I find it pretty awesome that Alyssa and I both chose to go Asian with our soup theme this week. She’s got a scrumptious looking khao soi gai on the blog this week that I hope to make really, really soon.
This soup recipe is a long time coming. Several years ago, my mom’s best friend was in town visiting from San Diego. Restaurants were a HUGE treat as a kid and we didn’t visit them often, so it’s no surprise that her visit marks the first time I can remember eating in a Chinese restaurant. One of the items she ordered was SO COOL for a six year old: Chinese Sizzling Rice Soup. Not only is it delicious, it has the neatest sizzling sound effect that the waitress creates right at the table when she pours the rice into the hot, hot soup. Ever since, I’ve been ordering it every time. I’ve had it with assorted meats and with just chicken, with tons of vegetables and barely any. Since it’s so customizable, it’s kind of a wonder that its taken me so many years to decide to make it on my own.
The challenge in making this recipe (for ME) was figuring out the rice part. You don’t get too close to the pre-soup rice when it’s being served to you in the restaurant and I wasn’t sure which of the many online recipes was closest to that rice. There were two main ways offered: fry the crap out of some uncooked long grain white rice or or cook some rice and throw it in the oven for two hours to crisp it up. Neither of these options seemed like they would work if I was looking for the consistency of the restaurant rice: very crispy, non-oily, and cooked-but-dry. I persevered in my Googling and finally landed on a page which reminded me that YOU CAN BUY THESE THINGS. In all my years of ordering the soup, I remember a few restaurants had used pre-sized rice cakes, similar to the product highlighted on that page. A trip to the nearest Asian Grocery was in order!
Although I’m literally four minutes from an AMAZING Chinatown, I thought I would personally have more luck at a market selling a range of items from several different countries. The 99 Ranch market (you’re in luck if you’re in CA, WA, NV and TX since there may be one near you) carries a wide variety of Asian products, produce, bakery and meat items along with a few random American items thrown in (Frosted Flakes, Sanka, that kind of thing.) If you’ve never shopped one and aren’t sure if you’d like to make sizzling rice soup, I’d still recommend checking it out for the experience alone. You’re likely to find something to gawk at, cook or take secret photos of.
I ended up finding two products at the market that day: the recommended rice cakes and a version called Instant Sizzling Rice:
I picked them both up, took ’em home and got to cooking.
* Delicious sparkling water optional, but highly recommended.
As I was in the process of settling in with my manufactured rice items, my oldest sister clued me in that I might, in fact, be able fry up some uncooked rice. Before we make Mexican rice, (I’m Mexican. We eat a lot of Mexican rice) we fry up the uncooked rice for a minute or two to brown it and add extra flavor. Since she’s not the most TIMELY cook, she’d left her rice to fry for longer more than once and told me that eventually they get hot and crispy and puff up a bit like popcorn. LIKE POPCORN? COUNT ME IN.
Spoiler. It’s NOT like popcorn:
As the rice got hotter and hotter it started to bubble. My thinking is that the water in the rice was being released and mixing with the oil? Not sure, but I never got to “popcorn” stage. I stopped at extremely-toasted brown.
Dehydrated browned rice didn’t really seem to be what I was going for, but some of the grains appeared to be a little fatter? We would have to see.
Chinese Sizzling Rice Soup
(Adapted from several recipes, but mostly this one.)
6 cups chicken broth
1 boneless skinless chicken breast, sliced into strips
8 oz of raw shrimp (I prefer to cut the tails off prior to cooking)
1-2 cups sliced mushrooms
1/4-1/2 cups canned water chestntuts
Handful of sugar snap peas
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp soy sauce
salt and pepper, to taste
Prepared rice cakes, or your choice of crispy rice (see below)
Bring the chicken broth to a boil. Add chicken, salt, pepper, soy sauce and sesame oil.
Once the broth is boiling again, reduce to a simmer. Add mushrooms, water chestnuts and snap peas.
After the mushrooms have reached your desired cooking consistency (I like them soft), add the raw shrimp. Ensure the shrimp is cooked through, but we’re adding it last so that it is not overcooked in the boiling soup. Three to four minutes should be perfect.
Dish up the soup. Add crispy rice (SIZZLE…)!
(I realized after finishing this batch that I would prefer a lot more veggies. A lot of the restaurants add frozen peas and carrots to the mix and I think that would be ok, but I’d REALLY like to add green beans and fresh carrots. Just add them to the simmering soup to cook them to your desired consistency before you add the shrimp.)
I can’t believe I didn’t make this sooner. Not only is it just as good as the restaurant version (which I wasn’t sure could be accomplished), it’s BETTER. I especially like that I can add as much of any ingredient I want rather than getting one shrimp, a lot of frozen peas and a piece or two of pork (which seems to be the usual restaurant serving- not bad, just not as good).
But, WAIT! What happened with the rice?
I tried them all, ladies and gentleman.
Rice Cakes (green and yellow package): PERFECTION. Not oily and satisfactorily crispy, yet soaked up the soup and had a good bite.
Instant Sizzling Rice: I chucked these things in the bowl and tried to eat them, but no luck. They were gummy and didn’t seem to soak up too much of the water. I tried to give them some time, but after not being able to chew on them I ended up taking them out of the bowl.
Homemade: AS WE ALL SUSPECTED, this… did not work. Even a little bit. It was actually edible, I suppose, if you like really really crispy bits in your soup. This rice definitely tasted good, but was completely wrong for the soup with its lack of sizzle and crunch.
Except… there’s more to the story.
As I was gathering my reference links for this post, I happened across a blog post which had not shown up in my Google search previously. YOU GUYS. Those Instant Sizzling Rice cakes that I had to REMOVE from my soup for being inedible? YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO FRY THEM UP. It says it in plain English RIGHT ON THE PACKAGE. I’m not sure if it’s better (for future use) or worse (for my pride) that it only takes 15 SECONDS, according to the author.
Fifteen seconds and it would have puffed up just like the rice on the left in that photo up there.
I thoughtfully chewed two whole squares of uncooked, gummy rice and didn’t immediately figure out that something was wrong. It didn’t even occur to me and I can ASSURE you that I had I not come across that post out of sheer luck I would be here telling you that it’s a darn shame they let the market sell those things because someone is going to break a tooth. And also they aren’t “instant” anything so that’s FALSE ADVERTISING.
I, um, learned my lesson.
If you can’t find ANY pre-made rice cakes in your neighborhood, both the rice cake and instant rice cakes are available online. I am fairly confident given the consistency of the winning option that the best homemade version would be to cook the rice and then bake it on a cookie sheet in the oven at 325 degrees for about 2 hours until it’s crisp and brown, a la Rice Krispie cereal. Depending on it’s crispy-ness, it could be worth giving it a quick fry, but it appears the baking would probably be enough according to the several recipes I’ve researched online.