There’s quite fennel and mushroom during this Chinese fried rice, but they take the lead giving it a crunchy and meaty texture. Then comes the opposite veg—Swiss chard, leek, carrots, garlic, scallion —it’s loaded with more veg than rice! This recipe has transformed my perceptions of Chinese fried rice from being an uneventful, one-dimensional, unhealthy side to now a flavorful, colorful, veg-centric main. i like serving it with a spread of toppings. My favorites are fennel fronds, green onion, cilantro, Sriracha, and toasted sesame seeds, but the chances are endless (see recipe below for more ideas).
TIP A: If you haven't cooked with fennel before, you're in for a treat. It's a highly aromatic and flavorful ingredient that works beautifully in Italian and Asian cuisines. Many compare its flavor to licorice or anise, but I find it way more savory and herby than that. To me, it's like a root vegetable crossed with sweet onion, oregano, thyme, and of course fennel seed.
To prepare fennel (for this recipe) you want to start by cutting off the base at the bottom and the stalks and fronds at the top. The fronds are the frilly green parts that I recommend reserving and chopping for finishing or garnishing the fried rice. Then, cut the bulb in half (top-to-bottom) to remove and discard the outermost layer and the dense core, both of which tend to be too tough to eat. Finally, rest each half of the bulb flat-side down on your cutting board and cut it into very thin slices (1/16-inch or less).
TIP B: Day-old rice works best for fried rice because it's often a bit dry and therefore primed to soak-up flavor and turn crispy. If you don't have day-old rice, then freshly made works too—just intentionally make it on the drier side. This is achieved by cooking the rice in about 15-20% less water. You also want to be sure to thoroughly rinse the rice before cooking (at least 60 seconds under cold water) so that excess starch doesn't over-ride your desired dryness with gumminess. Finally, help the rice cool completely by spreading it across a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper and popping it in the fridge for 30-60 minutes. Instantly day-old!
2 tbsp. canola or vegetable oil
1 large fennel bulb (outer layer and core removed), very thinly sliced (see TIP A below)
1 medium leek (white and light green parts only), very thinly sliced
1 medium carrot, peeled and diced small
4 green onions, finely chopped (reserve dark green parts for garnish)
5 large or 8 small garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
10-12 oz. sliced mushrooms (I like to use a medley of shitake, button, and oyster)
1 tsp. Chinese five spice powder
3/4 tsp. ground ginger
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
1 tbsp. toasted sesame oil
3-4 c. cooked white or brown long-grain rice, preferably day-old (see TIP B below)
2 tbsp. sesame seeds
2 large eggs, beaten
1/4 c. soy sauce
1 tbsp. firmly packed light brown sugar
4-6 c. chopped Swiss chard (stems and tough ribs removed)
1/4 c. chopped fresh fennel fronds (optional)
fresh cilantro leaves, fennel fronds, or the dark green portion of green onion (thinly sliced)
Sriracha, gochujang, or red chile paste/sauce of your choice
toasted sesame seeds, peanuts, or cashews (chopped)
One: Stir Fry the Vegetables:
Warm the canola or vegetable oil in a large, high-sided sauté pan (preferably nonstick) or wok over medium-high heat. Add the fennel, leek, carrot, green onions (white and light green parts only, reserve dark green for garnish), garlic, and mushrooms. Stir to coat the vegetables in oil. Then add the Chinese five spice powder, ground ginger, salt, and pepper. Stir again and let the ingredients sizzle and soften slightly (about 6-8 minutes). Then transfer them to a side dish and return the pan to the heat. Reduce the heat beneath the pan to medium.
Two: Crisp the Rice:
Add the toasted sesame oil to the pan and swirl to coat. Let the oil come up to temperature. Then add the rice in a flat, even layer. You should hear a moderate sizzle (reduce the heat beneath the pan if the sizzle sounds too loud or scorching). Add the sesame seeds over top and wait. Give the rice several minutes to develop some color and crust on the bottom. You may check it periodically, but don't flip the rice until it turns slightly golden. It's not unusual for this step to take 6-8 minutes depending upon the heat of your pan.
Three: Beat the Eggs & Prepare the Sauce:
Meanwhile, beat the eggs in a small bowl. In a separate small bowl, combine the soy sauce and brown sugar. Stir. Set both aside until ready to use.
Four: Add the Eggs & Sauce:
When the bottom of the rice is adequately golden and crispy, flip it and create a small well at the center. Pour the beaten eggs into the well and resist the urge to stir until they visibly set-up at the bottom. When ready, fold the eggs into the rice. Then add the soy-sugar mixture and stir until it is fully absorbed by the rice. Once done, turn off the heat beneath the pan.
Five: Finish & Serve:
Finally, add the chopped Swiss chard and fennel fronds to the pan and top with the warm stir-fried vegetables. Gently stir to evenly distribute the vegetables among the rice and eggs. Let the warmth of the pan briefly soften the Swiss chard. Immediately serve with an assortment of toppings (see options above).