Like many Jewish kids growing up in North America, chef Anthony Rose of Toronto's Fat Pasha, Big Crow, Rose and Sons, and Schmaltz Appetizing loves Americanized Chinese food, particularly fried rice. While cooking across the states and Canada in the last 15 years, the chef has always put a fried rice dish on his menu, whether it's a coastal Californian eatery or his ode to Jewish cuisine.
I have always liked fried rice. I love rice and the crunchy, crispiness of it. It's a perfect blank slate for ingredients. There was this place downtown called Lychee Garden, and all the Jews congregated there. It was this huge, old, grand Chinese restaurant where all the waiters wore tuxedos, there was red leather everywhere, and there was a grand piano. It was very Americana-style Chinese food.
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About 16 years ago when I was living in San Francisco, me and my wife at the time were planning a road trip across the USA to New York. I bought a copy of Jane and Michael Stern's Eat Your Way Across the USA, and based our route on where we were going to eat. Most of the places were shit, but we figured out that the best route was to go north from San Francisco and across the upper states. We took a 100-mile detour to this one diner in Washington state that was serving a Dungeness crab fried rice.
We went and gave it a try. The rice was shit. She ordered crab cakes when we were in fucking North Dakota and I thought she was fucking crazy. I mean, how fucking far from the ocean can you get? Sure enough, she got food poisoning. But after the road trip, the idea for the rice stuck.
I loved it, but restaurant critic Joanne Kates fucking hated it so they made me take it off the menu. It was short-lived, and I don't remember exactly what was in it because it's probably repressed in my memory.
The first time I did it was at Farallon Restaurant in San Francisco. I was the lunch chef so I was able to put that on the menu. We got this beautiful Dungeness crab, which meant you didn't have to do much to it. We added sweet peas, fava beans, a sesame aioli, slivers of shiitake fried in corn starch, and some more sesame seeds on top. It was a hit right away and we loved the dish so much, we eventually tried it with lobsters and scallops as well. All you had to do was just toss the scallops and lobsters in there and the rice would just envelop it all and warm it up. It was the most elegant way that I've done it.
At the next restaurant, I was in New York at Jonathan Waxman's now-closed Washington Park. His philosophy isn't as heavy as mine so we fried it less, made the rice a bit softer, and used many more spring vegetables like wild leeks. At the XV Beacon hotel in Boston, we got these Nantucket blue crabs, which were to die for. It's the best meat I've ever put in my mouth.
All the restaurants I cooked at were very different, but the common thread was how I did the rice. What you do is take cooked basmati rice, spread it on a sheet, and let it dry overnight so that you get that crispiness. It's a tip I got from Chinese cooks. They would use day-old white rice and make fried rice out of it the next day. You have to do that. One of the common mistakes is that a lot of these guys think that if you want the rice crispy, you have to cook it really long, but then it gets too dry and it becomes shit. When I came to Toronto and cooked at The Drake Hotel, I did a version that was similar to the Farallon one. I loved it, but restaurant critic Joanne Kates fucking hated it, so they made me take it off the menu. It was short-lived, and I don't remember exactly what was in it because it's probably repressed in my memory.
At my current restaurant Rose and Sons, the rice was a vehicle for pork belly and peanuts, two of my favourite things in the world. I have this love affair with these Ontario redskin peanuts and we'd buy 100 pounds of them every month. We marinate pork belly in this Chinatown sauce of soy, mirin, ginger, garlic, and you bring the sauce down to this sugary madness that's like candy. We sear the pork and cook the rice in the fat. It's junky, it's candy, it's so good. It's my favorite version that I've ever done. When we opened Fat Pasha and we'd fry the rice in schmaltz and add lentils, pistachios, and vermicelli.
Fried rice really is the perfect dish. It's a vehicle to get your starch, you can make it veg-heavy, and a little bit of meat goes a long way. Plus my son loves it, so I'll never stop making it.
As told to Karon Liu.