My idea of comfort food is probably not the same as yours. This is because deep down I am a health nut. A broccoli-kale-bulgur-craving maniac. But even crazies have comfort food. So when I need caloric placation, I seek solace in a big bowl of something warm and mushy. Chili? Check. Baked ziti? Check. Ice cream? Well, not warm, but definitely mushy and in a bowl and that’s another check. However, my favorite comfort food is slightly more gourmet, and yet can still be pulled together with considerable speed. This is crucial, as comfort food is about instant gratification.
This comfort food of mine is an amazingly flavorful bowl of fried rice: Asian-inspired yet innovative in flavor, both crispy and ooey-gooey, and highly effective at lifting spirits. Firstly, if the smell of leeks being sautéed doesn’t raise your spirits, then your heart may actually be frozen. The leeks become tender and creamy before being mixed in with toothsome rice (the staler the better for fried rice, so the grains don’t stick together). Uber crisp fried ginger and garlic bits smell sweet, spicy, and toasty, and they add a very welcome crunch to an otherwise soft dish. And then there’s the egg. I would like to propose that from hereon out, all savory dishes be topped with an over-easy egg. Because the way the yolk envelops every grain of rice with a rich, creamy sauce is nothing short of comfort food magic. The best part? There’s actual nutritional value in this! Well, sort of. At least, it’s not super bad for you and won’t weigh you down. I think that’s what makes it the comfort food of a health nut as opposed to a normal person.
I have Jean-Georges Vongerichten to thank for this recipe, via Mark Bittman, who highlighted it in a Minimalist column a couple years back. Vongerichten owns Spice Market in NYC, an Asian-fusion restaurant, which is home to the original dish. After mastering this recipe at home, I went straight to the source and ordered the fried rice at Spice Market. While the restaurant version was infinitely more beautiful and more perfectly mounded than my own, the homemade version stands up to the real deal. Point being, don’t fear making this at home just because it originated in a professional kitchen. It is quite simple and translates well to home cooking. I’m quite certain you’ll agree that we health nuts have some pretty compelling comfort food after all. In your face, bacon and mac and cheese! [Disclaimer: I also support bacon, mac and cheese, and pints of ice cream as forms of comfort food, but seriously, check out this fried rice. It rocks.]
Ginger Fried Rice
from Mark Bittman’s The Minimalist
1/2 cup peanut oil
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons minced ginger
2 cups thinly sliced leeks, white and light green parts only, rinsed and dried
4 cups day-old cooked rice, preferably jasmine, at room temperature
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons sesame oil
4 teaspoons soy sauce
1. In a large skillet, heat 1/4 cup oil over medium heat. Add garlic and ginger and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp and brown. With a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels and salt lightly.
2. Reduce heat under skillet to medium-low and add 2 tablespoons oil and leeks. Cook about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until very tender but not browned. Season lightly with salt.
3. Raise heat to medium and add rice. Cook, stirring well, until heated through. Season to taste with salt.
4. In a nonstick skillet, fry eggs in remaining oil, sunny-side-up, until edges are set but yolk is still runny. [I typically prefer over-easy here.]
5. Divide rice among four dishes. Top each with an egg and drizzle with 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil and 1 teaspoon soy sauce. Sprinkle crisped garlic and ginger over everything and serve.
Yield: 4 servings.