After gorging myself on the superb Chinese Sausage Fried Rice from Lucky Peach 101 Easy Asian Recipes, I rolled up my sleeves the very next evening, put on my apron and pulled out the wok. Time for round two of the smackdown!
First I made rice – Danny Bowien rejects using day-old rice as an old wive's tale. "How could old rice be better?!" he writes. "Come on. Use fresh warm rice, not a hard puck of cold rice." His recipe calls for 3 cups of rice, "from about 1 1/2 cups raw." Well, 1 1/2 cups raw yielded more than 5 cups; 1 1/4 cups yields more than 3 cups. Just to let you know in case you don't want to waste rice.
Then the prep: I sliced Chinese sausage, iceberg lettuce and scallions (no need to separate the whites and greens on this one), scrambled eggs and chopped cilantro. No need to mince garlic or ginger for this one, which is a plus.
The salt cod had already been fried (though I neglected to give it a whirr in the food processor – no matter, the pieces were pretty small) and the mackerel confit drained.
Then I made what Bowien calls a rice stack: The rice goes in a bowl with the fried salt cod on top of it and the sausage on top of that. "You want the ingredients to hit the wok in reverse order," he explains, "sausage, fish, rice – and the stack facilitates this."
Then, in a bowl big enough to toss the whole dish after the rice cooks, I combined the lettuce, cilantro and scallions.
Then it was showtime! Blazing heat went under the wok and a few "heathy glugs" of oil went in. When it was nearly smoking, I pulled the wok off heat and scrambled the egg together with the mackerel very quickly, just 10 seconds or so and dumping them on a plate. Back on the heat went the wok with a little more oil and in went the rice stack. Bowien's description of how to fry it is clear and easy to follow: "Gently break up the stack and use the spatula to press the rice against the bottom and sides of the hot wok. Wait 10 seconds, then flip and stir the rice. Flatten and press again, and wait 10 seconds. Flip and flatten a last time."
At that point you season the rice with salt, sugar and fish sauce, give it a stir, add the eggs and mackerel, stir again. Then scoop everything out of the wok and into the big bowl, where it gets tossed with the lettuce, cilantro and scallions.
For the second evening in a row, I was bowled over: This was stupendous.
Honestly, I can hardly believe that a civilian (me!) can make fried rice this good. The previous night, my friend Carol, a self-described rice fanantic who happens to be Italian, had come over to share the Lucky Peach rice with me. But now, with Thierry away in France, I found myself alone with an entire batch of Mission Chinese Food Salt Cod Fried Rice. I'm embarrassed to tell you how much of it I ate all by myself.
OK, Let's just say most of it. Here is the recipe:
So, how do the two fried rices stack up?
Judging the smackdown
Deliciousness: The Mission Chinese Food Salt Cod Fried Rice was more luscious than the Lucky Peach Chinese Sausage Fried Rice, with bits of crunchy fish adding textural interest and serious umami; the Lucky Peach rice was a little drier, more like the classic good-bad Chinese food pork fried rice (PFR) I so fondly remember from childhood (down to the frozen peas), but with Chinese sausage in place of barbecue pork. Both had plenty of fluffy, moist egg. Of course the Mission Chinese entry involved Chinese sausage too, and even more of it; that one was more chock-a-block full of stuff – a bit more egg, plus the two kinds of fish. Both were truly delicious; both were perfectly seasoned. Minced garlic and ginger brought tasty dimension to the Lucky Peach rice, but I didn't miss them in the Mission Chinese Food rice, with all that fish-umami happening, plus the cilantro. The Mission Chinese Food fried rice was maybe just a little more strikingly fabulous. But I would happily eat a giant bowl of either one any day of the week.
Mission Chinese Food Salt Cod Fried Rice Deliciousness: 10/10
Lucky Peach Chinese Sausage Fried Rice Deliciousness: 9/10
Ease of preparation: No question, the Lucky Peach recipe was much simpler to prepare. Other than cooking the rice in advance, everything was prepped and cooked in about 20 minutes. The Mission Chinese Food recipe was extremely involved, thanks to soaking/water changing then frying and food processing the salt cod, and making the mackerel confit. While I loved eating the mackerel confit on its own (and will definitely make it again), it got a little lost in the rice. Did it add much to the whole? Hard to say. Neither recipe needed significant tweaking (the only issue in either was how much raw rice yields 3 cups cooked in the Mission Chinese recipe, which is really minor); both were clearly explained and very easy to follow – even with the hot wok going.
Mission Chinese Food Salt Cod Fried Rice Ease of Preparation: 6/10
Lucky Peach Chinese Sausage Fried Rice Ease of Preparation: 9/10
All-around awesomeness and wow factor: Both rate very highly. A steaming bowl of hot fried rice with fluffy egg and chewy, smoky Chinese sausage, excellent texture and flavor that you made yourself in your very own wok is terribly exciting and fabulous.
When Wylie came home for spring break and Thierry returned from France a couple days later, it was the first thing I made them. More on that later. After Wylie goes back to school, I'm thinking a batch of the Lucky Peach rice would be an absolutely dreamy thing to eat when Thierry and I are hunkered down in front of the TV to binge watch House of Cards or election returns. Will I ever make the Mission Chinese Food recipe again? Perhaps. But only if guests who really geek out over Chinese cooking come over. (Sherry and Fred: You are wanted in Dallas!) Otherwise, the Lucky Peach's simplicity-in-preparation quotient makes up for its slight fabulousness deficit in relation to the Mission Chinese Food recipe, creating – ladies and gentlemen – an all-around awesomeness dead heat.
Mission Chinese Food Salt Cod Fried Rice Awesomeness and Wow Factor: 9/10
Lucky Peach Chinese Sausage Fried Rice Awesomeness and Wow Factor: 9/10
Well, after all that, you might think I've had enough fried rice for the time being. You'd be wrong. Now I am consumed with creating the perfect fried rice recipe: one the marries maximum awesomeness and deliciousness with the minimum of effort and time. Interested? Be sure to check back soon!