Sunday night recycling

Joyce Chen Egg Fried Rice

Sunday night. The refrigerator is still semi-filled with Thanksgiving leftovers. Good as it all is, we can’t quite bring ourselves to have yet another meal of it for dinner. Not tonight.

Instead, we want something simple, but homey, and having nothing to do with turkey, mashed potatoes, or stuffing, or the various incarnations we have made with those same ingredients over the past several days (turkey hash, turkey sandwiches, turkey stuffed tortillas..).

So we make a quick run to the local store for a few fresh ingredients to whip together a meal of burgers, peas, and fried rice.

The fried rice is a recycled leftover, made from the extra pounds of rice the Chinese restaurant included in our takeout meal earlier this week.

I use the recipe my mother used when we were kids. One of the objects I love most that I inherited from Mom is her well-stained copy of the Joyce Chen Cook Book. To tell the truth (and I may have said it here before), my mother wasn’t much of a cook, but she was usually an adventurous cook, and was one of the few non-Chinese moms I knew who was willing to try her hand at cooking Chinese food (she also tried Korean, South American, African, French, and many others).

Joyce Chen, who opened her eponymous restaurant in 1958 in Cambridge, MA, was a perfect match for my mother. Mom was a working woman, with an interest in exotic food, but little cooking experience, and not much time to cook or research recipes. She certainly had no extra time in her schedule to shop for ingredients that weren’t readily available at the local Stop and Shop. At a time when Asian groceries were to be found only in Chinatowns in major cities, Joyce Chen’s goal was to write a cookbook that American cooks could use to turn out simplified, but authentic-tasting Chinese food by using easier-to-find American ingredients.

Joyce Chen’s fried rice recipe had a starring role in Mom’s recipe repertoire. While she served it with other dishes made from Joyce Chen’s cookbook, she was just as apt to serve it with hot dogs, or fish, or at a party buffet. When I was a kid, I loved the taste of the rice. Now that I’m a working Mom, I appreciate the dish in a whole new way: it’s an easy classic that goes with nearly everything, and that everyone in the family loves. I bet it even goes okay with leftover turkey.

Note: Tomorrow we’ll re-open that little secret door that goes from Vermont to Italy and resume our trip where we left off. In the meantime, one last night in Vermont to enjoy the snow.

Egg Fried Rice, Home Style

adapted from the Joyce Chen Cook Book

4 cups cooked rice, warm or cold (leftover rice from a day or two or three ago is perfect)
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
1/2 tsp Chinese cooking wine or mirin
4 tablespoons safflower or peanut oil
Optional additions for finishing: 1 cup frozen or fresh peas, cooked; 4 strips bacon diced and fried; 1/4 cup onion, diced and fried; 2 tablespoons minced scallions, etc.


  1. Put the cooked rice in a large bowl and break up any lumps with your hands so that the grains are separate.
  2. Break the eggs into the rice bowl, then add the salt and cooking wine.
  3. Mix thoroughly with a spoon or your hands to coat the grains of rice with the egg.
  4. Add the oil to a hot skillet over medium-high heat.
  5. Add the rice mixture and then stir-fry for 8-10 minutes, until the grains separate and dry.
  6. When the rice is golden and the egg is fully cooked, add any of the additions you like.
  7. Remove the rice from the heat and transfer to a serving dish.