I eat fried rice on repeat. This time it’s prawn fried rice spiced Thai-style with cinnamon and star anise.
Cooking on repeat
I don’t know if it’s good or bad; whether it’s a sign of my culinary maturity or just the sign of old age but I’ve been cooking the same dishes all the time recently. We never before had the Shirley Valentine (husband to be precise) style chips ‘n’ egg on a Tuesday and steak on a Thursday, but we seem to have roast potatoes almost every Sunday now.
I tell myself a stir fry is different every time you cook it, as I chop up vegetables and marinate chicken in Shaoxing wine twice a week. When I shop for fish, it’s always salmon, because grilled salmon is a regular menu item. And I buy fennel every so often since we like caramelised fennel so much, with everything.
It’s not just dinners: my lunches have surreptitiously become samey. In the time of pandemic it is possibly understandable that we seek comfort in a routine, but my lunchtime rabbit bowl (as The Weather Man calls it) only ever differs by the addition or none of cream cheese*.
I tell myself it’s the search for perfection rather than senile laziness. And perhaps there’s really nothing wrong with it after all as Nigella does it too.
Anything fried rice
One of those dishes on repeat is whatever fried rice. I am beginning to think anything can be used to flavour fried rice, with perhaps the exception of custard. We have beef fried rice, pork fried rice, vegetable fried rice, chorizo fried rice and prawn fried rice. The best thing about the dish, obviously, is that a miniscule chunk of beef, pork etc. goes a really long way with rice.
Prawn fried rice is fairly generous with shrimp but then it’s the cooked frozen variety: the bag that always sits in your freezer and you can never get round to using it sensibly.
How to cook perfect fried rice
The first and only, really, condition for a fried rice is cold rice. If you cook it regularly and always have bowls leftover in the fridge, your dinner will be ready in ten minutes. If, like me, you decide to have rice because you’ve not had it for, umm - at least three days, cook it early enough for it to cool down and then get colder in the fridge.
Bonus point: it needn’t be fussed over, steamed or absorbing water under lid. Cook it like pasta: a large pan of salted water, rolling boil, rice ready in ten for white, twenty for brown.
Shrimp fried rice, not stir-fried rice
It is very simple: something to fragrance the rice and the prawns, in this instance it’s star anise and cinnamon sticks and they work incredibly well. Spring onions as ever – I don’t believe a stir fry is complete without them – and then the rice goes into the wok.
The secret is NOT to stir fry it. At least not for a long while: just fold it over into the onions once and then leave it be for at least a couple of minutes. The bottom will scorch and crispen beautifully, whereby you can scramble the rice about to turn it over and repeat the exercise.
The final touches, prawns and peas as my green accent of choice land in and the sauce is drizzled around the sides, to more evenly sauce the mixture. Finally, we get to stir fry it for a bit and it’s ready.
*For the inquisitive, here’s the rabbit bowl recipe: cherry tomatoes, cucumber slices, chopped radish, half an avocado placed in a bowl and salted lavishly. To that I add so called sprinkles: assorted seeds and a few chopped nuts doused in soy sauce and toasted for 2 hours in the lowest oven possible. They keep in a jar for ever. There – a freebie for you, a recipe within a recipe.