When we were staying in Yangzhou last week I knew there was one dish we HAD to eat, and that was Yangzhou chao fan 扬州炒饭 which translates as Yangzhou fried rice. This is the dish that Yangzhou has given to the world, and there can hardly be a Chinese restaurant anywhere that doesn’t have some version of this on offer (Yangzhou is sometimes transliterated as Yang Chow or Yeungchow on western menus). In the UK it is usually called ‘Special fried rice’ and has slivers of cooked chicken in it which is not strictly authentic. It has become THE ubiquitous Chinese dish, and everyone seems to like it.
It seems strange to think that once upon a time fried rice didn’t exist, but way back in the late 18th Century there was a chap called Yi Bingshou who was a magistrate inYangzhou, and his cook created this dish specially for him. When the Emperor Qian Long visited Yangzhou and was served this he liked it so much that he instructed his chefs in Beijing to add it to their repertoire of Imperial Cuisine, and from there it went global so to speak.
Yangzhou chao fan is served in homes, in restaurants, and at banquets. It is usually served towards the end of the meal, after the soup but before the dessert or fruit. It is not intended to soak up the sauces from other dishes (though you can eat it like that), but is a dish that can stand alone and be eaten in its own right.
It is NOT a repository for all the left-over bits and bobs you can find in your fridge!
It is very easy to make, but I rarely make it here as living in Beijing means I can have it in any one of a thousand or more restaurants – from 5 star establishments to little hole-in-the wall places.
Proper Yangzhou chao fan always consists of the following basic ingredients: cold cooked rice*, eggs, spring onions, small pieces of BBQ pork, ham or Chinese sausage; as well as peas, and small cooked shrimps. Nowadays many restaurants used finely diced Spam in their fried rice instead of pork or sausage. The Chinese love Spam (though not as much as the Hawaiians do) and there are several varieties on sale here: black pepper, garlic, hot & spicy, and plain.I spoke to several Yangzhou locals and one cook, to try to get a definitive recipe, but, alas, it was not to be. Within families, restaurants etc there are minor variations, the recipe is infinitely flexible and everyone prefers the version they have grown up with. However they are all more or less the same. As you can see from two of my photos sometimes finely chopped mushrooms are included, or little pieces of carrot to add colour. In Buddhist restaurants they remove the meat and seafood replacing them with sweet corn kernel, and slivers of bamboo shoot.
It is an ideal recipe for anyone on a gluten-free diet.
Eggs are very important in this dish and there are several schools of thought about how many eggs should be used, and how they should be added. Some say that the ratio of rice to eggs should be 5:1 (5 bowls rice to one egg) others say that is too few eggs, and the ratio should be 2:1
One of the things you have to decide before you begin making the dish is whether you want the eggs to be ‘silver covered gold’, this method means that you cook the eggs first, break them up and add them to the fried rice at the end. The second method, ‘gold covered silver‘, means that you add the beaten egg to the hot rice and other ingredients when they are cooking in the wok and almost ready to serve, mixing well and breaking up the egg with chopsticks as the heat of the rice cooks the eggs. Though I have cooked it both ways, I prefer the ‘silver covered gold ‘ method as I think it gives a drier, lighter final dish.
So here is MY version of this famous dish
YANGZHOU CHAO FAN – YANGZHOU FRIED RICE
Serves 4 as part of a meal with other dishes.
6 cups cold cooked rice* 3 eggs, lightly beaten ½ cup BBQ pork, Chinese sausage (Kabanos would do as a replacement) or ham/Spam – finely diced ½ cup tender green peas (petit pois) ½ cup raw shrimps or prawns (cut prawns in half) 3 Tablespoons vegetable oil (NOT olive oil) 1 Tablespoon light soy sauce 3-4 spring onions (scallions), finely sliced, including the green parts
Heat a wok and when hot swirl a splash of the oil round in it. Pour in the beaten eggs and quickly stir them around with a chopstick so that they scramble. When cooked (it happens fast) tip them out of the wok into a bowl and break up into smaller pieces.
Add the remaining oil to the hot wok, and when very hot, drop in the meat, peas and shrimps. Fry for a minute or so, stirring with a spatula until all shrimps are cooked through. Tip in the rice and mix everything together, making sure the rice is really well heated. Stir in the soy sauce, the cooked egg and the spring onions.
Turn out on to a dish and serve immediately.
*Mini Health Warning: Cooked rice MUST be cooled quickly, kept cool, and then used within 24 hours – it should not be left hanging around at room temperature or you can get food poisoning, even if you re-heat it.