue cooking. When the rice is done, let stand off heat, covered, for 10 minutes, then use a large fork to gently fluff and separate the grains of rice. Use immediately, or cool to room temperature (about 2 hours), then chill until needed, up to 3 days.
Scramble the eggs:
In a medium (6″) skillet, heat the oils over medium heat until they shimmer. Add the beaten eggs. Let cook for 30 seconds, then use the tines of a fork to pull the cooked, outer edges inward. Repeat this a few times. When the eggs are mostly cooked, use a spatula to break them up a bit and flip them over. When fully cooked, slide the eggs onto a plate and set aside.
Fry the veg and rice:
Have all your ingredients measured out, prepped, and waiting for you in various bowls next to the stove, goshdarnit!
Heat the sunflower and sesame oils in a large wok over high heat until the oil shimmers. Add the ginger and garlic, and cook, stirring constantlywith a wooden spoon or spatula, for 30 seconds.Add the scallions and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add the carrots, and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Repeat with the asparagus, then the snap peas. The vegetables should be crisp-tender; cook longer if needed.
Add the rice and tamari, stir to combine, cook to heat through, then gently fold in the egg, cooking and stirring gently to heat everything through. Remove from the heat and stir in the chopped cilantro. Taste for seasoning, adding more tamari if needed.
Serve the fried rice immediately, sprinkled with sesame seeds. Leftovers keep well for 2-3 days.