What can leftovers become? How can we turn them into an unrecognizably different but also lovely meal? That’s been my challenge lately, and it has inspired a few experiments.
Fried rice is easy, but I never thought of it as a leftover. But it is as a leftover that fried rice reaches its full potential. Yes, I have had “fried rice” in restaurants many times, but most restaurants don’t actually get it brown and crispy — they don’t fry the rice long enough or hot enough. Or it steams up too much by the time it gets to you. Or they use long-grain rice or brown rice, which lack the starch to fry up properly. Or they use freshly-cooked rice, and it has too much moisture in it.
The kind of fried rice I’ve been making lately is totally different. I found it in a back issue of Simple Cooking. It must be fried by itself in a neutral oil, and it comes off of the pan (or wok) with the grains stuck together in a beautiful golden crispy sheet. You can almost fry it as a cake and flip the whole thing at once. The goal is to get a uniform brownness throughout the dish without burning the individual grains of rice, so you’ll need to adjust the heat to find that balance. Fried rice is best made with day-old sushi rice, and it barely needs any accompaniments, though you could add aromatics and soy sauce. And a fried egg on the side would be lovely.
While we are frying things, why not fry up some potato salad? The french, non-mayo kind of potato salad, I mean: Take 1.5 lbs of mealy potatoes, slice them into big cubes and boil them up in some well-salted water, drain them, and dump them into a sheet pan, in a single layer. Meanwhile, mix up a basic dijon vinaigrette. Pour an appropriate amount of the vinaigrette over the potatoes evenly while they’re still warm, and let them soak it up for a few minutes. Add salt and pepper and minced parsley to taste. Chill in the fridge and have some with dinner if you’d like.
Next morning, fry what’s left in olive oil over medium heat. It will take a while to dry the potatoes out, but give them time and they will brown up beautifully and shrink a bit. Fry up an egg or two to go on the side.
Another obvious leftover trick is the combo meal. The other day I mixed some lovely leftover beans into leftover African peanut chicken soup, with great success. This technique has its pitfalls, because sometimes the flavors just don’t merge well. But that is the nature of experimentation.
What are your leftover secrets?