MACAO’S PORTUGUESE FRIED RICE GRATIN
WITH FLAVOURS THAT WELD PERFECTLY INTO YOUR NEXT WEEK-NIGHT REGULARS
There are some women, whose problem is that they never believe they have what it takes to put together an IKEA coffee table. Then, there are those such as myself. Who hold unexplained and relentless faith in their own physical strength. Who ask, how hard can it be? Who practically built every single bed-bath-and-beyond in her apartment, with chapped unpolished nails and a can of diet coke. And who, sometimes, get cocky.
If you ask me now, I would tell you I have absolutely no idea whatsoever, on why on earth did I think I had the same skills as a professional large-scale furniture builder/wood carpenter, which must be how I felt when I bought 3 colossally humongous, solid wood, antique courtyard doors that I thought I could turn into a dinning table with nothing but a mini screwdriver? Why… why did this feel a bit different from those IKEA bookshelves with their friendly pre-drilled holes? Why? I kept asking myself the same question when I dragged this bone-crushingly heavy thing into the shower, scrubbing and rinsing off its ancient dirt that ran into the drain as black as the humour I found in all of this self-inflicted pain. Today, I can’t feel my neck.
This is the kind of day when I’m really grateful for awesome leftovers. I can only thank my foretelling self when I crawl to the fridge, dragging behind me a trail of defeat, and find a pure Macanese creation called “Portuguese sauce rice gratin”, a cheesy and bubbly seafood fried rice flooded with a light coconut milk curry and gruyere sauce then finished under the broiler, which I suspect, probably has nothing to do with Portugal. I came up with its recipe the other day, because I’ve long been curious of it. With its name being as confusing as its concept, this is one of those dishes that sounds weird but ultimately, defies all logics. It’s one of the classics on every menu of “tea restaurant” in Hong Kong, among with its peers that all came into existence under the great mashing of different cultures during colonial times. Without trying it before, you’d probably question… really? But yes. YES! The rice gratin stirs into kind of a cheesy, coconut-y, mildly curried risotto almost, and pleases all way from the taste buds down to a warmed tummy, and repeats. It is easily one of the most surprisingly delicious, can’t-stop-won’t-stop mess-on-a-plate I’ve cooked, with unlikely flavours that weld perfectly together into your next week-night regulars.
So I feed, heartily, staring into the wooden beasts with restored combativity. I will break you, I say, and sit a piping hot pan of Portuguese rice gratin on your face while I sip lemonade. You just watch…
You can probably use leftover fried rice from take-outs, or substitute the fish with other proteins like chickens or shrimps. I’m convinced that this is the kind of thing that can’t taste bad. I’ve tried with both shredded gruyere and shredded mozzarella for the top, and found that the mozzarella left a hardened “shell” which I didn’t appreciate in this dish. This recipe reheats very well, so it can be made the day ahead then re-bake again in the oven before serving.
- 15.9 oz (450 grams) flaky white fish fillet, such as basa or cod
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- Salt and ground white pepper to season
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil, plus more if needed
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 3 cups (510 grams) cooked rice, preferable a-day-old or slightly on the dry side
- 1 1/4 cup (115 grams) finely diced scallions
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 3/4 tsp ground white pepper
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 tbsp unsalted butter, plus more to top
- 2 medium shallots, grated
- 3 cloves garlic, grated
- 1 tsp grated ginger
- 1 tbsp curry powder
- 1 tbsp onion powder
- 2 tbsp ground coconut (fine coconut flakes)
- 1 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 can (400 ml) coconut milk
- 1/2 cup (120 grams) whole milk
- 1 cup (80 grams) shredded gruyere cheese, plus 1/2 cup (40 grams) to top
- Salt to season
- TO COOK THE FISH: Cut the fish in small bite-size pieces, then season with salt and ground white pepper. Heat 2 tbsp of vegetable oil over high heat in a non-stick skillet, then cook the fish until slightly browned on the edges. Reserve 2/3 of the amount for fried rice, then roughly break up the rest for the sauce.
- TO FRY THE RICE: Heat 2 tbsp of vegetable oil over high heat in a wok or deep skillet, then add the beaten eggs. Before the eggs solidify, mix in the cooked rice with a wooden spatula and let the runny eggs partially coat the grains. After each grains are evenly separated and heated (if it seems dry, add a bit more oil), add the diced scallions, salt and ground white pepper. Mix evenly then add the reserved fish. Gently fold everything together then set aside.
- TO MAKE THE SAUCE: (If you have a small blender, you can puree vegetable oil, shallots, garlics and ginger together instead of grating.) Cook vegetable oil, unsalted butter, grated shallots, garlics and ginger in a pot over medium heat for 2 minutes until very fragrant. Turn the heat down to medium-low, and add curry powder, onion powder, ground coconut, all-purpose flour and ground black pepper. Stir constantly and cook for a few min until the paste starts to brown slightly, but careful not to burn. Whisk in the coconut milk and whole milk (make sure there's no lump), add the reserved shredded fish and simmer the mixture for 5~7 min until thickened and reduced very slightly. Now melt the grated gruyere cheese into the sauce, and re-season with more salt if needed.
- TO BAKE THE GRATIN: Preheat the broiler on high. Lightly butter the interior of the baking-dish, then spread the fried rice evenly across (you can make 1 big gratin or individual serving sizes). Pour in the sauce and make sure it completely covers the fried rice. Scatter more grated cheese over the top, plus a few small nubs of unsalted butter and a bit of ground black pepper. Bake on medium-high rack inside the oven until browned and bubbly on top. Serve immediately.
1 1/4 cup of diced scallions may sound like a lot, but trust me, that's how much it'll take.