Fried rice is typically a frugal dish, something you slap together at the last minute with meager ingredients on hand.
This is not that fried rice.
Not when it is enveloped in whipped uni butter, and crowned with fresh uni.
And certainly not when it is on the menu at Alexander’s Steakhouse in Cupertino for $25.
When Food Gal reader Kristy implored me recently to get the recipe for the uni fried rice after falling for it at Alexander’s, I could commiserate.
After all, I had enjoyed it at the restaurant only once — and I still dream about it. It’s that kind of dish — loaded with bold flavors that grabs you from the get-go with its uncanny mix of comfort and luxuriousness.
Executive Chef Jared Montarbo was kind enough to actually provide the recipe. As chefs are wont to do, there weren’t precise measurements for every single ingredient, so I tinkered a little. After making it at home recently, I can tell you confidently that his recipe does indeed make for a fried rice dish just about as delicious as the one he makes at the restaurant.
Kristy also let me in on her favorite fresh seafood source: K&C Food Wholesale in San Jose. Yes, it does sell to the public. But do bring cash or a check to pay for your purchases. It also helps to call ahead to see if they have in stock exactly what you are looking for.
That’s precisely what I did when I knew I had to get my hands on really fresh uni. I was in luck because K&C had just gotten in a shipment from Japan. I drove up, parked my car, and wound my way around the fence-line to find an open-air entrance, where a guy was lounging on a chair on a blazing hot afternoon. He asked me what I needed. When I said uni, he went to fetch a container that had about 15 lobes packed in water. I handed over $40 and was on my way.
K&C is only a hop, skip and a jump away from San Jose’s Japantown, which made getting some of the other ingredients a breeze. I popped into Nijiya Market for fresh shiitakes, shishito peppers, bonito flakes, nori, and bottled unagi sauce.
I had cooked my Nishiki medium-grain rice (which you can also buy at Nijiya Market) the day before and refrigerated it, the traditional method for making fried rice because it leaves the grains firmer, and thus, easier to stir-fry.
This is not a bare-bones fried rice, but a loaded one — full of added touches that really amplify the savory, meaty umami flavor. The bacon tossed into the rice, the nori and bonito flakes that get sprinkled on top, and the drizzle of sweet-salty, thick unagi sauce really add a ka-pow punch. The uni gives an unmistakable briny depth.
It’s definitely not your Asian grandma’s fried rice. It’s a newfangled one for the ages.
Alexander’s Steakhouse’s Uni Fried Rice
(Serves 3 to 4)
1 package of fresh uni, divided use
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
Canola oil, as needed
4 eggs, beaten
6 ounces fresh shiitakes, tough stems removed, and caps cut into slices
1 heaping cup of fresh shishito peppers, stems removed, and larger peppers cut in half
4 slices thick-cut bacon, diced
1 1/2 cups Nishiki medium-grain rice cooked the day before, cooled and refrigerated (this will yield about 4 cups of cooked rice)
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
2 finely chopped scallions or spring onions
Soy sauce to taste
2 julienned scallions
4 tablespoons bonito flakes
2 teaspoons shredded nori
In a small bowl, place two lobes of uni with the butter. Using a fork, beat the uni into the butter until combined. Set aside.
Heat a large wok on medium heat, swirl in a little canola oil, then add the beaten eggs. Using a flexible spatula, gently scramble the eggs until cooked but still soft and moist. Off the heat, use your spatula to break up the scrambled eggs into small bite-size pieces. Remove eggs to a plate and set aside.
Place the wok back on the burner on medium heat, adding a little more canola oil. Saute the shiitakes until tender and browned; remove to the plate with the eggs.
Again, with the wok on medium heat, add a little more canola oil, then the shishito peppers, stirring them frequently until they soften and slightly blister. Remove to the plate.
Fry the bacon in the wok on medium heat until golden and crisp. Using a slotted spoon, remove the bacon to the plate.
Heat the wok, with the bacon drippings in it, on medium-high heat. Add the rice, breaking up any clumps with a spatula, stirring until the rice starts to turn a little golden and get a little crisp. Add the uni butter, and toss to combine.
Next, add the shallots and garlic to the pan, stirring to incorporate. Allow to cook for 2 minutes, then add bacon, shishito peppers, shiitake mushrooms, chopped spring onions, and diced omelet.
Deglaze the pan by pouring a little bit of soy sauce around the edges, stirring to incorporate well.
Transfer the fried rice to a large serving bowl. Garnish with a drizzle of unagi sauce to taste; then arrange bonito flakes, nori, julienned green onion, and fresh uni over the top, and serve.
Adapted from a recipe from Chef Jared Montarbo of Alexander’s Steakhouse