When I cook unscientifically…

…it ends up sticking to the pan.

The SigFig and I moved in together last month, and meals have been…interesting. We’re on very different work schedules and he’s kind of a picky eater, so we often fend for ourselves in the kitchen. I like cooking, though, and I’ve been trying to put together meals that we both enjoy. One of the dishes that falls into this category is also one that I’d never cooked before I moved in: fried rice.

My first few attempts were decent, but none of them were quite right. (Bear in mind that the SigFig and I both have Asian mothers, thus any fried rice I make could never measure up to either of their versions.) I felt that my rice wasn’t frying up evenly; it was probably too clumpy going in and I don’t think I was moving it around enough in the pan.

On my most recent venture I wanted to remedy these issues, but in my attempt I committed a major scientific no-no:

I changed more than one variable at a time.

When conducting an experiment, it’s really important to control your variables. If you change too many things at once, you can’t be sure which change/combination of changes in your procedure led to any observed changes in your results. For example, if you want to see how the salinity of water affects how long it takes to boil, the only difference between your samples should be the amount of salt dissolved into each one. Each sample should contain exactly the same amount of water, be boiled in exactly the same type of pot, cooked over the same burner on the same setting, etc. If you don’t control all your variables, you might attribute your findings to salinity when they were actually due to the fact that one sample was the size of a shot glass and another filled a 3-quart saucepan.

During my most recent fried rice attempt, I changed the following variables:

  • Shallow non-stick skillet to deeper non-non-stick saucepan: I tend to be over-cautious when I’m frying rice in a skillet; I’ve convinced myself that I’ll accidentally push the rice out of the pan if I move it around too much. I thought the higher walls of the saucepan would allow me to move the rice more vigorously, resulting in more evenly fried rice.
  • Spatula to wooden spoon: The large surface area of a spatula makes it really easy to accidentally fling food around. I thought the wooden spoon would give me more control.
  • More time spent crumbling the rice: Fried rice is ALWAYS made with rice that’s a day or two old; this allows the rice to dry out a little. Then you break up the chunks of rice before you start frying. For this trial, I was much more meticulous about breaking down the rice.

Once my rice was carefully crumbled, I got my wooden spoon ready, put some oil in the saucepan, got it up to temperature, put the rice in…and it instantly started to stick to the pan. I got a little frazzled, but I managed to switch into damage-control mode and finish the dish.

It ended up being the best fried rice that I’ve made so far.

Unfortunately, since I wasn’t careful with my variables, I don’t really know WHY it was better. Ideally I would have made one batch where I only changed the cooking vessel, one batch where I only changed the choice of utensil, and one batch where I only changed the amount of time spent crumbling the rice. Then I would know which changes were actually effective. If I run my fried rice experiments more carefully, I could come across a cooking procedure that improves my dish and doesn’t require me to soak the pan for several hours.

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2 thoughts on “When I cook unscientifically…

  1. I love making fried rice. It’s great to hear someone else’s techniques on cooking it. I also find that every batch I make is different. Although being non-scientific results in non-perfect fried rice, I think it makes each batch “unique” and “special”. Let me know if you figure out the procedure that eliminates pan soaking!

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