KitchenTigress: Nyonya Belachan Fried Rice

Nyonya Belachan Fried Rice

Leftover rice is great for making fried rice.

But, contrary to popular opinion, freshly cooked rice is perfectly OK too. All you have to do is use a bit less water than usual. That makes the cooked rice harder and less sticky, as if it's been drying out overnight. If you can, steam the rice instead of boiling it in an electric rice-cooker. You'll get rice that's firmer and more chewy.

Any rice, so long as it's not soggy and sticky, is great for fried rice. It doesn't matter whether it's overnight or freshly cooked.

Nyonya fried rice is easier than the Chinese version.

Chinese fried rice requires fierce, intense heat for best results (imagine a massive fire breathing dragon underneath the wok).

The Nyonya version doesn't need extreme heat. It uses spices to create an alluring aroma. Finely pounded shallots, dried chillies, fresh chillies and candlenuts, along with belachan and dried prawns, are slowly persuaded over gentle heat to release their fragrance. Each and every grain tastes of the spicy, aromatic and umami paste, so the fried rice is delicious even when it's lacking in wok hei.

Fried rice is one of those things. It may be a great chef's finale for a grand Chinese banquet. Or it may be something rustled up by a hungry youngster snooping round the kitchen when Mum is out.

Brilliantly executed, fried rice is sublime. If not, it's at least edible. Anyone can make fried rice (without insulting said rice too badly).

Source: Adapted from Cooking for the President
(Recipe for 4 persons)

375 g long grain white rice
wash and rinse thoroughly; soak 10 minutes in 340 ml water
45 g dried prawns, rinse
20 g candlenuts, rinse
3 g dried chillies
trim stems; cut 2 cm long; soak in warm water till soft, about 30 minutes; squeeze dry and discard water
30 g red chillies, rinse and trim
3 bird's eye chillies, rinse and trim
80 g shallots, peel and rinse

4 tbsp vegetable oil
12 g belachan, toast till fragrant and dry; pound or grind finely to yield 1 tbsp
8 medium size prawns (150 g), shell, devein, wash and dice 1½ cm
¾ tsp salt
¾ tsp ground white pepper
1 large cucumber (450 g), peel, wash, core and dice 4 mm to yield 1½ cups

1. Steam rice over rapidly boiling water for 15 minutes, then check whether rice needs more water. If surface layer is cooked but a bit hard, rice is ideal. Steam another 5 minutes. If surface layer is soft but chewy, remove rice from steamer. If surface layer is hard, sprinkle with 1-2 tbsp water and continue steaming for another 5 minutes.

2. After rice is cooked, fluff and set aside.

3. Whilst rice is steaming, pound dried prawns finely and set aside.

4. Cut candlenuts, dried chillies, fresh chillies and shallots into small pieces. Pound or grind very finely. Stir-fry with 3 tbsp vegetable oil in a wok over medium-low heat till medium brown and aromatic. Add belachan powder and stir through. Push to one side.

5. Place 1 tbsp vegetable oil in the middle of the wok. Reduce heat to low. Stir-fry dried prawns with the oil till aromatic. Increase heat to high. Mix everything in the wok evenly.

6. When wok is very hot, add prawns and stir through. Add rice and stir till thoroughly mixed and hot. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Mix through. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Turn off heat. Add cucumber and stir through. Serve immediately.