The world feels upside down. The COVID-19 pandemic is sobering and scary. At my house, we are fortunate that we don’t have anywhere we must be and have the luxury of staying put: limiting excursions from the house, substituting trips to the gym with brisk walks outdoors, and cancelling all social engagements. I’ve been travelling over the past few weeks, and though my health is robust, I don’t know what I might have been exposed to or what I might unknowingly be exposing others to. In addition to avoiding exposure, everyone needs to do what they can to keep this virus from spreading. From afar, I’m concerned about a loved one whose immune system is currently suppressed and about older relatives who aren’t taking the threat of COVID-19 seriously.
For me, in times of stress, cooking is always a calming activity. This week’s recipe for Cook the Book Fridays is a perfect recipe for improvising with what’s on hand. In Everyday Dorie, Dorie says that before she wrote it down for the book, Ginger Fried Rice was something she just made to clean out the fridge.
Fried rice is not something I’ve eaten or cooked much. When my family went to Chinese restaurants, we always had white rice, never fried rice. As an adult, I find that some of the people I got to Chinese restaurants had the opposite experience, and they always order the fried rice. And, though I think I’ve made it at home once or twice, it’s not something I usually think of.
In the spirit of Dorie’s fridge raiding, I tweaked her recipe for Ginger Fried Rice to mostly match what I had and was delighted by the result. I did purchase baby bok choy, but otherwise, I had the other ingredients around. I cooked the rice in the morning and put it in the fridge for the day so it was “leftover” by dinner time. I used a leftover soy dipping sauce for the ponzu and thawed some frozen corned beef from a past St. Patrick’s Day to add some protein. The dish was so simple to throw together.
How big/small is a baby bok choy? I wish cookbook authors would provide weights for vegetables because the size of most vegetables is highly variable. It would help judge how much and how big. I quartered my baby bok choys as instructed, but, in retrospect, given that bok choy was the only ingredient in the finished dish that required me to use a knife, I should have sliced them into strips to be more bite-sized.
I also wondered why only half of the vegetables were stir-fried and charred at the beginning. The second batch of vegetables added after the rice was still raw when it was hot. I ended up just cooking everything longer, but with so many ingredients in the pan, that second set of vegetables just steamed. I think it would have been better to stir-fry all the vegetables in batches, adding rice to the last batch and then adding the already cooked vegetables back in. Live and learn.
We really enjoyed this recipe. It was particularly good served with a salad tossed with more of the soy dipping sauce I had. My typical way of using up the fridge and freezer odds and ends is a savory tart, but I will try to remember fried rice as a delicious (and simpler) alternative.
Take good care of yourself and your family. Even if you’re healthy, if you are able, staying at home and social distancing are sensible things to do for the next couple weeks. For the common good, we all need to limit the spread of this virus.
Two passionate cooks live at my house. Both my husband Howard and I love to experiment in the kitchen. We have completely different approaches though. I am the Luddite. Aside from combining ingredients in the food processor, blender, or stand mixer, it’s a mostly manual process.
On the other hand, for Howard, it’s all about the technology. He’s been into sous-vide cooking for years, first assembling his own water immersion unit, then recently buying a more professionally built one. He has a hefty vacuum sealer and the Modernist Cuisine library.
The most recent addition to his arsenal is a pressure-cooker. Pressure cookers aren’t actually new-fangled, or even electric, in this case, so I suppose it’s debatable whether it’s a truly high-tech device. All I can say is that the idea of pressure cooking has always terrified me. I always imagine a resulting explosion and food all over the kitchen ceiling. I’ve been assured by kitchen shop salespeople and more fearless cooks than I that current pressure cooker designs make disaster unlikely, but I’ve had my doubts.
Howard did extensive research, and we visited multiple kitchenware stores. The winner was a Fagor Duo (also a top pick by Cooks’ Illustrated).
So, what to make as the debut pressure cooked recipe? Howard’s research indicated risotto would be an excellent choice. We have always enjoyed risotto, at home more than in restaurants. I make it somewhat regularly, though not often. There are infinite variations. It’s the perfect vehicle for leftovers. But all that stirring? It’s time-consuming.
Howard told me that once all the chopping was done, risotto in the pressure cooker would take only 7 minutes, unattended. Humph. That seems work a try, as long as he was in charge of the pressure.
We started with a basic risotto with onion, garlic, carrots and fennel. To turn it into a meal, we added assorted leftovers at the end: shredded turkey confit, mashed rutabaga, and braised kale.
It worked. Once the pressure was reached, Howard turned the heat down just a little to stabilize things. Seven minutes later, the rice was perfectly moist and cooked through. Amazing!
I like knowing that when we’re short on time, we can make such an elegant and easy dinner from pantry items and added inspiration from the leftover stash in the refrigerator. Who would think?
¼ cup olive oil
1 onion, diced
½ bulb fennel, cored and diced
1 medium carrot, peeled and diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1½ cup Arborio rice
2½ cups chicken stock
2/3 cup dry sherry
Chopped fresh rosemary and thyme leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
2-4 cups of additional ingredients, i.e. shredded cooked meat, cooked vegetables, vegetable puree
In the pressure cooker base, heat the oil over medium heat. Add onion, fennel, carrot, and garlic. Cook until tender and translucent, about 3 minutes. Stir in the rice so that it coats with oil and starts to turn translucent, about 2 minutes. Add chicken stock and sherry and stir. Pressure-cook on high for 7 minutes. Start timing when full pressure is reached. Depressurize the cooker. Taste for doneness. If it isn’t quite done, simmer for a few more minutes, uncovered, no pressure. Stir in fresh herbs and season to taste. Fold in any additional ingredients and serve.