It's the event of the season, the match-up we've all been waiting for: enticing fried rice recipes from two hot new Asian cookbooks. On the left is the Chinese Sausage Fried Rice from Lucky Peach 101 Easy Asian Recipes by Peter Meehan and the editors of Lucky Peach. On the right is Salt Cod Fried Rice from The Mission Chinese Food Cookbook by Danny Bowien and Chris Ying.
The Mission Chinese Food fried rice has a cult following and takes more than 24 hours of advance preparation – after a dedicated hunt for ingredients. You'll be required to soak salt cod in several changes of water for 24 hours, make mackerel confit in advance and fry-up the salt cod till it's hard as jerky, then shred it in a food processor. before you start. Are you up to it?
Meehan's recipe is the underdog, with no restaurant pedigree – though Lucky Peach magazine certainly has a cult following. You can put the whole thing together in a half hour, though unlike its opponent, it prefers (though doesn't require) that you use day-old cooked rice.
Both include Chinese sausage, scrambled eggs and scallions, and neither relies on soy sauce, which makes things interesting.
We'll be judging the fried rice contenders in several areas:
–Taste: how delicious is it?
–Ease of preparation: Is it worth the time and effort?
–All-around awesomeness and wow factor
It's going to be a tough contest, and we have quite a bit of prep ahead of us, so let's get going!
Both require a trip to the Asian supermarket, though the Lucky Peach recipe offers substitutions if you can't come up with things like Chinese sausage (use bacon or pancetta), Shaoxing wine (dry sherry will do) and fish sauce (use soy sauce). For the purpose of this smackdown, I used the Chinese preferred ingredients. If you're thinking of making the Mission Chinese Food fried rice and you don't have access to salt cod, fresh or frozen mackerel fillets, Chinese sausage and fish sauce, just fuggedaboudit. Make the Lucky Peach recipe and call it a day.
Are you ready?
After gathering all the ingredients, I started two days in advance, cooking jasmine rice beforehand for the Lucky Peach recipe. For the Mission Chinese Food recipe, I submerged the salt cod in cold water.
A little background on the Mission Chinese Food recipe. "The spirit animal of this dish is the fried rice with salt fish and chicken at R&G Lounge in San Francisco," writes Danny Bowien, the Mission Chinese Food chef. (Wow – that was the site of one of my greatest food memories ever – a Chinese banquet ordered by Melanie Wong, one of the first friends I ever "met" online.) Bowien then riffs on the umami wonderfulness of salt cod: "I love the way it seasons and perfumes rice with a funky, fermented flavor. But I don't particularly love biting into a gnarly chunk of it. The aim of our Salt Cod Fried Rice was to capture that pleasant fishiness without the stank." His solution for his restaurant was to shred salt cod, then fry it. But customers complained there was no visible fish, "so we gilded the lily with chunks of rich mackerel confit."
OK, then – I went to work preparing the mackerel confit, which involved first filleting the mackerel I found in the Asian market. It seemed a little ridiculous to me, but it was really easy and actually quite wonderful.
All you do is cover mackerel in vegetable or peanut oil in a saucepan and put it in a 300-degree oven for 25 minutes. Let it cool in the oil, then flake the fish into small chunks and either use it right away or cover it with the oil in a jar and store it in the fridge up to a week. It has a wonderful soft texture and lovely, lightly salty (though no salt was added), delicately fishy flavor, like a cheffy version of canned tuna. The fillet I had yielded more than the 4 ounces the recipe called for, so I'd have to think of a use for the rest of it (an amped-up mackerel-salad sandwich, maybe?). Anyway, it made me feel like confiting every oily fish I can get my hands on.
OK, first up: The Lucky Peach Chinese Sausage Fried Rice.
As in all Chinese cooking, you definitely want to prep all your ingredients in advance, have them ready and all measured out – your mise en place. The book actually uses a master fried rice recipe, which is great, as it teaches you the technique.
To prep, I sliced Chinese sausage, measured out some frozen peas, whisked together a sauce (Shaoxing wine, fish sauce, sugar and sesame oil), beat two eggs, chopped garlic and ginger and sliced scallions. That was pretty much it – 20 minutes max.
The recipe calls for 3 cups of cooked long-grain rice, which you can get by cooking about 1 1/4 cups of raw rice. You put the rice in a bowl, break up the clumps with your fingers and make sure your mise is next to the stove.
First you get your wok very hot, cook the eggs very quickly in a little oil and get them out of the pan. Add more oil, then add garlic, ginger and scallion whites (we kept white and green parts separate), cook just a few seconds, add the peas and sausage, and cook just till heated through.
Now's the fun part. Dump the rice into the wok, toss it to mix, and use a spatula to spread the rice up against the sides and bottom of the wok, maximizing contact.
"Stir and fold once a minute" for 3 minutes, till the rice is hot and "a little charred in spots." Now pour on the sauce, toss it and continue the spreading, searing, tossing routine "until the rice is evenly colored and looks pleasantly dry." Now add the eggs back in, chopping them up and toss in the scallion greens.
Oh, man . . . heavenly! The egg is tender, and the dish is perfectly balanced, absolutely satisfying and fun. And it's big fun to make – I can't wait to do it again. Here's the recipe:
Next it'll be Mission Chinese Food's turn. Stay tuned for Fried Rice SMACKDOWN Round Two!