Fifteen years ago, the Silver Fox and I, along with our youngest daughter who had just returned from a year in Asia, spent several months in a charming loft apartment. It was quite small, but with only three of us and a great deal of planning, it became a manageable, if not luxurious, space. We had sold the home in which we raised the children and were biding time until secondary pensions vested, and we could move on to Oregon. Our daughter, who, until that time, showed no interest in cooking, made her initial cooking forays in that closet-sized kitchen. Her specialty was fried rice. We ate a great deal of it while she honed her skills and I came to have great respect for this lowly dish. Years later in Yangzhou, a city near Shanghai, China I came across a version that replaced the one that she crafted in that loft. No one knows for sure how fried rice became associated with the city Marco Polo once called home, but it transmogrified and in different guises, this colorful rice is served throughout China today. Following the holidays, I adapt my recipe for Yangzhou rice to incorporate ham, which I have in abundance if it has been our main course for holiday meals. In China, fried rice is usually made with dried, reconstituted shrimp and fatback or pork belly. I’ve ease those ingredients out of my recipe but if you ever have the chance, do try rice that is made that way. These days we view fried rice as food for the masses, but it’s interesting to note that it was first served in the emperor’s court, though it was wrapped in egg crepes or lotus leaves for him. If you have neither of those at hand, not to worry. For most of us fried rice is, and will remain, a great way to use leftover rice and bits and bobs of previous meals. There are hundreds of ways to make this dish. Here’s the recipe I use when I have leftover ham in the refrigerator.


Ham Fried Rice

4 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided use
2 large eggs, beaten
1/2 cup finely minced yellow onion
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 cup frozen peas and carrots, thawed
1 cup frozen corn, thawed
2 cups leftover ham, cut in 1/4 to 1/2 inch dice
1 to 2 tablespoons tablespoon dark sesame oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
4 cups cold cooked day-old rice

1) Heat a wok over medium high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of oil. When hot, pour in eggs and cook without stirring until lightly set, about 30 seconds. Break up eggs and transfer to a plate.
2) Add remaining 2 tablespoons of oil to wok set over high heat. Add onion and stir fry until softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant. Add vegetables and stir fry until crisp tender, about 3 minutes. Stir in ham and heat through.
3) Add sesame oil, soy sauce, rice wine, salt and sugar to wok. Stir in rice and toss to combine. Add eggs and cook until rice is heated through. Serve hot. Yield: 4 servings.

Cook’s Note: Fried rice is best made with day old rice that has had the chance to dry, allowing clumps to be work out.

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