Dazed and confused? Not me. I’m just Lost in the Cheese Aisle.

Saturday, October 20, 2012


Nasi Goreng
Nasi goreng: Indonesian fried rice with egg, fried shallots, and scallions. Also plenty hot chile pepper. This stuff beats Cantonese fried rice like a rented mule.

One of the side effects of our protein-and vegetable-laden eating habits is that we end up with a pile of leftover rice whenever we eat Chinese food.

It matters not whether we’re eating out or getting carry-out. There’s always far more rice than we ever plan to consume... solid evidence that neither of us is Asian. (Our lack of the Epicanthic Fold is another dead giveaway.)

I have no compunction about tossing out the excess rice. It may be offensive to suggest that the main staff of life in many cultures around the world is cheap, minimally nutritive filler, but, well, there you are. Rice, while a good, inexpensive source of calories and (some) vitamins, is not particularly rich in protein or fiber. Moreover, it packs a glycemic wallop... and these days, it’s even spiked with a few ppm of arsenic. So my usual solution is to just throw it out.

Nutritive minefield that it may be, however, I still hate to simply eighty-six perfectly good food. Which leaves me with the challenge of what to do with ricey leftovers.

Two alternatives stand out from the pack: rice pudding and fried rice.

Rice pudding - a long-time favorite of Eli, hizzownself - is a great way to make use of excess cooked rice. Some milk or cream, some sugar, a few eggs, and a few carefully administered dashes of cinnamon, nutmeg, and/or cardamom, and you’ve got a dessert worthy of a king - a king with a fat ass.  Kheer, Indian-style rice pudding with a pronounced cardamom flavor, is one of my favorite variations on the theme.

But once I start eating rice pudding, it’s kinda hard to stop... which is why I rarely make it.

What about fried rice? Who doesn’t love delicious, yummy fried rice, with its little nuggets of egg, veggies, and meatstuffs? I have plenty of childhood memories of platters laden with fried rice, sometimes buried in lobster sauce. Good Gawd, was that stuff tasty.

A few months ago, Cook’s Illustrated published a recipe for nasi goreng - Indonesian-style fried rice - a somewhat spicier and considerably more interesting version of fried rice than the familiar Cantonese stuff we all grew up with.. It’s a dish I developed a taste for decades ago when I used to travel around in that part of the world, but it’s not for everybody.  One of my colleagues from the old Corporate Salt Mine days, a Louisiana Cajun of the first water, tried it one time and, to my surprise, did not care for it.  How could this be? I wondered.  Rice, some piquant chile heat... what was there for a Baton Rouge boy not to love?  But he dubbed it “Nasty Goreng,” and the name stuck.

That’s it! I’ll make a pile of Nasty Goreng out of this leftover rice!

I was already one step ahead, for unlike the chefs in America’s Test Kitchen, I didn’t need to find substitutes for some of the more difficult-to-find ingredients.  Hell, I had ’em in the pantry!  Kecap manis? Sambal udang bercili? The dreaded, hyper-pungent belacan? I had ’em all.  Nasty Goreng it would be.

The only problem was the belacan (pronounced “blachang”), which is an evil little brick of concentrated fermented shrimp paste.  It’s an ingredient that packs an umami wallop, kind of like anchovy paste on steroids.  And like anchovy paste, a little goes a long way.

Unlike anchovy paste, however, belacan is incredibly pungent: It is to aroma what plutonium is to radioactivity.  I keep mine in the pantry, wrapped up in three layers of plastic, plus one of heavy waxed paper, plus a jacket of aluminum foil.  The simple act of taking it out of its layers of wrappings can fill the house with a pong that She Who Must Be Obeyed describes as “unwashed twat.”  And that is being kind.

Before you use belacan, you have to toast it, which generates even more fragrance.  You slice off a thin sliver from that dark brown brick, wrap it in foil, and hold it over an open flame for two minutes.  You can then add it to the sambal udang bercili before tossing the whole mess in a hot, well-oiled pan with the rice.  I was smart enough to toast the belacan outdoors this time, which (I hoped) would help keep the aroma in the house down to manageable levels.

I’m not sure how much the outdoor toasting helped, because I assembled the rest of the dish indoors on Darth Stover.  Perhaps it did.  A little, anyway.  And the results were well worth it, because the finished dish (shown above with a slice of lime) was ridiculously yummy - not nasty at all.  Even the Mistress of Sarcasm pronounced it delicious, devouring most of it over the course of the next two days.  Which is about how long it took for the house to air out.

Leftover nasi goreng (left over from a dish made from leftovers!) makes a dandy omelette filling, too.  Now all I have to do is run ten miles to work off all those carbs...

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