It feels like Los Angeles is beating most other cities in the battle for satisfying, trend-setting food right now, and that's partly because of chef Jessica Koslow her tiny (even by NYC standards) spot Sqirl. What started as a seasonal jam operation at farmers' markets ("You never quite know when her blueberry jam with thyme is going to be sold out for the year," wrote Jonathan Gold in 2012) is now a 20-seat, "sort-of cafe," in the city's hipster SIlver Lake neighborhood. When you go to Sqirl, you will likely wait in a long line of young people, squint at an overwhelming chalkboard menu, order at the counter, then have to passive aggressively fight someone wearing an all denim, drop-crotch jumpsuit for a table while you wait. You will possibly become cranky, but then get your food and decide it was all definitely worth it.
Initially Sqirl got a lot of press because of Koslow's toasts — brioche smothered with things like Santa Rosa plum jam, thinly sliced pecorino and topped with bacon and a fried egg — lots of "OH MY GOD PEOPLE IN L.A. ARE PAYING $7 FOR TRENDY TOAST" headlines. And while Famous Toast And Jam seems like an obvious choice for our BuzzFeed Breakfast column, the Sqirl dish to show you how to make right now, since it's not exactly preserving season, is Sqirl's spicy, herb-y crispy brown rice bowl with house-fermented hot sauce.
Here's why: This dish and others at Sqirl seem to combine the Asian flavors made hot by chefs like David Chang and Andy Ricker with the grain bowls and eggs on top made hot by Pinterest. The magic here is the crunchy rice, which you have to boil the night before, let it dry out overnight, and then fry until it's golden brown and crispy. The good news is that once you've gone to the trouble to make it, crispy rice keeps for months in an airtight container at room temp and you will want to put it on everything because it's amazing. To make it, Koslow uses locally grown organic brown rice from Koda Farms, the oldest family-run rice farm in the U.S. She discovered them in an effort to try to find farmers that are doing interesting work close to where the restaurant is, she says, and Sqirl now has a separate storage facility reserved for this rice because they order about 2,000 pounds of it every month. That amount seems insane until you taste it fried and understand its popularity.
The secondary magic of this dish is a fermented jalapeño hot sauce that we will show you how to make, but you can also just use Sriracha. And Koslow will definitely be back to the BuzzFeed Test Kitchen to show us how to make her Famous Toast and Jam some day, don't worry. —Emily Fleischaker
A heads up before we start: One of the best parts of this dish is a fermented jalapeño hot sauce that takes four weeks to make. You should probably make it because it's so good, but you can use Sriracha instead.
1. Start with the rice: You need to boil it the day before you cook this breakfast so that it can sit in the fridge overnight to dry out.
2. While the rice cooks, line a large, rimmed baking sheet with foil or parchment, then stack a few layers of paper towels on top.
3. When the rice is cooked, strain it through a fine mesh strainer.
4. Pour the rice onto the lined baking sheet.
5. Spread it out as much as you can.
6. Refrigerate overnight.
7. Another reason this rice bowl is delicious is that it's tossed in lemongrass and ginger-infused lemon juice. You should make this in advance and let it sit in the fridge overnight. First, juice 2 lemons.
8. Cut a 2-inch knob of ginger into chunks and put them into the lemon juice. No need to peel the ginger.
9. To prepare lemongrass, first cut off the dirty root.
10. Use something heavy to crush the lemongrass. We used a pot, but you can use a mallet if you have one.
11. Cut the lemongrass into pieces about 4 inches long and add them to the lemon juice. Let all of that sit. If you're refrigerating it overnight, cover it with plastic wrap.
12. The morning you want to eat this, you'll prepare the remaining components of the rice bowl. First, thinly slice 2 Persian cucumbers. If you don't have a mandoline, you can use a knife.
13. Pick 1/4 cup each of mint and cilantro leaves off their stems, then roughly chop the cilantro.
14. Thinly slice 3 scallions.
Chef likes to cut some on a severe bias (so that the pieces are long and pointy) and some just slightly diagonally (so that the pieces are short and round). This just adds some variation in texture to the rice bowl.
15. Now your mise en place (prepared ingredients) is ready to go.
16. Once the rice has dried out in the fridge overnight, it's ready to fry. Put it in a bowl, then line the baking sheet with a new layer of paper towels. This is where you'll put the rice after it's fried, to let it cool and drain some of the oil.
17. Heat about an inch of oil in a large cast-iron skillet* over medium-high heat until it's about 350°F. If you don't have a thermometer, that's OK. Once the oil is hot and shimmering but not smoking, add the rice.
18. Fry the rice until it's golden brown and crispy, about 2 minutes, moving it around the pan occasionally. Use a fine mesh skimmer to pick the rice up out of the oil.
19. Put the finished rice on the paper towel-lined baking sheet, then season it with salt and pepper.
At Sqirl, this dish is served at room temperature. We think it's best that way, so try and let your rice cool for 20 minutes or so. That said, if you're super hungry, I guess you ~could~ eat it warm.
20. Chef doesn't like fried eggs with a crispy bottom, so she cooks them halfway on the stove and halfway in the oven. To do this, first preheat your oven to 400°F, then melt a tablespoon of butter in a large, ovenproof nonstick skillet over medium-low heat.
21. Crack two eggs* into the melted butter, season with salt and pepper, then put the skillet into the oven.
22. Cook for 3-4 minutes, until the whites are set but the yolks are still runny.
23. Put the rice, scallions, cilantro, cucumbers, and mint in a large mixing bowl.
24. Season with salt and pepper.
25. Add some of the lemongrass and ginger-infused lemon juice, and mix everything up.
26. Add hot sauce, to taste.
27. Toss the rice salad one more time, then divide it between two bowl and top each bowl with a fried egg.
28. Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.
The sea salt makes the dish extra delicious, but if you don't have it, it's OK to skip.
29. DIG IN.
Crispy Rice Bowl with Lemongrass, Mint, Cucumber, and Ginger
Recipe by Jessica Koslow
1 cup short or medium-grain brown rice, uncooked
Juice of 2 lemons
2-inch knob of ginger, cut into rough 1-inch pieces
1 stalk lemongrass
2 Persian cucumbers (or 1 English cucumber), thinly sliced
1/4 cup mint leaves
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
3 scallions, whites and greens, thinly sliced
Canola oil, for frying (about 2 cups)
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2-3 tablespoons fermented jalapeño hot sauce or Sriracha
Sea salt (optional)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 large eggs
1. The night before you plan to make the rice bowl, cook the rice according to the package directions, then lay the cooked rice out over a large baking sheet lined with paper towels. Refrigerate overnight.
2. You can also make the infused lemon juice the night before: Cut the root end off of the lemongrass, and peel off the outermost layer. Use a mallet or sauce pan to crush the lemongrass (this brings out the flavor), then cut it into 3-inch pieces. Combine the lemon juice, chopped ginger, and lemongrass in a medium bowl. Refrigerate overnight. (If you're not making the lemon juice the night before, let it sit for 30 minutes before adding it to the rice bowl.)
3. When you're ready to make the rice bowl, preheat the oven to 400°F and line a large, rimmed baking sheet with paper towels.
4. To fry the rice: Fill a large cast-iron (or other heavy-bottomed) skillet with enough canola oil so that it's about 1 inch deep. Heat the oil over medium-high heat until it's 350°F. (If you don't have a thermometer, heat until it's hot and shimmering but not smoking.) Carefully add the rice to the hot oil. Fry until it's golden brown and crispy, about 2 minutes, moving the rice around the pan occasionally. When the rice is done, use a fine mesh skimmer to pick the rice up out of the oil. Put the finished rice on the paper towel-lined baking sheet, then season it with salt and pepper.
5. Let the rice cool to room temperature. When the rice has cooled, transfer it to a large mixing bowl. Add the sliced cucumbers, mint leaves, chopped cilantro, and sliced scallions. Set the bowl aside while you fry the eggs.
6. To fry the eggs: Melt the butter in a large, ovenproof nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Crack 2 eggs into the pan, then season with salt and pepper. Transfer the skillet to the preheated oven and cook until the whites are set but the yolks are still runny, 3-4 minutes. When the eggs are cooked, let them sit in the skillet while you dress and toss the rice bowl.
7. Add 2-3 tablespoons lemon juice and 2-3 tablespoons fermented hot sauce (or Sriracha) to the mixing bowl with the rice mixture. How much you use depends on how acidic or spicy you want the rice bowl to be. Season with salt and pepper, and toss everything together to coat and combine.
8. Divide the mixture between two plates or bowls, then top each with an egg. Sprinkle a little bit of sea salt on top, if you want, and serve immediately.