The Chinese New Year is almost here and I thought it was the perfect time to share my Caribbean Special Fried Rice recipe. This is the quintessential kitchen sink recipe. It’s a great way to use leftover proteins, white rice and vegetables. Traditionally, one would use a wok, but you really don’t need one. A good bottom heavy pan will work just as well as long as you stir with the same frequency and heat as you would if cooking in a wok.
Mom has been making this special fried rice as long as I can remember. She actually got the recipe in the early 70s from a friend who worked at a Chinese restaurant in Spain. Growing up it was a family favorite and my uncle Greg still requests it to this day. We use olive oil, which is healthier and has a higher burning point than butter, but feel free to use butter or oil. This recipe is packed with ham, chicken, shrimp, bean sprouts, eggs and onions. We don’t add carrots or peas, frequently used in other recipes, because it wasn’t in the original 1970s recipe and we have stayed true to the original. We always make it fresh, but you can certainly use leftovers and adapt it. Kitchen sink recipes are so easy since you can add more or less of your favorite ingredients and it always turns out great.
The Chinese created this dish around 589 AD, during the Sui Dynasty, as a way to reuse leftovers due to their taboos regarding wasting food. As the Chinese people migrated across the globe, they adapted their family recipes to their new environment and used easily sourced ingredients creating a myriad of adapted recipes. Fried rice is a universal dish. My family’s version is based on Caribbean influences, called arroz frito or fried rice, but it’s really a special fried rice and is a full meal on its own.
HERE’S HOW I MADE IT
Select a skillet or pan that is deep and wide enough to combine all of the ingredients. A non-stick pan will make it easier, but it’s not necessary. I didn’t use one and it worked out well. Just keep an eye on the skillet and stir frequently.
You’ll need about 3 cups of cooked white rice, preferably day old white rice at room temperature. Set the rice aside for now, you’ll add it after you cook the proteins. Because this recipe has so many other ingredients, I don’t use more rice, but feel free to add as much rice as you like. Remember this is a method.
Note: I like to use Uncle Ben’s parboil rice and cook it in a Hitachi Rice Cooker, but you can use any white rice you like and you don’t need a rice cooker. By the way, this rice cooker is also great for steaming vegetables!
Lightly coat the bottom of the skillet with olive oil and cook a packet of diced ham over medium to high heat until the liquid evaporates. Once the liquid has evaporated, add a medium onion, chopped, and continue to cook until golden, stirring occasionally. Mash a large garlic clove and add it to the skillet, cook for an extra minute or two and transfer the mixture to a bowl. The ham, onion and garlic create an amazing flavor combination and all the brown bits in the skillet will be incorporated into the dish and flavor the rice.
A Few Notes: If you’re adding carrots, finely dice the carrots and sauté with the onions. If adding frozen peas, add them toward the end of the dish so they don’t get mushy. Frozen peas warm up very quickly. Lastly, since the ham is salty so I don’t add any extra salt.
Season a few strips of chicken tenders with Sanbrinelli’s Groovin Cuban complete seasoning mix, a pinch of Diamond kosher salt and the juice of half a lemon. Coat a small pan with olive oil and sear the chicken over medium to high heat. Tenderloins cook a lot faster and are easy to cut or portion out. When the chicken has cooked, set them aside to rest before cutting into bite size pieces.
Note: Sanbrinelli’s contains a small of amount of salt, making it easier for me to control the salt in this dish. If you don’t have a complete seasoning mix, dust the tenderloins with garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper. Don’t omit the lemon, the acidity helps tenderize the meat and adds great flavor.
Remove the shells, tails and devein the shrimp. Pat dry with a paper towel to remove excess moisture and season the shrimp with kosher salt and black pepper. I used jumbo shrimp today because it’s what I had on hand. This dish doesn’t require jumbo – small or medium size shrimp will work great. Coat a small pan with olive oil and sauté the shrimp over medium heat until pink on each side, but not overcooked. Set the shrimp aside.
In a small mixing bowl, beat 2 – 3 whole eggs with about a Tablespoon of water and season with kosher salt and pepper. Wipe the small pan clean with a paper towel and lightly coat with olive oil. Pour the beaten eggs into the pan and lightly scramble them until cooked, without any brown bits, over medium to low heat. Transfer the egg to the bowl.
Note: Lower heat tends to produce a lighter, fluffier egg while high heat can produce a rubbery egg. Steamed scrambled eggs are amazing, but that’s a post for another day.
WHY ARE WE SEASONING EACH INGREDIENT?
You season each ingredient to build layers of flavor and evenly distribute the seasonings throughout the dish. The soy sauce and sesame oil will color and season the rice, but it isn’t enough to flavor the protein. You want a perfectly seasoned bite every time that’s colorful, visually appealing and flavorful.
COMBINING ALL THE INGREDIENTS
Remember this dish is originally made in a wok, where the ingredients are constantly tossed and combined. Apply the same concept when using a skillet to ensure even heat distribution without burning.
Transfer the cooked rice to the big skillet where you cooked the ham and diced onions. With the burner on medium heat, add enough low sodium soy sauce to coat the rice as you mix the rice with a wooden spoon. I don’t measure the soy sauce, I add dashes as I coat and toss the rice until all the rice is coated in soy sauce.
The rice will also picks up the brown bits and flavor from the previously cooked ham and onions. Once the rice is colored, add a little sesame oil, about 1/2 a teaspoon, and toss to coat the rice evenly. Make a well in the center of the skillet and add bean spouts and stir to combine. Add the ham and onion mixture, diced chicken and shrimp. Stir frequently to combine well and warm through. Taste and reseason.
Note: Sesame oil is used in Asian cuisine to season food and in food preparation. A little goes a long way.
Since the dish is practically done, turn off the heat and stir in the scrambled eggs. Garnish with sliced green scallions and you’re ready to eat! Serve it with sweet plantains and a simple lettuce and tomato salad for an authentic Caribbean meal. Enjoy!
While you could certainly create this dish using leftovers and the combination of proteins and vegetable you like, this family recipe is pretty darn delicious. I love the flavors, the simplicity and heartiness of the dish. This is a meal on its own. I hope you enjoy it as much as my family does.
Caribbean Special Fried Rice
An easy and delicious restaurant quality special fried rice with a Caribbean flavor. This is a great way to use up leftovers and the rice keeps for a few days in the refrigerator.
- about 3 cups day old cooked white rice, room temperature prefer Uncle Ben's parboiled rice or Basmati rice
- 1 8-ounce packet of diced ham
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 large garlic clove, mashed
- 3 – 4 strips of chicken tenderloins or a breast cut into strips
- complete seasoning or garlic & onion powder with salt and pepper mixture prefer Sabrinelli's
- juice of half a lemon
- about ½ pound medium shrimp, peeled & deveined with tails removed
- 2 – 3 eggs, scrambled with a Tablespoon of water
- kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste prefer Diamond kosher salt
- low sodium soy sauce
- about ½ teaspoon sesame oil
- 7 ounces bean sprouts prefer Geisha bean sprouts in water
- 2 scallions, cut on the bias to garnish
COOKING THE PROTEINS
Lightly coat the bottom of the wide, heavy bottom skillet with olive oil and cook a packet of diced ham over medium to high heat until the liquid evaporates. Add the chopped onion and cook until golden, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and cook for an extra minute or two. Set aside.
Season the chicken with complete seasoning mix, kosher salt and lemon juice. Toss to combine. Coat a small pan with olive oil and sear the chicken over medium to high heat until cooked and golden. Set the chicken aside to rest before cutting into bite size pieces.
Season the shrimp with kosher salt and pepper. Coat a small pan with olive oil and sauté the shrimp over medium heat until pink on each side, but not overcooked. Set the shrimp aside.
Wipe the small pan clean with a paper towel and lightly coat with olive oil. Pour the beaten eggs into the pan and lightly scramble over medium to low heat until cooked, without any brown bits. Set the scrambled eggs aside.
COOKING THE RICE
Transfer the cooked rice to the wide, bottom heavy skillet – where you cooked the ham and onions. With the burner on medium heat, spread the rice evenly and begin to add enough low sodium soy sauce to coat the rice, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon.
Add a little sesame oil, about 1/2 a teaspoon, and toss to coat the rice evenly.
COMBINING RICE & PROTEINS
Make a well in the center and add the bean spouts. Toss to combine.
Add the ham and onion mixture, diced chicken and shrimp. Stir frequently to combine and warm through. Taste and reseason.
Turn off the heat and stir in the scrambled eggs.
Garnish with sliced green scallions and serve!
Note: If adding diced carrots and green peas, cook the carrots with the onions and add the peas toward the end. Frozen peas warm up quickly.