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Defeated by Asian Cooking

post #1 of 16
Thread Starter 
Does anyone else struggle with asian cooking? I feel like I am defeated by it every time. Like i just don't understand how to get the flavors and consistency that you get at asian restaurants. Specifically I really just want to do chicken fried rice, which should be simple but I just can't capture the flavor of it somehow.

Any advice?
post #2 of 16
Are you starting with cold rice? That's one of the secrets of a good fried rice.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #3 of 16
Thread Starter 
Well I had heard somewhere that that was a key to doing it. How cold should cold be? Like after steaming the rice should it go in the fridge or just be allowed to cool down on it's own?
post #4 of 16
What's your process now? What ingredients? What kind of rice? How long after steaming the rice do you fry? Do you overcrowd your pan?

Do you use a wok? You can make good fried rice in a regular skillet, but an approrpriate wok with a proper heat source makes a big difference.

BDL
post #5 of 16
Fried rice is essentially a dish of leftovers. Day old long grain rice is preferred for fried rice, but I sometimes cook rice fresh and spread it on a lightly greased rimmed tray to cool quickly, about 30-45 minutes. It's not just cooling down but drying out a bit.

Aromatics are often over done in fried rice by newbies. Avoid ginger and garlic, they're usually too strong to add directly to the rice though they may be used in seasoning the meat for the rice.

Onion is usually a good aromatic, either some finely chopped bulb onion or green onions. Green adds color and so is a nice touch.

Seasoning: soy sauce, sugar and black pepper are the basics. Good tweaks can be had with dark soy. My wife likes my fried rice with dark soy above my other versions. Also oyster sauce is another good addition. Adds sweetness, a briny meatyness and color. Sometimes a little black vinegar finds its way into mine, but only rarely.

Toasted sesame oil is often overdone on fried rice. Use lightly or not at all at the very end of cooking.
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
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Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
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post #6 of 16
Other thoughts.

If I didn't have a well seasoned wok or cast iron/carbon steel skillet, fried rice is a time I would look to a non-stick pan. You would probably need too much oil in a stainless steel skillet to keep it from sticking.

On a standard home stove, you need to let the rice sit a bit after each stir to pick up some toasted flavors, even in a wok. Home stoves don't produce enough heat to develop the smoky toasty hints of a good fried rice unless you let the rice sit a bit. Follow your nose.

2 cups of cold pre-cooked rice is about the limit for a 12 inch skillet or 14 inch wok. Pan starts to overload and not cook right beyond that.

Unlike western cooking where flavors should meld towards the whole, Chinese prefer flavors and textures to differentiate in the dish. Keep this in mind as you make your fried rice. Stagger the addition of ingredients so they retain their character in the final dish.
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
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Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
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post #7 of 16
here is a thread that will also help give yourself a leg up on the flavors you feel your missing out on.
http://www.cheftalk.com/forums/food-...an-pantry.html

patience above all when it comes to a new style of cooking.
"In those days spirits were brave, the stakes were high, men were real men, women were real women, and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri. "
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"In those days spirits were brave, the stakes were high, men were real men, women were real women, and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri. "
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post #8 of 16
Like after steaming the rice should it go in the fridge or just be allowed to cool down on it's own?

Cold, in this case, means cold, not room temp. If you're not using previously cooked rice, make the new rice early in the day, and pop it into the fridge until ready to make your fried rice.

FWIW, I've made fried rice in all sorts of pans. And, as Phil implies, a wok really is needed for best results.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #9 of 16

I might know what's missing...

I had struggled with this too. And, in fact, it was also fried rice that I kept trying to perfect too! I feel your pain, truly.

Every recipe that I could find in books or on the internet was overly simplistic and didn't come close to the flavor that I found in restaurants. However, after much, MUCH research, I finally found the missing links in my cooking. It was the SEASONING! While so many of the generic recipes would merely say, "add some soy," the truth is, so much more goes into the final flavor.

So below, are a few tips that really helped mine along, and I hope you get the same good results, or at least get closer to what you want. From these seasoning tips, I got my rice AND my pan fried noodles to really taste like the restaurants' version, but it took a few attempts to get it just right. Yet, from the very first attempt at seasoning with the new ingredients, I could tell that I was well on my way to nailing the flavor I wanted.

First, take your bottle of Kikoman or Lee Kum Kee soy sauce and throw it in the garbage.

Second, go to a legit Asian grocery store and buy two different soy sauces...BLACK SOY and THIN SOY. You will not find these in an American grocery store. You may find something similar in American grocery stores, but I have never found them to be the correct flavor. While in the Asian grocery store, you may also find the soy listed as DARK SOY and LIGHT SOY. These should be fine, but be careful as some of the more Americanized soy makers use the terms "Light Soy" to signify less calories or less salt. Those are NOT what we are looking for. You want the black soy (which is really dark) and thin soy (which is almost an amber color).

Third, be sure to buy white pepper (sometimes called white powder at asian markets).

Fourth, be sure to buy some sesame oil.

Fifth, to round off the seasonings, you will need salt, pepper, AND sugar. Yes sugar! I know...I was surprised too!

As for making it, use a heavy gauge pan that holds its heat really well. Depending on how much rice I am making, I use either my cast iron pan, or my 12 quart cast iron crockpot/dutch oven. You really need to retain high heat throughout the process, and only my outdoor stove has powerful enough BTUs to really compensate for the thinness of a wok.

As for the rice, I have used rice that was refrigerated overnight, I have used rice that was straight from the fridge but brought to room temperature first, AND FRESH COOKED STEAMED RICE. They all work, and even in the restaurants, you will see the cooks scoop directly from the rice steamer. They all work, and they all make little difference in the final flavor. Your final TEXTURE may vary somewhat, but the taste will vary very little. But if you use fresh cooked rice, make sure it is cooked right...fluffy, distinct grains, etc....not sticky and clumpy.

From here, it really depends on what you like in your rice. Assuming you already have a good idea of what you want in your rice, the rest is pretty simple.

1) Fry up your beaten egg, remove from pan and set aside.
2) Since chicken fried rice is what you want, I suggest making the chicken a little in advance. Most home stoves cannot mimic the high temps produced by the flames of Chinese wok stoves. So to make sure everything gets cooked evenly and thoroughly, I say pan fry the chicken in small batches in advance and set it aside. For really moist chicken, velvet the chicken pieces (velvet=toss with some oil and corn starch before cooking.)
3) To hot oil, add a good amount of minced garlic (and some fresh minced ginger too if desired.) Stir briefly and do NOT let it start browning. You could also add chopped white onions at this point if desired. If after a few attempts, the garlic just browns too quickly for you, simply add it later….no problem.
4) Add your rice. Stir and break up the rice with your spoon or spatula.
5) Add your chicken and egg. Continue stirring for a few more moments.
6) Add your green onion. Continue stirring. And now its time to season your rice. You can stop stirring for a minute as you quickly add the following seasonings. Start stirring once you have added everything.
7) Around the perimeter of the pan add your black soy. This will give your rice a hearty soy flavor and a great color. With both soy sauces, do not pour directly over the rice. Doing so will require you to stir A LOT MORE than necessary…which is really hard with home pans. Rice will be flying all over the place. As best as possible, pour it around the edges of the pan.
8) Add your thin soy….this will give you a somewhat salty soy flavor, but helps balance the more potent black soy.
9) Add your sesame oil around the edges of the pan. Sesame oil is rather potent in most dishes. But here, it isn’t as overpowering. Depending on the amount of rice you are making, and with practice, you will determine how much flavor you want.
10) Add some sugar. Not too much, but it does help mellow the soy.
11) Add some white pepper.
12). Add some salt (and I like to add black pepper too)
13) Now, start stirring again to mix in the flavors AND to even out the color.

It really all depends on the flavor you are looking for. However, if you are like me, I really wanted to get the restaurant flavor. The black soy helped immensely. From there, it is mixing and matching until you get the flavor you want.

Here are some links to YouTube videos that sort of shows you how the restaurants do it. They helped me get an idea for the amounts of each item to use, but you'll figure out what proportions you like best. Good luck!!! YouTube - Crazy Hmong Fried Rice (Resturant style) and YouTube - Ham Fried Rice and YouTube - peter691107's Channel:smiles:
post #10 of 16
Kikkoman is equivalent to a thin or light soy sauce.
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
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Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
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post #11 of 16
True, but the flavor....ack!
post #12 of 16
Another issue is the heat available: restaurants have superhot burners that can caramelize stuff in the wok in a flash, while most home stovetops just don't have the Btu's. There's a special flavor that's created by the high high heat that I just can't get even with my higher-Btu burners. Vegetables overcook by the time they get that little brown edge, and noodles and rice? Fuggedaboutit. :lol: But fortunately I live near Chinatown. :p

And one more vote for COLD rice. You want the starch to harden so that the rice will no longer be at all sticky, and it takes cold to do that.
"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
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"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
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post #13 of 16
BenRias' instruction set is fantastic! Viva Ben!

Of the relatively inexpensive "soy sauces," I like Pearl River Gold Label Light Soy Sauce (Pearl River "Superior Soy Sauce" is also very good), and Pearl River Superior Dark Soy Sauce. Both of these taste pretty good, and either of the Pearl River lights tastes much better than Kikkoman -- at least in Chinese food. Cheaper too, if you're not buying online. (Fortunately, I live in "China Valley" where all things are available. :lol: ) FWIW, dark soy sauce is pretty much aged light soy sauce with a little molasses. If you can't get a hold of dark soy sauce, try adding about 1 tsp molasses per 2 or 3 tbs light soy sauce.

If Kikkoman is the best you can get -- it's plenty good enough; but if cooking Chinese cuisine is going to be a regular thing for you, the real deal is worth the extra trouble.

Another FWIW: True, long grain -- especially "left over" long grain -- is the standard. But there are also fried rice dishes made with "sticky" short grains. One in particular (which I adore and make regularly) is loaded with Chinese sausage. Considering how many Chinese cooks there are, you've got to believe there's at least a jazillion ways to fry rice.

Of course there are thousands of Asian variations besides the Chinese; but there are also some hispanic ones as well. I've had exceptionally good fried rice in Peru and Mexico.

BDL
post #14 of 16
Thanks for all the suggestions guys, I have to bookmark this thread for next time I attempt a fried rice!

In trying to replicate my favorite Thai fried rice dish, a pineapple fried rice, I've started seasoning the rice with fish sauce rather than soy sauce. I have no idea if that's "right" or not, but it does taste a bit closer to the rice I've had in that Thai place we like to go to. And anyway we both LOVE fish sauce so that's just another excuse to eat some of it. :peace:

I also use rice cold out of the fridge and separate the grains with my hands and a little bit of toasted sesame oil. When that sesame-oil-rice hits the very hot carbon steel skillet (I don't have a wok), it quickly fills the entire house with a distinctive "Asian cooking" smell.

I also soften the veggies first (onions, green and red bell peppers), then take them out to fry the rice, then add them back towards the end. Otherwise it feels to me like the skillet is always overcrowded.
post #15 of 16
Thread Starter 
wow lots of responses...haven't a had a chance to read through all of them yet and I'm pressed for time but I just wanted to add that one big limitation I have is that I have celiac. So finding ingredients for asian cooking that are gluten-free is a real challenge sometimes.
post #16 of 16
Then you need a super asian store compadre. I have one store that after perusing the labels for 30 minutes found a dark soy that has no wheat at least according to the label. While my wife is not celiac she is gluten intolerant and has no bloating/headache reaction to this soy sauce. When i get back to my kitchen I will look at the brand otherwise there is always Tamari sauce and it too comes in a variety of colors and depths iirc. asian supermarkets rock, one notch above mexican carneceria cause they usually have live fish at cheap prices.:peace:


edit: The soy sauce is called Black Soy Sauce, heh.. seriously it's by Kwong Hung Seng Sauce or Kwong Hung Seng ltd. Bangkok, Thailand

ingredients: soya bean, rice starch, sugar , salt, water, sodium benzoate

i'll be honest and say i am gonna google sodium benzoate but figure its some sorta salt preservative that will give me some sorta weird disease now that i brought it up:rolleyes:
"In those days spirits were brave, the stakes were high, men were real men, women were real women, and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri. "
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"In those days spirits were brave, the stakes were high, men were real men, women were real women, and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri. "
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