How to Make the Best Homemade Fried Rice
Our guide covers everything you need to know
As one of the pickiest children ever to have graced, yes graced, the earth with my presence, fried rice was one of the handful of dishes I would actually eat with gusto. Unassuming cubes of carrots, bright green peas, strands of egg, slivers of scallion (that I may or may not have picked out…) and that salty, chewy-tender rice de résistance—these were the components that, as far as my 10-year-old palate was concerned, made the perfect fried rice, and to be honest, my thoughts haven't changed much over the years.
Once you get the easy-to-learn, difficult-to-master base recipe just right, you can experiment as you wish to come up with your version of the perfect fried rice recipe. So, let's get the down-low in this one-and-only-guide-you'll-ever-need to fried rice.
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Where did fried rice come from and what is it?
Tracing the origin of a dish isn't always easy, especially when it's a nearly infinitely variable one like fried rice. Countries all over the globe have relied on rice and various "fried" rice dishes for centuries-it's the second most widely consumed staple food on Earth—but the most widespread versions are based on Chinese cuisine. Eaten as a standalone main or a supplementary side, there are countless varieties and versions found all over East, South, and Southeast Asia, plus the versions inspired and introduced by the Chinese diaspora all over North and South America, and parts of Western Europe.
Practically anything edible has most likely found its way into a fried rice-at least once. From shrimp to hot dog fried rice (please, don't), tomatoes to pineapple fried rice (again, don't), sambal to curry powder—it might seem like there are no rules to the game of fried rice, and everything is up for grabs. When we encourage experimentation in the kitchen, it's always within reason: There are rough guidelines for both ingredients and techniques that will get you going in the right direction and help you avoid any disastrous combinations or sticky concoctions that dare not to be called fried.
In my eyes, fried rice has six main components: rice, proteins, vegetables, aromatics, seasonings, and garnishes. To see just how complex the world of fried rice can be, let's break them down shall we?
What is the best rice for fried rice?
The headliner, star of the show, most-celebrated ingredient in this dish: rice. Any kind will do, right? Wrong—well, sort of. If you decide to experiment with wild rice, paella rice, risotto rice, or even try a cauliflower fried 'rice,' you'll probably get a passable meal that tastes and looks good. But to achieve the ideal tender, yet plump chew that is so integral to a delicious fried rice, you should use a medium-grain white rice. Other types of rice that can give you a similar textural result? Jasmine, sushi, parboiled, and short-grain brown rice.
You can also make easy fried rice variations with other grains, but then that wouldn't quite be fried rice now would it? Call them by their names: Fried farro, anyone?
What protein and egg combinations are best for fried rice?
Just one or a mixture: The proteins of a fried rice are perhaps the second most often swapped ingredient right behind vegetables. Most fried rices include egg as a protein (remember those wispy yellow strands I was telling you about?), and from there adding in meat, fish, or shellfish is all a matter of taste and preference.
I've come across truly delicious, albeit simple fried rices, featuring solely rice and beef, but I've also been known to order them loaded with egg, shrimp, barbecued pork, and chicken. Crab, salt fish, bacon, ground meats—practically no protein is too far off base, but remember to keep the whole picture in mind and leave plenty of room for the vegetables, aromatics, and garnish. Rice, in my opinion, should always be the main ingredient.
The endless world of fried rice vegetables
To quote a key line of a good but definitely not-key movie, Mean Girls, when it comes to vegetables in fried rice, "The limit does not exist." Sticking to classic cubes of carrot and little planets of peas is great, but variety is the spice of life and depending on what's in season or what you have around you might just think about tossing it into some fried rice. Mushrooms, green beans, bok choy, bell peppers, asparagus, bean sprouts, mustard greens, cabbage—you get the picture.
A strong, aromatic fried rice foundation
A lesson in aromatics is a lesson in building flavor, whether in fried rice or fish cakes, risotto or a fine roast beef. It's pretty much the base of great dishes that lingers in the background but definitely deserves the spotlight. If it wasn't for aromatics, fried rice (and lots of other dishes) would be pretty boring and one-note.
Known by many different names (the French have mirepoix, the Germans have suppengrün, and the Italians have soffritto) and consisting of many humble ingredients, the particular set of aromatics most commonly used in fried rice are garlic, shallot, onion, ginger, chili peppers, and scallions.
You can opt for any or all of these aromatics, depending on the seasonings and garnishes you'll use—but an absolute must for any basic fried recipe is scallion, thrown on at the end for bite and color.
The best seasonings for fried rice
Although some people may argue this point, drowning some rice in soy sauce and heating it up in a wok does not a fried rice make. In fact, a light drizzle of soy sauce is really all that's needed—if any! If you've got the right technique and opted for quality rice, proteins, and veggies, sauces and seasonings can, and should, be minimal. Think light Chinese soy sauce (also called fresh, pure bean, or thin soy sauce), toasted sesame oil, fish sauce, rice vinegar, or mirin.
Another aspect of seasoning comes from spices (like curry powder or chili flakes), salt, pepper, and sugar—yes, sugar, more on that later. The best way to work out your seasonings and sauces is to taste your fried rice. Be aware of combining too much salt with salty sauces or too much sugar with sugary sauces.
How to garnish your fried rice
You might think of garnishes as a finishing touch mostly meant for decoration, and hey, you wouldn't be wrong-that is indeed the dictionary definition (see: a small amount of food used to decorate other food). However, when it comes to fried rice, garnishes are just as important components to the finished dish as the other ingredients.
A sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds or fresh herbs like mint, basil, shiso, and cilantro will add texture and a fresh bite to your fried rice. You can also nestle mounds of pickled chilis, kimchi, or sliced cucumbers alongside a big mound of fried rice. Experiment with what you have on hand, as the world (of fried rice garnishes at least) is your oyster.
5 fun, but mostly helpful, answers to your other fried rice questions
1. How many calories is in fried rice, and is it healthy?
Good question! Unfortunately, the answer here isn't so clear. To be clear, what does "healthy" even mean? I'm more of a believer in the "everything in moderation" motto, but hey—to each their own. Our best answer to this question would be that fried mightn't tick all the boxes of the health conscious. Sure there's oil, but you can use a minimal amount, and though many white rices are considered high-GI (glycemic index) foods that don't keep you full, including vegetables and proteins will perk the dish, and yourself, up. Then there's the sodium levels, but it's important to know that the fried rice you'll make at home is by far better for you than any take-out fried rice, as you are in control of what and how much goes into the final dish. Just another reason to stay in and cook—we can help you there.
To make your homemade fried rice even more "healthy," try these 5 quick tips:
- Choose higher nutritional value, lower fat proteins and vegetables like chicken breast, shrimp, crab, edamame (also called soybeans), carrots, broccoli, peas, spinach, or tomatoes.
- Use toasted sesame oil (or another healthy oil, like coconut oil) as the frying oil and it will work double duty as the seasoning, allowing you to use less oil without giving up on taste.
- Use plenty of aromatics to keep the flavor banging and let you skimp a bit on the other seasonings, and try to skip sauces altogether.
-Garnish with fresh herbs and things like cucumber and kimchi for extra flavor and added nutritional value.
-Use lower-GI brown or basmati rice or other whole grains that pack a "healthier" punch than typical white rice.
2. How long will leftovers keep in the fridge?
Bigger is not always better, and this is definitely the case when it comes to fried rice. Making small to medium sized batches that leave plenty of room in your wok (or the biggest frying pan you own) will give you the best results and minimal rice sent flying. But, if you do have leftovers, it's okay! Store them in the fridge for up to 3 days and check out our tip below on how to reheat your leftovers.
3. How long will leftovers keep in the freezer?
To be honest, I can't imagine why you would want to make fried rice and freeze it for later. It's best fresh when the vegetables are still crunchy, and can be passable reheated for up to 3 days after—but freezing it and then reheating it? Just don't. Try to make only as much as you can eat in one sitting. It's a quick dish to put together, so there's truly no need to make it and freeze it for later.
4. What's the best way to reheat leftover fried rice?
The best way to heat up your leftover fried rice, should you have any, is by attacking it the same way you attacked it the first time you made it. Get a big pan or wok, heat it up with a touch of oil, then add in that rice and toss, toss, toss. It should take no more than 5 minutes to heat through, and you're ready to eat.
5. Can you eat it cold?
I can't tell you the number of times I've woken up early or in the middle of night, made my way to the fridge, and eaten cold leftovers of all sorts straight out of their containers. But, some are definitely better than others, and fried rice, while definitely edible promptly from the fridge, is much, much better hot. It takes just a pair of utensils and less than 10 minutes total, so I would say the time and effort (or lack thereof) is worth taking. If you disagree, by all means, eat it cold! No harm, no foul.
7 golden tips and tricks to making the best fried rice
Fried rice is a (fairly) simple mixture of ingredients-there's no arguing that-but what makes it so special is how you make it. There are plenty of myths and rumors out there—I was a skeptic, too—but I sifted through and troubleshot each point of contention to make this list, so please take advantage of my hard work. I beg you!
1. Use dried-out rice
Yes, you read that correctly. To get the perfect texture for your fried rice, you'll want to plan ahead. Cook a batch the day before and spread it out on a baking sheet to cool. Let it cool completely and then transfer it to an airtight container, or wrap the baking sheet in plastic and store it in the fridge until you make your rice. As a step to preparing your mise en place, break up the rice gently with your hands so you get some bigger and smaller chunks, as well as individual grains, before adding it to the wok or frying pan.
If you don't have the time (or the patience) to plan ahead, you can use fresh rice. Just make sure you spread it out on a baking sheet to let the surface moisture evaporate. Give it some time while you prep the other ingredients, and you're good to go!
2. Keep your hands light
Like I said earlier, do not drown your rice in soy sauce, or any other sauce for that matter—please. Keep all the seasonings and sauces light and taste after each addition to adjust to the umami-perfection that you seek.
Don't press or squish the rice or eggs against the bottom of the pan. Fried rice should be fluffy and pressing the grains will encourage them to stick and create clumps. The eggs should also be fluffy and form thin, wispy (remember?) strands or little chunks which you can achieve by using a hot, hot wok or pan and the back or side of a cooking spoon or spatula that just keeps on moving to agitate and lift those eggs into fluffy perfection.
3. The magic of a sprinkle of sugar
The trick to some crisp, caramelized rice comes in the form of sparkly white sugar. A teaspoon of the stuff is enough to get the process going as long as the pan is screaming hot-as our next tip will further explain.
4. Use a big pan and keep it hot
A wok is the ideal vessel for cooking fried rice, as it allows you to toss the rice and prevent burning while keeping all the grains and good things inside the pan-a tough technique to pull off with a normal frying pan. However, in the case that you—like me—don't have a wok, use the biggest pan you have. If the amount of fried rice you're looking to make will nearly fill the entire pan, do it in batches for the best result. You and your rice need plenty of room to move around.
Once you have chosen your now-and-forever fried rice pan, heat it up over medium-high, and keep it there. Preheat it with your vegetable oil (or other high smoke-point cooking oil, see our oil guide) and after adding your rice, toss, toss, and toss again to get each grain coated in oil. This will help it start to brown and get nice and toasty, but it takes time, so keep tossing!
If cooking in batches, add all the fried rice back to the wok or pan when the last batch is cooked before adding your other ingredients.
5. The importance of mise en place
Especially important to fried rice, but really a tip that all cooks of all levels should take to heart: Prep your ingredients beforehand. Cut everything, measure everything, set everything out, etc. etc. etc. Fried rice moves fast, so be faster and keep your ingredients in separate bowls so you can throw them in while tossing the rice—like a pro.
6. Keep it simple
Resist the urge to go overboard! Just because fried rice can act as the model vehicle for your wildest imagination doesn't mean you should take advantage of it by clearing out your fridge, freezer, or pantry and tossing it all into the wok. Like every dish you cook, either from a recipe or off the top of your head, you should be intentional with your ingredients and try to achieve a balance of flavors instead of a random mishmash of things just because you can.
Opt for a maximum of 2 - 3 ingredients from each of the 5 main categories-sticking to just one rice, of course—and remember that sometimes the simplest recipes, are the best.
Chinese fried rice
7. It's all about the timing
Like a movie that flows through its plot from exposition to complication, climax to resolution—a good fried rice should do the same and be worked through in layers based on cooking times. Because the egg takes the least amount of time to cook, you don't want to add it add the very beginning, you'll want to add it last or cook it first, remove it, and add it back later. In general, follow this rule of thumb to avoid over- or undercooking anything: preheated pan meets oil (it will smoke, don't worry), then move on to aromatics, vegetables and proteins, rice, seasonings, egg, remove from heat, garnishes.
A few other notes on timing: keeping your ingredients cut in similar sizes will help make sure your fried rice is not only easy to eat (hello, bite-sized!) but cooks evenly. You can also use pre-cooked ingredients like leftover roasted vegetables or grilled meats, just toss them in before adding the rice to let them heat through.
7 easy fried rice recipes
Now that you know just about everything there is in the realm of fried rice, it's time you got to making some! Here are some favorite variations inspired by fried rice dishes the world over.
Published on July 13, 2018