According to my calendar — the one I believe I just looked at for the first time since last September, when someone made my life go all date- and timeless — the Lunar New Year and Valentine’s Day fall on the same day this year. In New York at least, the Lunar New Year is an excuse to eat egregious amounts of fried rice, spare ribs and to make your way through Chinatown streets over piles of strewn red paper* from firecrackers. Valentine’s Day, however, is dominated by French food because what could be more romantic than copious amounts of wine, butter, cheese, steak and chocolate?
Or, you could stay in and have a little of both. That’s what this ginger fried recipe is to me, a classic Chinese dish, clearly reinterpreted by a French hand. For one, it has leeks, which although used in both Chinese and French cooking, I can’t say I’ve ever seen them caramelized for fried rice. Second, egg isn’t scrambled into the dish, but pulled out, fried whole and laid on top of the rice. There are other deconstructions too: the ginger and garlic are fried until crisp and scattered over the dish, like bacon bits from the Far East, rather than tucked within. And rather than cooking the rice in gobs of soy sauce and sesame oil, both are conservatively drizzled on top at the end like droplets of a pan sauce.
The result is so staggeringly delicious, you might forego serving it with anything else. Which would be authentic in its own way, as I understand fried rice to be more of a “main” and less of a side dish in China. But I won’t tell anyone if you pile some of these spare ribs on your plate too. And throw back a beer. And totally skip the fortune cookies.
* Wait, do they still do this? I have a distinct memory of walking down red-papered streets in Chinatown on the Lunar New Year after going out to dinner with my parents and their friends, but you know, it has been a while and my brain is a-fog.
Ginger Fried Rice
A Mark Bittman adaptation of a Jean-Georges Vongerichten recipe, with a bunch of notes added
1/2 cup peanut oil
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons minced ginger
2 cups thinly sliced leeks, white and light green parts only, rinsed and dried
4 cups day-old cooked rice; Vongerichten recommends jasmine (I used brown jasmine) but this is the perfect way to use up any leftover rice you have, especially from Chinese delivery
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons sesame oil (for some heat but the same awesome flavor, use hot sesame oil)
4 teaspoons soy sauce
In a large skillet, heat 1/4 cup oil over medium heat. Add garlic and ginger and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp and brown. With a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels and salt lightly.
[It hadn’t been clear to me whether I was supposed to remove the old oil and bits of garlic I didn’t get out and wipe out the pan before proceeding. I didn’t. Everything worked out fine.] Reduce heat under skillet to medium-low and add 2 tablespoons oil and leeks. Cook about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until very tender but not browned. Season lightly with salt.
Raise heat to medium and add rice. Cook, stirring well, until heated through. [I cooked this slightly longer because I wanted my rice to pick up a little more color and crunch.] Season to taste with salt.
In a nonstick skillet (it just makes it easier) fry eggs in remaining oil, sunny-side-up, until edges are set but yolk is still runny.
Divide rice among four dishes. Top each with an egg and drizzle with 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil and 1 teaspoon soy sauce. Sprinkle crisped garlic and ginger over everything and serve.