Last week, I made fried rice again. The recipe we devour right now is from the Pok Pok cookbook, which I mentioned not very long ago, the last time I talked about this champion weeknight dinner here. The recipe itself creates, for Andy Ricker, the taste of the fried rice he ate in Thailand. I cook and eat this rice all the time, but on Friday, as I packed the leftovers for lunch, I was thinking about sometimes besides the impeccable authenticity, and besides umami-ness that fish sauce, soy sauce, and browned pork give this version of fried rice.
It seems that these days, there are two paths for the way the people who write about food think about food. One looks back, towards authenticity and heritage, towards the dish as grandma used to make it or as the street vendors fry it in the market of a foreign country. The other is futuristic. It asks, how can I make this better with science, or how might I re-engineer this lasagna, for example, to contain neither wheat nor dairy nor soy.
I have ventured down both paths. I confess to once researching how the migrations of apple-tree planters across the United States brought cheddar cheese to pie crust. I confess to baking a clafoutis made with coconut milk and rice flour.
In the end, what shapes my own thinking most is the way we cook now, where “now” responds to a constantly evolving set of circumstances–mine or yours or someone else’s. When Alex and I got married and started eating together, we came into our newly shared kitchen with different backgrounds, skills, tastes, and habits. A few years on, we have a shared, original cuisine that fuses what we like, what our schedules call for, what the weather is, and whether we’re feeling flush or thrifty with time, energy, or dollars. I still don’t have an official adjective for our way of eating, but I can tell you that the category currently on top is bowl meal. Who needs side dishes?
So this recipe belongs to its maker, to the brilliant way that Ricker and Pok Pok have translated authentic Thai cuisine so that we can make it in American kitchens. But we have tested the fried rice through its many, many use cases in our small kitchen. We make it as a lunch to eat all week. We make it to use up extra veggies or leftover steak. We make it to use up leftover rice–obviously. We make it on nights when only one of us is home. I make it when I’m working from home and need to magically bulk up 1/3 cup of rice into a sustaining meal. That’s why I’m writing about it again. I want to make sure you know there’s a dish that’s delicious but maybe not all that engineered once you make your tweaks, that doesn’t ask all that much of you, that you can make once a week or maybe even more.