Fried rice is a staple whenever we order Chinese take-out. Whether you pile a main dish on top of it, or eat it all on its own, no Chinese take-out meal is complete without fried rice. We’ve also tried our hand at making fried rice at home. Although we’ll never achieve the same results without a professional kitchen and a wok burner, we did find some helpful tips that improved our homemade fried rice by leaps and bounds. Now we’re sharing them with you.
Have you ever forgotten to ask for fried rice in your Chinese take-out order and gotten white rice instead? Leave it in the carton, and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, it will be perfect for making fried rice.
Nearly every source we consulted insisted that fried rice should be made with leftover day-old rice. It doesn’t have to be from Chinese take-out either. Make a batch of white rice and put it in the refrigerator. Serious Eats tested a variety of rice types, and their top picks are Jasmine rice, medium-grain white rice, and sushi rice.
What makes leftover rice superior to freshly-cooked rice? Serious Eats explains that leftover rice dries out as moisture evaporates, and starches in the rice harden as it cools. These changes make the rice better-suited for frying. Warm, moist rice simply doesn’t fry well.
To make your leftover rice even better for frying, rinse it before cooking to get rid of excess starch. Starch makes rice stick together. After cooking and cooling, break up any remaining clumps of rice so you have as many individual grains as possible.
If you haven’t planned ahead, and you need to indulge your craving for fried rice right now, you actually can use fresh rice. Serious Eats recommends spreading the freshly-cooked rice on a baking sheet and separating the clumps. Let it sit for a few minutes to cool off and dry out, and it will work perfectly well in fried rice.
2. Cooking Pan
We just wrote an entire post about the wonders of woks, and these cooking vessels are perfectly suited to fried rice. While none of us has a wok burner in our home kitchen, if you have a gas stove, you can still get many of the benefits of cooking with a wok. The flame will heat up the sides of the pan. An electric or induction range won’t get the sides of a wok as hot as a gas stove, but you can still reap the benefits of the pan’s design for moving ingredients around.
No matter what type of stove or pan you have, remember to cook in small batches in a larger pan than you think you’ll need. Not only does this approach keep the temperature as high as possible, it also ensures you can cook ingredients evenly and toss them together easily.
We said it in our wok post, and we’ll say it again here: Crank up the heat! A wok is not meant for simmering, and fried rice needs to be cooked quickly and at high heat. How hot? Serious Eats characterizes the right temperature as "turn-on-the-fan-and-unplug-the-smoke-detectors hot." We hope it goes without saying that you should not leave the pan unattended at any point while making fried rice.
Because you’ve cranked the heat way up, remember you’ll need to use oil with a high smoke point. We’ve seen a few sources recommend frying rice in butter or bacon grease, but we don’t recommend it unless you dial the heat back to medium. Vegetable oil, canola oil, or peanut oil will do nicely.
Note that we didn’t mention sesame oil here. You’ll want to have sesame oil on hand, but don’t use it for frying. You’ll stir it in just before serving.
Fried rice wouldn’t be fried rice without scrambled eggs. There are a few approaches you can take to scrambling and incorporating the eggs. First, you can scramble the eggs right away and transfer them to another bowl while you cook the rest of the ingredients. Then mix them back in before serving. Or you can cook the rest of the ingredients first, and then scoot them to the side of the pan while you scramble the eggs.
We’re curious about this approach from The Takeout, where you beat the eggs and then pour them into the pan with hot oil. When the edges start to set, dump the rice on top and fold everything together. In fact, she uses chopsticks to mix the rice and eggs. We like this idea because it keeps the eggs from drying out, and using chopsticks helps all the ingredients stay light and fluffy.
6. Aromatics and Seasoning
Here is the heart of fried rice, the ingredients that make it worth eating. Rice itself is bland, but it’s full of flavor when combined with garlic, ginger, onions, scallions, soy sauce, and sesame oil.
Use fresh garlic and ginger if possible. Mince it with a knife, or zest it for a fine paste. You can stir it into the soy sauce too. The Takeout suggests looking for Chinese light soy sauce. (Like us, you may not have realized that most of the soy sauce in grocery stores is Japanese.) You don’t need much; The Takeout recommends two teaspoons at most, and Serious Eats uses only one teaspoon. Need more salt? Use plain salt instead of more soy sauce, to keep the flavor balanced. Finally, add scallions and sesame oil once your fried rice is off the burner. Stir them into the cooked rice just before serving.
We left mix-ins for the final element because you could forego them altogether. All the other elements are essential, but mix-ins like carrots and peas and protein are optional. We like the way Serious Eats put it: “Just as a plate of pasta is really about the pasta itself, not the sauce, fried rice is all about the rice.” However, we do love our mix-ins, and fried rice wouldn’t be the same without carrots and peas and protein. Consider some unusual options, like mushrooms and bean sprouts and bacon. Spam is a staple in Japanese fried rice, believe it or not. Bottom line, if it sounds like it might work, give it a try!