Fried rice is a diverse dish that tastes great as a main course or as an accompaniment to meat or seafood entrées. At Chinese banquets, fried rice is often served as the penultimate dish, or just before the dessert. In America, the dish is a wonderful, flavorful way to use leftover white rice. Along with Asian countries and America, fried rice is popular in the United Kingdom, Western Africa and most other nations around the world.
The origins of the dish are unclear, but it is thought that the dish was created during the Sui dynasty that ran from 589-618 A.D. Yangchow or Yangzhou Fried Rice was named after the city in the eastern Jiangsu province of China that is believed to be the place where fried rice was invented. It contains roast pork, scallions, prawns and peas, and today this dish is the quintessential Chinese rice that all others are compared to. Similar to Yangchow Fried Rice, Special Fried Rice sometimes appears on American-Chinese menus.
The key to great tasting the dish is, of course, the rice. Long-grain rice makes the best dish as it has a low concentration of amylose, which makes it less sticky than medium or short-grain rice. Brown long-grain rice can be used, but will produce a nuttier flavor and a denser, chewier consistency than white. Aromatic rices like Basmati and Jasmine also work well in these dishes.
No matter which type is used, the rice should be pre-cooked and allowed to sit in the refrigerator for two to three days for the best results. This allows it to thoroughly dry out, which will prevent the dish from becoming soggy and sticky. If time does not permit a two to three day waiting period, the rice can be cooked, spread out on a baking sheet, and frozen for 25-30 minutes to simulate older rice. The texture will be slightly different, but it will be drier and produce a better end result than using freshly cooked rice.
Fried rice can contain beef, pork, chicken or shrimp, or can be served without meat. Egg is a common ingredient that can be scrambled into the dish or cooked separately and used as garnish. Garlic, scallions and onions are often fried in the wok to season it before adding other vegetables such as carrots, peapods, bean sprouts or bamboo shoots. Some people believe that the ingredients should all be cooked individually to maintain distinct flavors and added together only at the end of the cooking time. Others stir-fry the ingredients together to blend the aromas and flavors. Either way, the rice can be served unseasoned or enhanced with a small amount of soy sauce or oyster sauce, which should be added slowly in small quantities so it does not overpower the scrumptious taste of the dish.