Cooking for two

COOKING FOR TWO: The tragic tale of shrimp fried rice dinner disaster

Shrimp Fried Rice (Dreamstime/TNS)
Shrimp Fried Rice (Dreamstime/TNS)

The calamity of my Wednesday-night dinner began with a simple message from my wife: She was on her way to an appointment and was defrosting a package of shrimp.

Great, I thought. I'll make shrimp fried rice. Everybody loves fried rice. It will undoubtedly be fast and easy to make. I even found a terrific-looking recipe called Easy Fried Rice.

What could go wrong?

I decided to double the recipe so I could get two meals out of it, and besides, I had a full pound of shrimp. On my way home I picked up onions, ginger, oyster sauce, scallions and a bag of jasmine rice.

At home, I measured the rice and rinsed it several times. I put it in a pot with a large pinch of salt and the right amount of water -- letting it soak for a half-hour makes the rice fluffier -- and then went to a different store to buy the frozen peas I forgot to get the first time.

When I got back, I put the rice on the stove. While it was cooking I chopped the aromatics.

The recipe I used came from J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, the nerd-master of cooking. He determined that the best way to make rice for fried rice, if you're not using leftovers, is to spread fresh-cooked rice on a tray and put it in front of a fan for an hour to dry out.

So that's what I did. And the top did, in fact, get dry. But when I flipped it over the rice was very gummy and sticky. It stuck to my fingers. It stuck to my clothes. It stuck to my hair. And gummy, sticky rice is exactly what you do not want for fried rice.

Basmati rice is not traditionally used for fried rice. However, it cooks into individual grains that are not gummy. And I had a new, unopened bag. I reached into the cabinet to pull it out and accidentally knocked over a carton of cocoa, spilling it onto the floor.

The basmati rice came in a canvas bag with one of those sewn strings on top for easy opening. This particular bag had two such strings. I pushed them and I pulled them and I prodded them and I snipped at them with scissors for a full 10 minutes, and never made a dent on even the first string. So I took the scissors and cut off the whole top of the bag.

Inside the canvas bag was a plastic bag. I pulled that out and poured rice into the measuring cup. More rice cascaded onto the floor, because the plastic bag had a hole in it that I'm pretty sure I didn't cause.

So if you're keeping track, that's cocoa on one part of the floor, rice on another and pieces of chopped carrot that I didn't tell you about on a third.

I cooked the rice without soaking it. And I didn't put it under a fan, either. Lopez-Alt also suggests spreading freshly cooked rice out on a baking sheet and letting it come to room temperature, which takes about five minutes.

That method worked fine.

The secret to frying rice is to avoid frying too much at one time. Too much rice in your wok will lower the temperature and you will end up steaming the rice instead of frying it. Lopez-Alt recommends cooking it in two batches, which I did.

I cooked the aromatics until they were aromatic, returned the rice to the wok and tossed in the soy sauce, sesame oil and oyster sauce. Then I added the shrimp.

I should have cooked them in batches. I didn't. It's not a major problem, though. Shrimp are small and cook easily. It just took longer for them to curl up and turn pink.

The wok at this point was so full that it was difficult to make a hole for the eggs. I attempted to scramble them, but other ingredients kept falling in. But the eggs got cooked, eventually.

Then I stirred everything together and served.

My quick-and-easy meal took 2 ½ hours, but it was worth it. Dinner was delicious, and it didn't need a thing.

Except the peas. I forgot to add the peas.

'Easy' Shrimp Fried Rice

3 cups cooked rice, from 1 cup uncooked (see note)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided use

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 carrot, peeled and diced

1 ¼ inch piece ginger, peeled and minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 green onions, thinly sliced

1 teaspoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

1 teaspoon oyster sauce

Salt and ground black pepper

1 egg

½ pound raw shrimp, peeled and deveined

4 ounces frozen peas

If using day-old rice, break up the rice into individual grains before proceeding.

Heat 1 ½ teaspoons oil in a wok over high heat until smoking. Add half the rice and cook, stirring and tossing, until the rice is pale brown and toasted, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl. Repeat with another 1 ½ teaspoons oil and remaining rice.

Return all the rice to the wok and press it up the sides, leaving a space in the middle. Add 1 ½ teaspoons oil and then the onion, carrot, ginger, garlic and green onion, and cook, stirring gently, until lightly softened and fragrant, about 1 minute. Toss with rice to combine. Add soy sauce, sesame oil and oyster sauce; toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Push rice up the side of the wok and add remaining 1 ½ teaspoons oil. Add the egg and season with a little salt. Scramble the egg, breaking it into small bits. Toss the egg and the rice together.

Add the shrimp and cook, stirring, until pink and curled. Stir in the peas, and serve.

Makes 2 to 3 servings.

Note: For best results, use leftover rice. If using freshly-cooked rice, spread on a tray and allowed to cool for about 5 minutes.

Adapted from Serious Eats

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