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Clearing the confusion over fried rice

Three years ago, in response to a reader's question about why his fried rice didn't taste as good as fried rice in Chinese restaurants, I told him it was because he didn't use as much grease and concluded the column with a recipe for reduced fat fried rice, thereby enraging fried rice devotees from Portland to St. Petersburg.

They wrote to suggest I find another line of work and try their recipes for fried rice, neither of which moved me to recant my anti-fried rice position.

Then last fall, I watched Ken Hom make his Quick and Easy Fried Rice with a single tablespoon of peanut oil. Now I'm a believer. In Ken Hom as well as fried rice.

Born in Tucson of Cantonese parents, Hom followed the apprentice route to chefdom, starting as a pot walloper at age 11 in his uncle's Chicago restaurant.

Since then, he has been a student of medieval art, a TV producer and professional photographer. He has written seven cookbooks, stars in a cooking series produced by the BBC and owns a critically acclaimed restaurant in London.

Chef Hom prefers Malaysian basmati rice for fried rice but says any long grain rice will do provided it's cooked well ahead and chilled several hours or overnight until it's dry, with each grain separate. To prevent sticking, the wok or skillet should be heated to almost smoking over high heat before a small amount of oil is added.

Other secrets of low fat fried rice: Once you add the rice, keep stirring over high heat until it's heated through, about 5 minutes, then add beaten eggs and keep on stirring another minute before you add the remaining ingredients.

The oil Chef Hom recommends for stir-fries, including rice, is peanut oil from Hong Kong or Taiwan. It's cold-pressed, like extra virgin olive oil, thus has greater flavor and a higher smoking point.

Don't use additional oil to prevent sticking, he cautions. Instead, use some other liquid, added little by little as needed. That liquid can be wine, stock, vegetable or fruit juice. Personally, he prefers a light German wine, like Blue Nun, blended of riesling, sylvaner and muller-thurgau grapes, for both cooking and drinking with Pan-Asian foods.

Will using liquid in stir-fries rust carbon steel used in the best woks? No, says Hom. Not if you rub the still warm wok vigorously with crumpled paper towels after each use instead of washing it, and use it fairly often.

It's a good time to haul out the wok (or heavy 10-inch nonstick skillet) and whip up a fast feast of Quick Fried Rice and even quicker Salmon Steamed with Black Bean Sauce.

I've adapted both recipes from Ken Hom's Quick & Easy Chinese Cooking to make two servings. For an East-meets-West menu, add a green salad and frozen vanilla yogurt augmented with slices of ripe mango.

Quick Fried Rice

1 cup long grain rice

2 cups water

1 tablespoon peanut oil

1 tablespoon each finely chopped garlic and ginger

{ teaspoon salt

1 small stalk celery, chopped (optional)

3-4 small mushrooms, thinly sliced (optional)

1-2 eggs, beaten until foamy

1 cup mung bean sprouts (optional)

1 green onion, coarsely chopped (optional)

Place rice and water in heavy 2-quart saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook, uncovered, 10 minutes. Stir well, turn heat to lowest setting, cover and cook without stirring until water is absorbed, 12 to 15 minutes. Turn hot rice into shallow container, cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate 8 to 24 hours.

Arrange remaining ingredients and cold cooked rice conveniently near cooking area. Preheat 10-inch nonstick skillet 2-3 minutes over high heat; add oil, swirling skillet to coat evenly. Stir in garlic, ginger, salt, celery and mushrooms; cook and stir 1 minute. Stir in cold rice and continue to cook and stir about 5 minutes, or until rice is hot throughout. Stir in eggs and cook and stir another minute. Stir in bean sprouts and green onion and serve.

Hands on and stir-frying time: 20 minutes. Cooking time for rice: 25-30 minutes. Makes enough for 2 main dish servings or 4 side servings.

Steamed Salmon with Black Bean Sauce

10-11 ounce fillet of salmon (or whitefish or catfish), halved

1 tablespoon each minced ginger and garlic

1 tablespoon Chinese fermented black beans (dow shi), rinsed and chopped

1 green onion, chopped

8 or more sprigs cilantro

2 teaspoons peanut oil, heated in microwave or in small skillet

Set a collapsible steamer rack in a deep skillet or wok, add water to depth of 2 inches and bring to a simmer. Meanwhile, arrange fish fillets on heavy crockery plate that will fit inside skillet. In a small bowl, combine ginger, garlic and black beans, sprinkle evenly over fish. Carefully lower plate with fish onto rack, cover and simmer 8 to 10 minutes, or until fish is opaque throughout. Transfer to dinner plates with broad spatula, garnish with green onion and cilantro. Drizzle hot oil over each serving and serve at once.

Makes 2 4-ounce servings. Hands on and cooking times: 20 minutes.