“This is the first dish that I ever learned how to cook,” says chef Tracy Chang of the evocatively named Childhood Fried Rice that graces the menu of Pagu, her Japanese-Spanish tapas joint in Cambridge. Studded with Taiwanese sausage, peas, carrots and fried shallots, finished with a rain of freshly cracked pepper, the rice is lightly burnished in spots, each grain a crunchy, individually articulated casing around a tender interior.
Growing up outside Boston in Lexington, Mass., Chang hung out with her family most Sundays. “It was really special that that time was set aside for everyone to spend together,” she recalls. Typically, someone would cook a big batch of fried rice. “It was something that all the kids would eat and no one would complain about,” she says. “It was certainly a crowd-pleaser.”
As she grew up, Chang chased culinary knowledge across the Atlantic to Paris, to study at Le Cordon Bleu, and then to Spain, to work at Martín Berasategui in San Sebastián. She took her fried rice recipe with her everywhere, adapting it to suit each setting.
“Every culture has fried rice, or paella, or donabe rice, whatever you want to call it. So you follow the recipe to a certain extent, but you also make it your own, right?” she says. “I evolved it. When I was living in Paris, I would make it with jambon. When I was living in Spain, I would make it with baby squid,” known locally as txipirones.
For a family-style commencement feast, Chang has provided her rice recipe as a jumping-off point. She suggests channeling ingredients from your own childhood—or if you’re a parent, from your child’s childhood—to create a memorable riff.
“I’ve certainly made it without sausage for vegetarians, or I’ve taken out sausage, peas and carrots and I’ve added mushrooms, a touch of soy sauce and heavy black pepper and extra, extra garlic. So would I call that the same Childhood Rice as this recipe? No, but it’s still a very good rice dish.”
Remembering her time in San Sebastián, Chang laughs as she recalls that people there would call her rice “arroz chino,” a reference to her Taiwanese heritage, or “arroz à la Tracy.” She feels that when she makes it, no matter the ingredients, the rice bears her signature due to the “crispy yet tender” texture she coaxes from the rice grains.
Cooking the rice base 12 to 15 hours before you plan to serve gives it time to dry out for that bit of crunch. But if you wind up cooking it the same day as your party, simply reduce the amount of cooking water a little, so it winds up undercooked. “Then, because you’re going to sauté it again, you’ll still be OK,” Chang says.
“What’s really great about this dish is that it’s modular,” she adds. “It’s easy to prep ahead of time.” The rice, shallots and sausage are cooked separately and then stirred together, all of which can happen the day ahead of your party, the day of, or some combination. Frozen peas and carrots are thawed and added right before serving. (Chang finds the frozen ones to be juicier than fresh versions, particularly in the case of peas.)
Chang’s go-to wine choices with the meal are fresh, unoaked Spanish whites, which reflect the Spain-focused wine list at Pagu. The floral, medium-bodied Do Ferreiro Albariño Cepas Vellas 2015 and the racy, tart, lightly effervescent Txomin Etxaniz Txakolina 2016 both display lively acidity, juicy lemon notes and minerally tones that flatter the starchy, well-seasoned, slightly rich dish.
But that’s only half the story. “When I have those wines, yes, I think about how well they go with the fried rice, but I also think about the company that I shared when I originally tasted those, and it’s that similar feeling of kinship, of family.” Albariño was one of Chang’s first Spanish wine revelations, and Txakolí was the wine she drank most frequently while living in San Sebastián, in the variety’s native Basque Country.
Like these wines, part of what makes Chang’s fried rice special is its meaning beyond the dinner table. “When I take a bite of it, it’s not just the individual ingredients coming together and being really delicious, but it’s transporting me back to a time and place that I can never really re-create again except for in a new way,” she says. “So I think that’s kind of the magic of it.”
What will you be stirring into your Childhood Fried Rice?
1. The day before your party, cook rice with 6 cups water according to package directions, preferably in a rice cooker. (A large pot works too, but beware of sticking.) Transfer cooked rice to a parchment-lined sheet pan. Let dry. Make ahead: Rice is best made 12–15 hours before serving. If leaving overnight, cover and transfer to refrigerator.
2. Heat 1/4 cup canola oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot, such as a Dutch oven, or a large wok over medium. Add shallots and sauté, stirring, until golden, 4 or 5 minutes. Strain and reserve shallots and oil separately. Make ahead: Shallots will keep, unstrained, for up to 1 day in the refrigerator, packed in their own oil.
3. Heat remaining 1/4 cup canola oil in the same pot over medium. Add sausage and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned on both sides. Strain and reserve sausage and oil separately. Make ahead: Sausage will keep, unstrained, for up to 1 day in the refrigerator, packed in its own oil.
4. In a nonstick pan, heat the oil from the shallots over medium. Add eggs and cook, mixing continuously with chopsticks to fluff. Add 1/4 teaspoon sea salt. Keep the scramble wet and do not let it brown. Remove from heat when eggs are still a bit runny. Transfer eggs to a bowl. Make ahead: Eggs will keep for up to 1 day in the refrigerator.
5. Add the oil from the sausage back to the pot and heat over medium. Add the garlic and half the scallions. Stir to combine, and cook until garlic is aromatic and golden, about 2 minutes.
Note: If the pot is large enough to fit all of the ingredients, proceed with step 6. If not, finish cooking in two batches, removing half the garlic and scallions from the pot, and proceeding with step 6 forward with just half of each item. Transfer the mixture to a large container and repeat with the other half of the ingredients, then combine into one large batch.
6. Add rice to the pot and break up so rice grains are individual and not in clumps. Add shallots and 1/4 teaspoon salt, stirring to combine. Add sausage and eggs, and stir to combine. No clumps!
7. Cook over medium heat until ingredients are well-incorporated, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining 2 1/2 teaspoons salt.
8. Raise heat to high. Let rice sit so bottom develops a golden crust, aka “guo ba,” using a rubber spatula to check the bottom for browning after about 2 minutes. Make ahead: The rice can be prepared up to this point and stored, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 1 day. It can then be reheated, covered, in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium-low heat, and stirred occasionally until warmed through.
9. Turn off heat. Add peas, carrots and black pepper, and stir to combine. Taste, adding more salt and pepper as needed. The rice should not be clumpy; every grain should be singular. Add remaining scallions to garnish. Serves 10–12.
Note: This list showcases very good to outstanding Spanish white wines, priced at $20 or less, from recent Wine Spectator tastings. For more similar selections rated in the past year, see WineSpectator.com's Wine Ratings Search.
BODEGAS TERRAS GAUDA Rias Baixas O Rosal 2017
Crisp and lively. Bright citrusy acidity drives green apple, quince and lime flavors in this fresh white, while a briny note adds interest. A touch of spritz accentuates the acidity, keeping the minerally finish fresh and clean. Albariño, Caino Bianco and Loureiro. Drink now. 750 cases imported.
BODEGAS VALDUERO Albillo Viño de la Tierra de Castilla y León Yunquera 2017
This firm white shows a savory character, offering fresh herb, blanched almond and briny notes that mingle over crisp acidity. The flavors are reserved, but this remains refreshing, with good depth. Drink now through 2021. 1,200 cases imported.
EDETÀRIA Garnatxa Blanca Terra Alta Via Terra 2016
A firm texture carries pear, chalk, citrus and smoke notes in this savory white. Crisp acidity and a touch of tannins give this a solid structure. Drink now through 2020. 1,800 cases imported.
CELLERS UNIÓ Garnacha Blanca Terra Alta Clos Dalian 2017
This white is rich yet lively. A broad texture carries ripe flavors of honeyed pear and melon, with floral and herbal notes, while bright, citrusy acidity keeps this focused and fresh. Drink now through 2022. 1,800 cases imported.
BODEGAS MARTÍN CÓDAX Albariño Rias Baixas 2016
This lively white delivers juicy flavors of peach and lime, with fresh acidity and an appealing briny note. Juicy and refreshing. Drink now. 42,000 cases imported.
BODEGAS BERONIA Verdejo Rueda 2017
Pear and melon flavors are accented by light herbal and waxy notes in this lively white. Firm acidity focuses the generous texture. The juicy finish brings you back for another sip. Drink now through 2021. 3,000 cases imported.
BODEGAS BORSAO Macabeo-Chardonnay Campo de Borja 2016
This lively white delivers fresh flavors of pear, peach and citrus, while herbal notes add interest. Clean and focused. Drink now through 2020. 5,500 cases imported.
DOMINIO DE EGUREN Viño de la Tierra de Castilla White Protocolo 2016
This fragrant white offers floral, white peach and tangerine notes. Bright fruit and juicy acidity keeps this lively and refreshing. Features a smooth texture and a clean finish. Macabeo and Airén. Drink now through 2021. 10,000 cases imported.
BODEGAS RAMÓN BILBAO Albariño Rias Baixas 2016
Peach and quince flavors mingle with ginger and blanched almond notes in this lively white. Offers tangy green apple acidity and a clean, spicy finish. Drink now. 7,009 cases imported.
HIJOS DE ALBERTO GUTIÉRREZ Verdejo Rueda Botas de Barro 2016
This firm white shows savory green olive and herbal notes, framing pear and dried apple flavors. Features plenty of acidity to support the thick texture. Drink now. 2,000 cases imported.