Plain Old Fried Rice with Five-Spice Tofu

posted in: Grains, Recipes, vegetarian | 11


I almost winced when reading an “Asian” (fusion, I guess) recipe in a major glossy magazine that called for a Noah’s Ark full of ingredients from all across the world. It was a pork recipe, and just the notion of using fish sauce and Chinese black bean sauce in combination was enough to make my stomach turn, let alone calling for more than three tablespoons of fish sauce period. But the fact that the recipe also included hoisin sauce, sesame oil, orange juice, ginger, lime juice, sugar, cilantro, Serrano chiles, and honey was laughable. And what happened to soy sauce, or even salt, the most basic marinade ingredients upon which to add one or two more ingredients for a sturdy, reliable flavor? Not on the index-sized list.

Maybe I’m just being plebian about it. But it’s funny, because with all the emphasis on simplicity in modern New American and European cuisines, it’s incredible how much work everyone seems to think Asian food is. Plain old home-cooking, it seems, hasn’t quite fazed the American public.

I recently visited my friend Pete in Boston, who I’ve exchanged recipes with from time to time. His standard formula for cooking stir fry–usually one kind of meat and one vegetable–is basically soy sauce, garlic, salt, pepper, sugar, and cornstarch. Not incredibly difficult to remember. He lets the meat marinate for about half an hour in cornstarch and some soy sauce, and then stir fries it with a little oil and garlic. The meat is removed from the pan, and then the vegetable is stir fried until just tender, then the meat is returned to the pan. Some soy sauce, salt, pepper, and a teaspoon or so of sugar is added to the mixture. Once the dish has the right amount of seasoning, he thickens it with a corn starch and cold water mixture, stirring until bubbly and thickened, and serves immediately.

It’s more or less how I learned to home-cook, only without the sugar and usually either garlic or fresh ginger, and chopped scallions tossed in at the end. Lately, I’ve also taken to splashing in some Chinese rice wine to any kind of meat while it’s cooking. Black bean garlic sauce or other types of fermented bean sauces are also great on occasion–that is, when fish sauce isn’t present.

Getting back to simplicity though, I decided to make one of my favorite comfort foods, fried rice. It keeps well for leftovers, and the use of leftover rice itself and bits and pieces of other stuff marks it a true leftover dish, like soup.

Plain Old Fried Rice with Five-Spice Tofu
(serves about 4)

3 cups cooked white rice (best to use leftover because it’s drier and won’t stick together when stir-frying)
2 scallions, chopped
2 eggs, beaten and seasoned with salt
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
4 blocks five-spice tofu (or tofu-gan: firm, seasoned tofu popular–or invented?–in Taiwan; can be found in most Asian markets), chopped into small cubes
Optional: soaked dried shittake mushrooms, chopped into cubes
Salt and black or white pepper
2-3 tbspn oil
Optional: chile sauce to taste

Heat a wok or large pan with a little oil. Scramble the egg quickly, breaking into small pieces until just starting to brown, and remove from pan. Add more oil if necessary and stir-fry tofu cubes for 2 or 3 minutes. Add chile sauce if using. Add the peas, chopped mushrooms, scallions, and rice and season with salt and pepper. Stir fry, mixing thoroughly and tasting for seasoning. Add scrambled egg once flavor is right, and stir thoroughly. Serve with chile sauce if desired (the best is the red Vietnamese chile garlic sauce that usually has a picture of a rooster on the jar).


Cost Calculator:
(for 4 servings)

2 eggs (at $1/dozen at the Chinese market): $.16
4 blocks five spice tofu (at $1.45 for package of 18): $.32
3 cups cooked rice: ≈ $.25
2 scallions (at $.99/bunch of 6): $.34
1 cup frozen peas (at $1.39/package): $.18
Salt, pepper, oil, chile sauce, optional mushrooms: ≈ $.20

Total: $1.45 (wait, that can’t be right…?)

Health Factor:

Four brownie points – moderately healthy. This recipe is interchangeable with ingredients, for instance, meat instead of tofu. There is a bit of salt and oil involved, and not too many vegetables (but they could always be thrown in if desired). A healthy twist on the recipe is to serve with whole lettuce leaves as a lettuce wrap.

11 Responses

  1. vasilisa

    Hi, first time here. Love your cost and health factor assessments. Really drive the point about homecooking home.

    I always thought that cornstarch goes in the end. Does it make any difference? When I make stir fries I just add some cornstarch (mixed with broth or water) two minutes before done.

    Also, this tofu looks amazing. What brand is it? (I want to see if it’s available in Canada).

  2. cathy

    It’s funny, I can’t even find a definition online for tofu-gan, aka five-spice tofu, but there’s a pretty good explanation of it on this blog:

    As far as brands go I wouldn’t worry, mine was likely a NYC Chinatown tofu manufacturer–it’s all fairly relative once you know the type of tofu you’re looking for. And absolutely to adding cornstarch+water or broth at the end of stir frying to thicken a dish–but with fried rice?

  3. twobrain

    saw your site on slashfood

    saw this entry and thought this is crazy… ive never seen a non asian make fried rice like this…

    but then i scrolled down and saw an asian uncle… then i thought oh she must be mixed

    yay for cooking

  4. Vasilisa

    I tried your friend’s stir fry method (except for taking meat out part) and it worked out very good. Thanks for the tip. I always thought that these stir frys have to be easier than what the cook book suggest 🙂

  5. […] Not Eating Out in New York » Blog Archive » Plain Old Fried Rice with Five-Spice Tofu (tags: asian Chinese rice tofu) […]

  6. Mitch

    Sriracha! Is the name of the Vietnamese chile sauce you mentioned (with the rooster on the bottle/jar). Beware of imitators with non-rooster mascots (e.g. a goose).

    Great blog. I salute you for promoting home-cooking.

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