Though it is common knowledge throughout Asia, many American cooks may not know that the key to perfect fried rice is using previously cooked and chilled rice. Freshly cooked rice can result in a soggy, gluey dish, but chilling it changes its starches, yielding light, separate grains.
That’s why we often cook extra rice and refrigerate or even freeze the remainder so we have the base ready for a quick but boldly flavored weeknight meal.
It helps that fried rice is a blank slate that takes to endless variations, sopping up a wide array of flavors that can transform a typical takeout side into an exciting meal. In this version from our book “Cook What You Have,” which draws on pantry staples to assemble easy, weeknight meals, the rice comes studded with plump, briny shrimp.
Bits of pineapple provide bursts of sweetness and jalapeño chili lends heat, a nice contrast to the briny shrimp. A couple teaspoons of curry powder add a fragrant dimension to the rice without muscling out the other flavors.
You will need 4 cups of cooked and chilled long-grain white rice for this recipe. If you don’t have enough leftovers, combine 2 cups water and 1½ cups jasmine rice (or regular long-grain white rice), rinsed and drained. Bring to a simmer over medium-high, then reduce to low, cover and cook for 15 to 18 minutes. Let stand, covered, for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wide, shallow bowl. Cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate until fully chilled.
Start to finish: 35 minutes
3 tablespoons grapeseed or other neutral oil, divided
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced, white and green parts reserved separately
1 jalapeño chili, stemmed and sliced into thin rounds, plus more to serve
2 teaspoons curry powder
8 ounces medium (41/50 per pound) shrimp, peeled, deveined (tails removed), halved crosswise and patted dry
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1 cup drained juice-packed canned pineapple tidbits OR chunks OR chopped slices OR thawed frozen pineapple chunks OR chopped fresh pineapple
2 tablespoons fish sauce OR soy sauce
4 cups cooked and chilled long-grain white rice, preferably jasmine rice
⅓ cup roasted salted cashews, roughly chopped OR roasted salted peanuts
In a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high, heat 2 tablespoons oil until shimmering. Add the scallion whites and jalapeño; cook, stirring often, until starting to brown, about 2 minutes. Stir in the curry powder, then stir in the shrimp and ¼ teaspoon salt; distribute the shrimp in a single layer. Cook without stirring until beginning to brown, about 1 minute. Stir, then cook without stirring until the shrimp are opaque throughout, another 30 seconds. Transfer the shrimp to a medium bowl; set aside.
In the same skillet over medium-high, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil until shimmering. Add the pineapple, fish sauce, rice and ¼ teaspoon salt, breaking up any clumps of rice. Cook, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan to incorporate any browned bits, until the pineapple and rice are heated through, about 2 minutes. Stir in the shrimp and accumulated juices.
Off heat, stir in the cashews and scallion greens. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with additional jalapeño.
Optional garnish: Lime wedges OR chopped fresh cilantro OR both
EDITOR’S NOTE: For more weeknight-friendly recipes, go to Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street at 177milkstreet.com/ap.