Monday, February 1, 2010

Culinary Adventures: Fried & Fantastic

I know I'm not the only one who succumbs periodically to the deep and heart-wrenching desire for fried food, but even I am distressed by the fact that deep-frying in the home is not only difficult (special-equipment required), expensive (special equipment required - oh, and you go through tons of cooking oil), and dangerous (who wants to burn down the apartment building?  Not me.), which essentially renders fried food out of reach for those of us which cravings.

Except not quite.  All that above is referring to deep frying, which we know so well from McDonalds, KFC, and the host of other restaurants, chain and independent, that have arisen across the country to satisfy our deep and (if we have any dietary sense in our heads) guilty cravings.  But there are different ways to fry - one of which I'd like to share.  But first, the problem with deep frying:

The dilemma with deep frying is that in order to deep-fry, say, a piece of chicken, you need something big enough to submerge the chicken in hot oil in.  This is easiest with special equipment (here) which will set you back $24 at the very least, and more like $60-$70 is you want a deep fryer with features, like a timer.  If you don't feel inclined to splurge on a gadget you can, at least theoretically, deep-fry in a tall pot, but hot oil, whether in a deep fryer or a saucepan, is dangerous stuff.  And what do you do with all that hot, greasy oil once you've deep-fried that twinkie in it?  Make weapons of mass destruction out of it, that's what.

Or you could try things my way, which involves a happy coincidence and sudden, unexpected fulfillment.  Sounds much nicer than waiting for a deep fryer to show up at your door or trying to dispose of a gallon of cooking oil (hint: not worth it), doesn't it?  Here's how.

Last night, I was on the phone with my parents over the dinner hour and mentioned that I hadn't cooked anything, had no idea what I was going to do for dinner, and had just purchased a bag of rice (mundane, I know, but sometimes my mother and I talk about genealogy, so don't complain about that bag of rice).  My mother suggested I make rice, but throw a chicken bouillon cube in with it and have chicken-flavored rice.  Since I happened to have an abundance of chicken bouillon cubes and rice (as all apartment cooks should), I thought "well, why not?"  Answer: it's still dull.  So I steamed some mixed vegetables (yes, frozen from a bag, because I don't feel like shelling my own peas) and mixed them in.  Still boring.  So I ate about half and then put the rest in the fridge, thinking I would suffer it through it the following night, and let this be a lesson to me for thinking that a bouillon cube would solve all my problems.

As I was walking home from the university tonight, however, I had a thought.  I remembered seeing, when thumbing through one of my cookbooks a few months ago, a recipe for fried rice.  "What," I had wondered at the time, "is fried rice?"  So I read the recipe, and it made such an impression on me that I couldn't remember a thing about it as I walked home except that it required rice and eggs.  So when I got back home, I looked it up again and thought "hey, this is easy."  And this time I was right.

Now, it being a cookbook with gourmet (or perhaps gourmand) tendencies, it called for three different spices, a clove of garlic, minced shallots, and soy sauce.  I was in no mood to mince shallots (I don't even have shallots) so I scalped the recipe for its basic parts and decided to make my own, slimmed down version.  So I took out a saucepan (not a frying pan because this involves oil, which will spatter all over the stove-top in a frying pan, as I have found out in the past) and poured about three or four tablespoons of olive oil into it - enough to cover the bottom in about a third of an inch of oil.  Then I added garlic powder and onion powder and turned the heat on high.  In about a minute the oil began to spatter, so I took the rice out of the fridge (with vegetables still in it, mind you) and added it bit by bit into the pot.  I did get a bit impatient halfway through because I was so hungry and dumped the second half into the oil, but stirred frequently to make up for it.  Then, in a separate  bowl, I beat two eggs and added them to the whole mess.  Stirring frequently, the rice fried, the eggs scrambled, and the whole thing turned a lovely golden-brown.  I served myself some, added a little salt and pepper and, standing in stockinged feet in my kitchen, devoured it.  It was delicious.

The reason this works is because the rice is actually being fried in that little 1/3-inch of oil, because unlike a piece of chicken, it doesn't take much oil to submerge a grain of rice.  It also works because scrambled egg is absolutely delicious.  And it's worth remembering that I made the rice the night before with a chicken bouillon cube, which also added to the taste, and fried everything in olive oil, not canola oil as the recipe suggested.  But as you can see, it was quite easy.  So why not try it, and experience a little fried rice euphoria for yourself?

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