Chahan for Two

chahan4.jpgTonight was a busy Sunday night, with errands to run and academic projects looming. So, I decided to use up some rice leftover from the Thai Green Vegetable Curry meal we had yesterday. I used a variation of the below recipe, which Justin and I developed while we were living in Japan. Chahan, or fried rice, is a staple in many Chinese restaurants in Japan much as it is here. Certain ingredients popularly used in Japan like small cubes of fish cakes give it a distinctly Japanese flavor, but you can use them or not. Tonight I made this recipe strictly vegetarian by using mushroom stalks as a substitute for the shrimp, and adding half of a can of water chestnuts and some leftover canned bamboo shoots. I also did not use MSG, as I have not recently found any certified gluten free source. Tonight I branched out by adding Schezuan Peppercorns, lightly cracked in a mortar and pestle with some shiro goma, black sesame seeds, as a garnish at the last minute. If you follow this recipe, keep in mind that proportions are estimates, and we usually make the fried rice in two batches for the best results, doubling the sauce and adding extra eggs if desired. Sadly, with this fried rice it seems the more seasoned oil you use and salt, the better it tastes, but you can modify it to suit your palate and dietary philosophy. Whenever I use my wok, I like to season the oil (preferrably peanut, but canola works in a pinch) by heating garlic cloves and the white part of a green onion in the oil, and then removing these aromatics before adding the actual dish ingredients. I think it adds a lot of flavor.

Sichuan PepperI was inspired to add Sichuan pepper by a recent episode of Gourmet magazine’s “Diary of a Foodie,” one of my favorite programs about food. I was intrigued by the fact that apparently importation of these peppercorns were banned in the US from 1968 until 2005, “because they were found to be capable of carrying citrus canker, a bacterial disease, which …could potentially harm the foliage and fruit of citrus crops in the U.S.” Happily, “In 2005, the USDA and FDA lifted the ban, provided the peppercorns are heated to around 70 degrees Celsius (160 degrees Fahrenheit) to kill the canker bacteria before importation.” (Source: Wikipedia at: I’ve only used this ingredient a few times for Sichuan dishes from a Wok and Stir Fry cookbook I own, but I actually found that adding it to fried rice was one of the tastiest applications yet. It added a slight kick and peppery interest without overpowering the dish. I think it may very well become a regular addition to my fried rice dishes!

The beautiful thing about fried rice is that it is a recipe you can truly adapt to your taste. It can be completely vegetarian, chock full of meat, made with healthy brown rice and minimal oil, or as decadent and artery clogging as you please. I hope you will take this simple recipe as a jumping off point to develop your own favorite Chahan recipe- and never feel that you have to make it the same way twice! Don’t forget- oolong tea is the best accompaniment to fried rice, but any chilled tea or even water is nice too.

Special Fried Rice
8 medium cooked shrimp, shelled (optional)
1/2 block japanese fish cake, diced in small squares (optional)
1/4-1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
1/2 or one whole carrot, peeled and diced into small squares
1/2 cup green peas
3 eggs
1 tsp salt
2 scallions, finely chopped (or 1/2 onion, finely chopped- if you use
onion, prepare with peas etc.)
1/8 cup vegetable oil (canola or peanut)
1 tsp. sesame oil (or more, to taste- use mild japanese kind)
1 tbsp San-J tamari (or other GF soy sauce you like)
1 tbsp. Japanese mirin OR sherry
1 lb cooked rice (preferably left over from night before and chilled)
MSG to taste IF you can find a gluten free source (leave out if you prefer, but it adds that authentic and addictive bad-for-you thrill you may be missing. Unfortunately MSG made in China probably contains wheat)
1) Prepare ingredients on plate so they are ready to go.
2) In a bowl, lightly beat the eggs with a pinch of salt and some
scallions or minced onions.
3) Heat about half the oil in a preheated wok, adding dash of sesame
oil to taste. Stir fry shrimp (optional), diced fish cake (optional), mushrooms, onions (if using), green peas, and carrots for one minute. Generously sprinkle MSG if you have found a GF source. Add soy sauce and mirin or sherry. Remove to your prep. plate.
4) Heat remaining oil in wok and lightly scramble eggs. Add rice and
stir to make sure each grain of rice is separated. Add remaining salt
and scallions (if not using onion), and the sauteed mixture of
shrimp, fish cake, mushrooms etc. Mix well, heat, add more
MSG and a dash of salt if you like. Serve warm.
This recipe has been one that my husband and I have been working on
for a while, and is lightly based on one we found in a Wok and Stir
Fry cookbook. It seems to get better every time we make it! You can
leave out any ingredients you like… Tonight I left out the shrimp
because we didn’t have any in our freezer, and it was still really
good. You can vary to approximate any of your favorites- for example,
add any kind of seafood or meat, add pineapple… whatever!

*NOTE ON FISH CAKE: read label very carefully to find GF, I found one
in a pink package made in Hawaii in my local Japanese grocery store-
it is wrapped in pink paper and when you open it, it’s a rectangle
with a white core and pink colored outer color, I found one happens
to be made from potato starch and tapioca starch but many have wheat-
this is only to approximate the Japanese restaurant’s take on Chinese
fried rice, but it’s a tasty addition, especially if like me you
don’t eat meat.


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2 Responses to “Chahan for Two”

  1. [...] You can find my earlier post about Szechuan Peppercorns here [...]

  2. [...] Most restaurants and many home chefs add wheat based soy sauce to fried rice, making it off limits both to those who are gluten free and soy free. When I make fried rice, in the past I’ve used a recipe that included seafood and wheat free soy sauce. But I really wanted to make a great vegetarian fried rice that didn’t have soy sauce so that my soy intolerant friends could enjoy it as well. But surely soy sauce gives fried rice most of its flavor, doesn’t it? How could I make up for the missing dark, salty notes of soy sauce? I decided to use a sauce with two kinds of alcohol, freshly squeezed ginger juice, and some vegetable broth made from my favorite vegetarian, gluten free bullion cube. I also used generous amounts of salt, sesame oil, and chili oil to up the decadence of the dish. And, to add additional flavor and a little gourmet oomph, I used some leftover szechuan peppercorn oil that I had used in a Szechuan Peppercorn Chinese Peas. Because I felt like the dish needed a savory, grilled component I grilled seasoned broccoli and petit pan squash to add depth of flavor replacing the smoky flavor that ham would usually provide. And the result? A resounding success that was perfectly vegetarian, allergy friendly, and still so delicious I could hardly stop eating it. If you have some poor, unloved rice in your fridge- why not transform it into pure Chinese fried goodness? It’s bound to please even the most fervent of meat eaters in your household- if you’re willing to share, that is. [...]

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