For the past four weekends, I have been working the Charles Dickens Christmas Fair at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. It is a beautiful reenactment of Victorian London at Christmas time, and a wonderful way to celebrate the holiday season.
It’s great fun. It is also at times stressful, dramatic, and completely exhausting, like any job.
One thing I notice is that after a long day of serving (and then a few hours of dancing, singing, drinking, etc) is that when I get home, all I want is salt. And specifically, all I want is soy sauce. Not quite sure why this is…maybe because it is so remarkably non-English? But all I know is when I drunkenly whipped up a batch of half-assed fried rice (nothing in it, just rice, eggs, soy, ginger, garlic) last weekend when I got home, it was AMAZING.
One of the great things about working in food service at this season is the leftovers. Because we only operate on the weekends, come Sunday night there is always extra produce, thawed proteins that can’t be re-frozen, and various cooked items that will not keep for a week. These things get bagged up, and (if we are very lucky) can sometimes come home with us.
This last weekend, I was the grateful recipient of a gallon of steamed wild rice, and a couple of lovely muscovy duck breasts. What better thing to do with them than to upscale that fried rice a little bit, turning it from a midnight munchy-snack to something I would be proud to serve as a meal?
Thus, this recipe was born. I wouldn’t even really call it a recipe, more of a method. Change out the ingredients as much as you want. Make it your own. Use it as a way to clean veggies out of your fridge. Dice up some leftover cooked pork chops or chicken, some carrots and mushrooms, maybe some leeks you’ve been neglecting in the back of the fridge for almost a month now (not that I would ever do that *ahem*). Fry ’em up.
And after a long day of being on your feet, if it doesn’t make your little cells feel like they are being rehydrated with pure liquid joy, then…well, I dunno. It will, is what I’m saying.
Duck Fried Wild Rice
6-8 c prepared (al dente) wild rice – about 2 c dry rice before cooking
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large muscovy duck breast, scored through the fat in a one-inch grid
1″ knob of ginger (1 Tbsp, minced)
1-3 cloves garlic (1 Tbsp minced)
2-3 scallions (green onions), whites and greens chopped
1-2 c chopped napa cabbage, bok choy, or other wiltable green (chard or mustard would be nice, but use more greens, as they cook down considerably)
1/4 c mirin (sweet cooking wine – sherry would do in a pinch)
2 large eggs
1/4 c soy sauce
In a large pot with a fitting lid, prepare your wild rice. I do this by feel, but it’s roughly two to three times as much water as rice, steamed in the pan with the lid on until the water is all absorbed or steamed out. You want your rice to still be al dente and not too sticky. Fluff the rice and allow it to cool to room temp.
Meanwhile, in a large-capacity pan or wok, heat the oil and lay the duck breast fat-side down over medium heat to render out the fat. If it is cooking too quickly, turn the heat to low – the point here is to cook out the layer of fat on the breast, not to actually cook the meat very much. The skin should brown, but not burn. When most of the fat has rendered out, add half the ginger and garlic to the pan, and turn the breast over to brown the other side.
There should be a considerable amount of grease in the pan, but if you need to add more olive oil or butter (or more duck fat!) to prevent sticking, do so. Add the chopped cabbage or bok choy, and let the greens begin to wilt a bit while the duck cooks (about 3 minutes). Then add the mirin to the pan, and cover it so that everything steams together.
After a few minutes (the duck breast should still be pretty rare – do not overcook it), remove the duck to rest on a plate and cook off the remaining liquid in the pan until nearly dry. Toss in the rice and the scallions and stir until warmed through. At this point you can add more ginger or garlic, if you like a lot of those flavors – I do, personally.
Break up any rice clumps, and move the contents to the edges, making a well in the center where you can see the bottom of the pan. If it looks very dry, add a bit of oil or butter (or duck fat) to prevent sticking.
Crack two eggs into this well and scramble them, trying to avoid mixing in too much rice until the eggs are about 3/4 solid. Then mix the egg into the rice until everything is incorporated fully. Finally, pour in the soy sauce, mix, and allow it to steam out until the rice is fairly dry again.
Serve this fried rice with slices of the steamed duck breast over the top, and a sprinkling of chopped scallions (bean sprouts or shredded daikon would be tasty, too).
This fried rice recipe can be adapted to any sort of non-sticky rice, and can accept LOTS of substitutions. Had I my druthers, I would have also added sliced water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, and fresh sugar snap peas, had they been available.