With Thanksgiving coming up, I thought I’d share one of my favorite Thanksgiving side dishes. I know, fried rice seems like a weird thing to serve with Thanksgiving… but it’s a family tradition for us! It all started one year… after my dad spent all day making the Thanksgiving turkey and trimmings, my teenaged brother turned and looked at the spread on the table and remarked, “Where’s the fried rice!???!!!!” It was a joke… but the idea took hold, and every year after that, fried rice was on the menu!
Whenever someone asks, “What makes this Japanese fried rice?” (I guess as opposed to Chinese restaurant style fried rice…) my standard joking response has been, “A Japanese person made it!” In reality, though, there are real differences between Japanese and Chinese style fried rice. The major difference is the type of rice used. Chinese fried rice tends to use a longer grain (and “drier”) rice, while Japanese fried rice uses the stickier shorter grained Calrose type rice. There are other minor differences as well – seasoning with soy sauce and garlic, and the addition of more Japanese style mix-ins like mushrooms and diced spam.
You can vary the ingredients if you like – choose other meats instead of spam if you like, or substitute the mushroom for other vegetables. I prefer the rice as described below. And without fail, my brother calls me before every Thanksgiving reminding me not to forget the fried rice!
Japanese Fried Rice (about 4-6 servings):
- 3 c. calrose rice, uncooked
- 1 oz. package of dried shiitake mushrooms (or 1 lb. fresh mushrooms)
- 12 oz. can spam (I use spam lite)
- 1 bunch green onions
- 1/3 c. fresh chopped parsley leaves
- 2-3 T. fried garlic
- 1/2 c. unsalted butter (1 stick)
- 1 T. soy sauce
- 1 tsp. garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp. black pepper
- 1/2 ts. salt
1. Cook the 3 cups of rice in a rice cooker. When done, fluff up the rice and allow the rice to sit uncovered to cool down. (You can also use leftover day old rice.) I like the Koda Farms brand of calrose rice… Kohuko Rose.
2. Soak the dried mushrooms in hot tap water until soft (about 15-20 minutes).
3. Dice the spam into small pieces.
4. Chop the green onions. Separate the root end (whiter parts) from the leaf end (greener parts).
5. Cut the stems off of the soaked and softened shiitake mushrooms, discard the stems. Dice the shiitake mushrooms caps and set aside. (You can substitute the dried mushrooms with 1 lb. fresh shiitake mushrooms if you can find those, or 1 lb. fresh white mushrooms. When choosing fresh mushrooms, pick the mushrooms that are firm to the touch – not the spongy ones.)
6. Melt the butter over medium low in a large skillet. I like to use my large Calphalon stainless steel skillet (the higher sides make it easier to toss the rice without losing it over the sides) – but you can also use a large wok.
7. Increase the heat to medium high, and add the spam and the whiter/root half of the green onions. Cook until the edges of the spam pieces are starting to caramelize.
8. Add the mushrooms, toss, and cook until the mushrooms are done.
9. Add the remaining green onion and the cooled rice. Pour over the soy sauce, garlic powder, black pepper, and salt.
10. Use a spatula to scrape the bottom of the pan and fold the rice over to mix all of the ingredients together while cooking. Sprinkle the fried garlic over the rice and continue to mix and cook the rice. (***If you cannot find fried garlic, substitute with 2-3 cloves of fresh garlic [finely chopped], and add to the pan in step 8 above.***) Taste and add more soy sauce, pepper, salt, and garlic powder if needed.
11. Turn off the heat, then mix in the fresh chopped parsley.
12. Serve hot. (You can make this several hours ahead of time and microwave covered to heat up before serving.) Enjoy!