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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Fried Rice with Dried Shrimps and Chilies 虾米辣椒炒饭

I grew up knowing two different types of fried rice that mom always make at home. They are mom's family version of fried rice (aka my maternal grandma's fried rice) - one that comes fried with plenty of crushed garlic and beaten eggs on a very high heat and the other type will be dad's family version of fried rice - which is this featured here (hereby aka the Taiping fried rice at home, Taiping being dad's hometown). Family recipes being family recipes, these are not the usual fancy fried rice that you usually get outside, having these at home is more towards a family affair thingy really. Both being as simple as ever, this Taiping fried rice that dad could never get enough of is anything but complicated - cooked rice fried with heaps of dried shrimps, birds eye chilies, shallots, garlic and plenty of beaten eggs. Needing not much else, a dollop of light soy sauce or dark soy sauce is all needed to lightly enhance the naturally rich flavor this fried rice already has.

While I have always considered myself one spoiled brat that had never had to spend much time in the kitchen helping out as a kid, it kinda amazed me to be thinking back now how I actually had had a first hand experience at making both these fried rice at one point or another. It must be those times when when mom got unusually too occupied with something else she desperately needed a helping hand despite knowing well how incompetent I could be lol. Astonishingly appetizing despite its simplicity, it is the heat and spiciness coming from the birds eye chilies and the unique flavor, aroma and texture from the dried shrimps that make them the keys to defining the taste and characteristic of this fried rice.

Traditionally done using a pestle and mortar to crush and grind the spices, dad would always insist that they tasted way better rather than having them blended with a food processor instead, which I personally think was quite a just claim made. Contrary to the over efficient food processor, the slow pounding that happens in the mortar releases the natural oil more gently, subjecting itself to a very minimal loss (if any) of the natural taste these spices have. Plus, you never will be at risk of getting them overdone losing the essential texture when incorporated into the fried rice later. But but but, a set of pestle and mortar is still in my to-get list yet to be crossed off as of today. So a food processor it is for now. Oops. If you are settling for this too, just be sure that you go easy on blending them. One good way to go about this is to blend the dried shrimps separately from the rest. This way you will get the right finer texture for the shallots, garlic and the chilies while retaining a moderately rough texture for the dried shrimps.

a dish in which simplicity rules - no garnishing necessary, as simple as ever

Fried Rice with Dried Shrimps and Chilies 虾米辣椒炒饭
Serves 3-4
3 cups cooked brown jasmine rice (or any other types of rice)
3/4 cup dried shrimps, soaked to soften and rinsed a couple of times
5 birds eye chilies (adjust accordingly to personal spice tolerance)
6 shallots, peeled and halved
6 cloves garlic, peeled and hard ends trimmed
*6 eggs, beaten with a few dashes of white pepper powder and 1½ tsps light soy sauce
4½ tbsps cooking oil (or a little more especially for frying the dried shrimps)
light soy sauce and dark soy sauce to taste and preference

* Egg yolks to be adjusted according to personal preference. I retained half making this, discarding the rest.

1. In a food processor, bring the shallots, garlic and birds eye chilies to blend. It needs not be too fine, just the usual size of the usual minced garlic we use for the many other stir fry recipes. Set aside. Blend the dried shrimps next. Make sure you do not over blend them. Stop when they get broken down to bits whatever size you deem appropriate. Set aside with the bowl of shallots, garlic and chilies.
2. Heat up a non-stick frying pan with 1/2 tbsp cooking oil. Once heated, add in the beaten eggs and let set for a few seconds. Stir and continue folding and breaking regularly until they are all set looking brownish. Set the scrambled eggs aside.
3. Heat up the wok with the remaining cooking oil. Once well heated, add in the blended ingredients. This will take a while especially for the dried shrimps to turn golden brown and lightly crispy smelling all fragrant and aromatic. You may have to add in a little more oil if the contents in the wok appear too dry as it goes. This is especially so if you have a great amount of dried shrimps which are a good oil absorbent in nature. Make sure you stir regularly to prevent those at the bottom from getting burnt. Also beware of the increased pungency coming from the birds eye chilies.
4. Once ready, push the contents in the wok to one side and add in the cooked rice on the other side. Stir to break down any clumps before mixing them up with the rest. Keep stirring until the rice grains are heated right to the core.
5. Have a taste at the fried rice. Slowly drizzle in some light soy sauce to taste around the inner rim of the wok and if you prefer a version of fried rice with a darker hue, add in a dollop of dark soy sauce and stir to mix really well. Different batch of dried shrimps comes with different level of saltiness so do taste and adjust accordingly. 
6. Bring in the scrambled eggs into the wok and mix well with the rest. Continue stirring for another minute or so to dry the fried rice further and making sure that the eggs are well incorporated. 
7. This is great served warm or lightly cooled down.

Depending heavily on the birds eye chilies on the whole, it is a point worth noting to get to know the batch of birds eye chilies you will be using to make this. You can be putting in the same amount of chilies every time but chances are you will end up having fried rice with varying level of heat and spiciness each time. So try the chilies out beforehand if you must to get a general idea of how much you should be using to make this fried rice. 

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