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I’m fairly sure my ’70s punk rock education went The Clash and then The Stranglers. Not The Sex Pistols. Not The Ramones. The Stranglers. It may or may not say something about my musical tastes in the late ’70s when I say I felt The Clash reminded me of Michigan garage rock bands and The Stranglers reminded me of The Doors.
Yep, The Doors.
Those early albums (pre-1980) are straight-up punk rock Doors with Jean-Jacques Burnel and Hugh Cornwell’s vocals riding over a Farfisa & bass whirlwind. It becomes more and more evident as the albums progress and they move away from the early raw punk rock vibe into a solid sleazy crooning snarling era. “(Get A) Grip (Grip On Yourself)” introduces a keyboard & sax driven frenzy counter to anything coming out at the time. Segue into “No More Heroes” which is the first appearance of the “Punk Rock Doors” vibe. The theme song for this recipe moves the vibe along. Farfisa & bass-driven with a sing-speak vocal snarling over the top (not to mention the psychedelic keyboard freak-out break). They are a “Thinking Person’s” punk band – embracing the visceral energy of the time but adding an art school literary layer and later couching that intellectualism in a gloss of shiny easily digestible Brit-Pop. Granted, by that time, they may have become less compelling musically, but there is no denying the underappreciated brilliance of ’70s era Stranglers.
If The Stranglers are punk rock Doors, this is a punk rock fried rice. It’s technically a style of Hong Kong baked rice usually served with pork chops. In reality, it’s some sort of mash-up of fried rice, risotto, and rice & cheese casserole. It’s also remarkably satisfying and easy to make. The best part is you likely have all the ingredients in your kitchen!
Like all fried rice dishes, this benefits from using cold day-old rice. Leftover rice from takeout will do just fine. I generally have a quart or so of cold rice in the fridge because I’m that kind of guy.
For the sauce, the only real key ingredients are the tomato, garlic, and onion. Don’t have mushrooms? Leave them out. Have broccoli? Put some in. Only peppers in the crisper? Those’ll work. The key is to not overload the sauce. Pick one additional vegetable that will bake well.
It’s also not necessary to use sweet chili sauce, but during the testing phase, I preferred it over the traditional ketchup and sugar. Plus, I always have some homemade chili sauce in the fridge. If you’re going the ketchup route, use 1/3 cup ketchup and 1 tablespoon sugar. You won’t get the same depth as a chili sauce, but it’ll still be delicious.
One final note about the sauce, when it comes time to make the roux, be sure to thoroughly wipe out the pan and let it cool down a bit. The small amount of butter and flour involved will burn quickly if your pan is too hot. Don’t stress too much here. You’re not getting a thick roux paste. This is more a thickened brown butter sauce. After about 2 minutes cooking the flour out, proceed with the rest of the sauce prep.
This is the very definition of Ugly Delicious!
I’m not going to lie. This is NOT an Instagram-worthy bowl. it IS, however, a gooey saucy cheese-crusty hot bowl of comfort that takes everyday ingredients and leftovers and turns them into something brilliant. It’s a perfect example that while we may eat with our eyes first, we taste with our mouths, and perhaps that should be FAR more important.
I’m not saying Rice ‘N’ Cheesy is a political statement against pretty Instagram Food Culture and the inherent bias food culture has against “ugly food.” I’m also not NOT saying that
RICE ‘N’ CHEESY
Fried rice with a tomato mushroom cheese sauce baked with mozzarella
Makes 2 main-course servings
For the tomato sauce
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
4 cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 large beefsteak tomato (or 2 large plum tomatoes), diced
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 1/2 teaspoon all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sweet chili sauce
kosher salt, to taste
For the cheesy rice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon mirin
3 cups leftover cooked rice
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup shredded Muenster cheese
1 cup shredded low-moisture mozzarella
Make the sauce
Heat the oil in a small saucepan over high. Add the onion and cook for until lightly golden, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and tomato and cook until just soft, about 2 minutes more, then transfer to a medium bowl. Wipe the saucepan clean before proceeding. You want the pan to cool down a bit.
Lower the heat to medium-low and melt the butter in the saucepan. Whisk in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until thick & saucy, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the tomato-onion mixture back to the saucepan along with 1/4 cup cold water. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Stir in the sweet chili sauce and season with salt. Cook until thick, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Make the rice
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium. Add the vinegar and honey and stir to combine, then add the rice. Cook, stirring, until combined, then season with salt and pepper. Stir in the Muenster cheese and cook until melted, 1 to 2 minutes. Pour the sauce over the rice and toss to combine thoroughly.
Place the rice & sauce mixture in an 8-inch oven-proof skillet (alternatively, divide among four 10-ounce ramekins). Sprinkle the mozzarella cheese evenly over the top. Place in the oven and cook until golden and bubbling, about 12 minutes. Let rest 5 minutes before serving.