How fried rice drove me insane (Part 1)

May 29th, 2010, 10:32 pm PST by Kat

For the last ~5+ years I have been attempting to make fried rice. Not just any fried rice though, my Ama’s fried rice. I have wonderful memories of visiting Vancouver in the summer and for Christmas and having my Ama’s fried rice for dinner, usually with an accompanying soup of some sort. The combination of my Ama’s fried rice and black (seaweed) soup would be one of my top picks for a “last meal”. My Ama is in a wheelchair now and doesn’t cook anymore. So, if I ever want to have this dish again, I figured I should learn how to make it. If you look at the fried rice, it looks pretty plain: slightly yellow rice, often with (but not always) thin slices of Chinese sausage. “How hard could it be?” I thought. 5 years later I am no closer to the correct recipe than I was when I started, and I now have the urge to kill my entire family.

To really understand my pain, we have to go back to the beginning of my epic rice journey. I started out making fried rice the way my mom makes it with oil, rice. egg, garlic powder and mixed frozen vegetables, and sometimes shrimp. My mom didn’t use the Chinese sausage because I don’t actually like it. When I took out the vegetables, it still didn’t taste the same as Ama’s rice (when there wasn’t any sausage in it). I figured I’d just ask my Ama, and she’d tell me how she made the rice, and all would be yummy. I didn’t asking her in the beginning because in the past she always said that she didn’t measure anything – she just cooked, so she couldn’t tell me how much of anything she put in. Fine. Whatever, just tell me WHAT is in it, and I can play around with it. At this point every family member pipes in with totally random things that my Ama may or may not have ever used in her fried rice at one point or another: egg, Chinese sausage, shrimp, pork, adobo sauce, soy sauce, salt, etc. etc. the list goes on. I tried to clarify that I just wanted the ingredients for her simple fried rice: the yellow rice with or without sausage – that’s it. It was like yelling into the wind. “You need shrimp!” “She used light soy sauce.” “She never used soy sauce, she only used salt.”

So, I went away and tried again on my own with no more knowledge that I had before. But whatever, I persevered. I learned to ask specific questions:

Me: Ama, did you use MSG, salt or soy sauce?
Ama: Yes.
Me: All three together?
Ama: No.
Me: *deep breath* Which one?
Ama: I used to use MSG, but that was a long time ago.
Me: So recently did you use salt or soy sauce or both?
Ama: Yes.
Me: You used both together?
Ama: Yes.
Me: [thinking we’re making progress] Okay, but how is it that your rice is really pale yellow? If I used soy sauce, my rice turns brown-ish.
Ama: I used light soy sauce.
Me: So did I. How much did you use?
Ama: *smiles*

I don’t think she used soy sauce. There’s no freaking way. Even the slightest dash of light soy sauce turns the rice a light brown. Damn you old woman!

Me: Okay, how about the egg.
Aunt X: She scrambles eggs and then cuts them up into small pieces and adds those to the rice.
Aunt Y: She adds raw egg to the rice and it cooks as the rice was frying.
Aunt X: You should add pork or shrimp. Do you have shrimp?
Aunt Z: Or adobo sauce! It tastes good with adobo sauce!
Me: No! I’m asking about eggs!! Ama, did you cook the egg with the rice or add cooked egg to the rice?
Ama: Yes.
Me: You’ve done both at different times or together?
Ama: I used to put it in raw, but then I started cooking it first and adding cooked egg to the rice.
Aunt X: Yes, adobo sauce is good.
Me: *eye twitches*

Now imagine 1-2 conversations like this every year, and you can begin to feel my pain. Honestly, I’m not sure how we’ve talked about this dish so many times and yet I still can’t seem to make it. It should be so simple: yellowish (from the egg) rice with or without small pieces of egg (yes, I remember both versions), without or without Chinese sausage! What the hell?!

Reality started to sink in a couple of months ago. My cousin Pam was over for dinner, and I was trying to make Ama’s f*$&ing fried rice. We called Ama’s house again, and had a conversation fairly similar to the ones above. After the fried rice was cooked, we called back and told them exactly what we put in.

Ama: You need to put in sugar.
Me and Pam: WHAT?! Sugar?!

My Ama puts a little bit of sugar in a lot of stuff, so I wasn’t that surprised. What was aggravating was the fact that nobody in the last 5 years ever bothered to mention the sugar.

Me and Pam: How much? We started with 3 cups of uncooked rice.
Ama: A little bit.
[For reference, my Ama used to cook for ~10 people every day and still had enough food for a leftover meal for all 10 people! We needed to know how much to scale this down.]
Me and Pam: A tablespoon?
Ama: No! Too much! Just a little.

We put in a pinch. Didn’t taste any different. We put in a tablespoon. It tasted a little more like what we remembered. YAY!

However, I was still doing something wrong because the addition of sugar, while making my fried rice better, didn’t make it my Ama’s fried rice.

The events of Saturday, May 29th, 2010, as they pertain to my epic fried rice journey will be Part 2 of “How fried rice drove me insane.”

4 Responses to “How fried rice drove me insane (Part 1)”

  1. Eugene Says:

    If you want to get it that slightly yellow colour, you need to use egg yolk. Separate out the yolk from the white, beat it and mix it with your cooked rice before you toss it with your other ingredients. A bit of tumeric helps too if you want a deeper yellow.

    Soy sauce can be used without making the rice brown. It’s used to season the other ingredients first before you toss in the rice.

    Not to sound like one of your aunts or anything. 🙂

  2. Dan Says:

    Do note the quality of using Sugar.

    Try small amounts of sugar in other savory and salty dishes. Rather than using so much to add a noticeable sweetness, just add a slight amount.

    I’ve done this to roasts, soups, stews, et cetera. Somehow, just a dab of sugar brings many of the flavors to life.

  3. Kat Says:

    Eugene, you do sound like one of my aunts and therefore, I have added your name to the list of people to whack when after 20 years I still can’t make this $#&@^ rice. Please read Part 2 of the continuing saga.

    Dan, thank you for commenting on the use of sugar in cooking in general. I totally agree. I love you for not suggesting anything else to add into my rice. Seriously, you are one of my favorite people right now. You will be spared. If I ever actually make MY AMA’S FRIED RICE, I will send you some so that you may also enjoy it.

    The people on the list – you get nothing!!! *eye twitch*

  4. Yoko Says:

    This is EXACTLY why I stopped learning how to cook. Organic/Analytical/Inorganic chem labs ruined me for life…everything was explicitly written out and things had to measured to the fourth decimal place…none of this ‘add to taste’ or ‘dash of that’ nonsense! (Insert ‘angry-fist wave’ here.)