Every Grain of Rice by Fuchsia Dunlop is a paean to China’s rich tradition of frugal, healthy yet delicious home cooking. It is not a restaurant style cookbook but one that celebrates the day to day food that is cooked at home; how to make vegetables taste luscious with minimal effort or expense and how to make a little meat go a long way. The flavours in even the simplest of Fuchsia’s recipes will amaze and inspire you.
Heston Blumenthal hit the nail on the head when he said “Fuchsia has a rare ability to convey an encyclopaedic knowledge of Chinese cuisine in a compelling and totally delicious way”.
I have tried many recipes for fried rice over the years but none as delightful as Fuchsia’s Yangzhou Fried Rice. She apparently first wrote the recipe for a Chinese New Year’s feature in a magazine and a friend told her afterwards that it had been such a hit with her children that she has been making it almost weekly ever since. I think, with some amendments along the way, I probably make it about once a fortnight. Yes it really is that good.
The city of Yangzhou is in the eastern Jiangsu Province and is one of the ancient centres of Chinese gastronomy and the heartland of what is known as Huaiyang Cuisine. Oddly though, very few of its dishes are known in the West. Yangzhou fried rice, or Yeung Chow fried rice as you will most likely see it, is one of the few exceptions and graces the menu of almost every overseas Cantonese restaurant.
This recipe is a takeout menu staple, but this homemade version is definitely food fit for an emperor! It is a colourful, fragrant mixture of rice with diced meats, seafood and vegetables. Traditionally it contains a little sea cucumber and crab meat as well as fresh bamboo shoots. There are many versions though, even in Yangzhou itself, of this simple fried rice dish but the classic recipe includes a little flavour injection of chicken stock.
One important note about the rice, you want your rice to be chewy in your fried rice so make sure you use leftovers or prepare it the day ahead. Fluff your rice after cooking and keep in the fridge overnight or up to a couple of days. Chilling the rice like this will make it loose moisture and gain the required dry and chewy texture.
If you’re having curry or another dish with rice, simply double the quantities and you’ll be able to whip up this super speedy take-out classic for dinner the following day in less time than it would take to order and wait for a Chinese takeaway to be delivered. And, as with nearly everything homemade, it will be way better in the taste stakes too.
Do not worry if you don’t have every ingredient, sea cucumber is hardly easy to come by in the UK for example. The key is simply to have a selection of colours, tastes and textures amidst the rice. Generally I make this dish when I have a selection of leftovers in the fridge - roast chicken, shrimps, bacon lardons, roast peppers etc. I always add more eggs than Fuchsia recommends though; she uses one egg plus an egg yolk in her recipe (serves 4) and I like to add at least one egg per person.
Yangzhou fried rice can either be served as a meal in itself or as a course as part of a special Chinese meal, or even unconventionally as a side dish. Sriracha mandatory.