Giving recipes for fried rice is like giving recipes for tossed green salad. Yes, you can go to the store, buy specific items, and follow a recipe if you wish, but few salads are actually made that way. In reality, salad-makers open their crisper drawers and toss in what’s there. Leafy greens, yes, and the rest depends on what’s on hand. A bit here and a bit there. Oh those frozen peas. These improvised salads are different every time, and that’s not a bad thing.
“Fried rice for dinner is a staple for me,” says Judith Dunbar Hines, cultural liaison for the city of Chicago, and former cooking teacher and recipe development consultant. “I always make double the amount of rice, usually Thai jasmine, keep 2-inch chunks of bacon in the freezer, then mix and match with what is in the refrigerator. Bits of raw or cooked vegetables and leftover chicken or pork. It is a different dish every time.”
It’s pretty much the same for everyone with the theory of what goes into fried rice, which is popular in Asian countries. Fried rice is considered the first step in learning Asian cuisine. Rice, yes, some kind of onion, probably, and the rest depends on what’s on hand. Eggs, garlic, vegetables, bits of meat or seafood, all of these are good. Some of these – or none of these – is also good. Your seasoning can be as plain as a dash of salt and pepper or a splash of soy sauce or fish sauce, or you can use more elaborate bottled condiments like oyster sauce and chile pastes.
Usually books only have one or two recipes at best, so we took it upon ourselves to gather a few favorite recipes from friends who are fried rice lovers for the Ultimate Rice Cooker cookbook. But first, here are some general tips for making fried rice. Fried rice is a meal that can be assembled in moments from leftovers of all sorts. You can use any manner of flavors from Mexican and Italian to any regional American and Malyasian cuisine. After reading them, you’ll be ready to clean out your own refrigerator!
The Basics: Fried Rice
Rice – day old, cold rice of any kind
Oil – Vegetable oil, bacon grease, schmaltz, coconut oil, olive oil, peanut oil, grapeseed oil
Protein – Egg, seafood, poultry, pork, tofu, beans, bacon
Veggies – carrots, celery, green beans, peas, a bag of whatever is frozen in the freezer
Aromatics – soy sauce or tamari, herbs, spices, garlic, sesame oil, citrus zest or juice, Caribbean seasoning, Greek seasoning, fish sauce, Bragg’s Liquid Aminos
Garnish – green onions, feta cheese, seeds, nuts, fresh herbs, fruit (pineapple is a great favorite)
•The pan – You don’t need a wok to make good friend rice; a good sauté pan or cast-iron skillet will do just as well. We find a large nonstick skillet the best tool for making fried rice. A 10-inch skillet is large enough to make fried rice for 1 or 2 hungry people; a 12-inch skillet is needed to serve 3 or more.
•Nonstick vegetable or olive oil cooking spray or vegetable oil – A thorough spray of Pam or a similar product is generally enough to keep the rice from sticking to the pan. We usually just spray the pan twice. (If you encounter sticking during the cooking, you can always add a few drops of oil.) The more traditional method is to use oil. Let your conscience be your guide, but if your pan has a good nonstick coating, 1 to 2 teaspoons per serving is really enough. If you don’t have a nonstick pan, you’ll need 2 tablespoons or more.
•The rice – Fried rice was invented for leftover cooked rice. Cold, cooked rice works best in fried rice dishes because the grains remain separated. You can use almost any kind of plain, cooked rice. Long-, short- or medium-grain. White or brown or wild. While we recommend the type of rice to use in the ingredient lists, any variety leftover rice can be substituted.
Cold, hard rice straight from the refrigerator is just fine, and in fact is less likely to stick together than fresher rice. One of the secrets to good fried rice is the rice itself: the colder the rice the better. Use directly out of the refrigerator or just-thawed frozen that you let sit on the counter an hour. (Some people freeze rice just for fried rice.) When using cold rice, be sure to break up any lumps with your fingers as you add the rice to the skillet.
If you don’t have any cold rice on hand , go ahead and steam some rice in the rice cooker right away just for your fried rice. The best method to obtain the desired trait of really cold rice is to spread steamed rice in a single layer on a baking sheet and let it cool to room temperature. Place the uncovered baking sheet into the refrigerator for up to 8 hours or overnight before using rice. If necessary, the rice may be used after1 hour in the refrigerator if you run your fingers through the rice to break it up before using.
•Aromatics – Sliced green onion (white and green parts) is a popular ingredient in fried rice. Some sauté at the beginning of cooking; some sprinkle it on top at the end. Garlic, too, makes frequent appearances. Be careful not to burn the garlic. Chopped or sliced onion is okay, too.
•Vegetables – Quick-cooking vegetables can be added raw. The list includes napa cabbage, bok choy, dried or fresh mushrooms, celery, zucchini, green peas (these can go in straight from the freezer), shredded carrot, and many more. For veggies that take longer to cook, like broccoli or carrots cut into larger pieces, you might want to cook them crisp-tender first. Don’t use too many vegetables, or too much of one kind; you don’t want to overwhelm the rice; it is amazing how good fried rice can be with just a small amount of vegetables. When adding raw vegetables, you may want to sprinkle on a few teaspoons of water to help them cook.
•Eggs - Scrambled eggs are very common additions to fried rice. Some people scramble them in one step of the process, then remove them from the pan so they don’t overcook, and add them back later. Others just clear a space on one side of the pan (or in the center) by pushing away any ingredients that are already there. Pour in the eggs. Let them sit till they are about half set, then toss or scoop the rice on top, folding and scrambling the eggs to break them up and mix them with the rice. It’s an easy skill to master. You’ll want no more than 1 egg per person, and less is fine.
•Meat and Fish – Raw or cooked, many kinds of meat, poultry, fish and shellfish can be tossed into your fried rice with happy results. Something smoked like bacon, a bit of smoked sausage, or ham is nice; the smokiness adds an extra dimension of flavor. Here’s where you can use up leftover bits of this or that. Or even better, a bit of this AND a bit of that. Be careful not to overload the rice with meat, though. The rice should always be the most prominent element of the dish.
•Finishing touches – Finish off your fried rice with nothing more than a dash of salt if you wish. Or go the next step and add soy sauce and a sprinkle of pepper, or use a couple of teaspoons or more of one of the many savory or spicy sauces on the shelf in the Asian section of your market. Black bean sauce, fish sauce, oyster sauce, chili paste; these or others will change the character of your fried rices. Curry is good. Even ketchup is not unheard-of! Be sure to add your finishing touches while the rice is still on the stove. You want the seasonings to have a chance to warm up and gently blend with the rice and other ingredients. And, of course, don’t go too wild. One type of sauce plus soy sauce, salt and pepper, is probably enough!
A note about MSG:
Many Asian home cooks add a seasoning containing the flavor-enhancer MSG to their fried rice: Ajinomoto is popular, as are Asian boullion powders or powdered dashis. Feel free to sparingly sprinkle in one of these seasonings if you wish. We’ve left them out of our recipes because some people have unpleasant reactions to MSG, and because we find fried rice very tasty without them.
Instructions for Making Fried Rice in A Wok
1. Place the wok on the stove. Turn the stove to high heat. High heat will cause the rice to cook quickly and remain crisp. Pour enough vegetable oil in the wok to lightly cover the bottom. Let the oil sit on the fire to heat up. The oil is ready for cooking when it begins to smoke.
2. Crack eggs and dump them into the oil. Use one egg for every two servings of rice. The egg gives the rice a pleasant yellow color. Let the eggs fry for a couple minutes, stirring them softly to prevent them from burning.
3. Dump rice into the wok. If you desire, you can add aromatics and vegetables such as carrots, green onion, or peppers at the same time as the rice. Stir fry the rice. Hold the wok in one hand and a spoon in the other. Constantly stir the rice with the spoon to prevent it from burning. About once every 30 seconds, lift the wok up from the stove and flip the rice.
4. Cook the fried rice for about a minute. After a couple of minutes, add in any seasoning you want, such as meat stock, soy sauce or salt. Take the fried rice out of the wok when it’s tender but still crisp. The rice should not be allowed to get soft. In total, the rice should be ready in about two minutes.
Plain Fried Rice, Egg and Peas
This is not quite as plain as it gets. You can leave out the egg, the peas, or both and have an even simpler dish. Beth adds 1/2 cup or so of diced Chinese barbecue pork or honey baked ham and a few sliced water chestnuts to this basic fry. Remember to use a very cold rice so it will hold up during the cooking.
Yield: Serves 2
Nonstick vegetable cooking spray
1 green onion, sliced, both the white and green parts
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cups leftover cold cooked rice (white or brown; long-, medium- or short-grain)
1 large egg, broken into a cup or small bowl and scrambled gently with a fork, if desired
1/4 cup frozen peas
1/2 teaspoon salt, to taste (optional)
2 teaspoons soy sauce
Spray a 10- or 12-inch nonstick skillet or wok with the nonstick spray twice. Heat the skillet over medium-high heat. When the skillet is hot, add the green onion and garlic and stir-fry for a moment or two as the scallion softens, but do not let the garlic burn. Add the rice to the skillet, breaking up any clumps with your fingers or the spatula. Stir fry the rice, allowing it to heat up and grow fragrant.
Push the rice over to one side of the pan, and pour the egg into the empty space. Don’t worry if the edges of the egg run into the rice. Allow the egg to cook for a few seconds undisturbed; the bottom will begin to set. Then stir the rice into the egg, folding the rice and egg over and over to distribute the egg bits as evenly as possible throughout the rice. Add the frozen peas and keep stirring. When the peas are almost hot, add the salt and soy sauce. Stir to mix everything together and serve as soon as the peas are hot.
Fried Shrimp Brown Rice
This recipe originally came from All-American Waves of Grain by Barbara Grunes and Virginia Van Dynckt (Henry Holt, 1997), one of Beth’s favorite books. It has had a few transmutations with every making, but it is a delightfully savory fried rice with small shrimp (We like the 51/60 size ). The omelet is a snap to cut into strips with a nice pair of kitchen shears, such as ones made by Kitchen Aid, with blades that are as sharp as a paring knife and used only for food. We use the girls’ tip to use very cold rice (made the day before), even frozen rice that has just been taken out of the freezer right before stirfrying, which seems to be especially important when using tender brown rices.
Yield: Serve 4 to 6
1/2 cup dried shiitake mushrooms
3 tablespoons canola oil or seame oil
2 large or extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
1 egg white, beaten until foamy
2 teaspoons dry white wine
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 pound raw small shrimp, shelled, rinsed, and patted dry
4 green onions, both white and 3-inch of the green parts, chopped
1 heaping cup raw bean sprouts
1/2 cup coarse grated carrot
1/2 cup finely diced celery
1/2 cup finely diced zucchini
2 ribs bok choy, chopped, or 1/4 cup chopped green beans
4 tablespoons reduced-sodium tamari soy sauce
4 cups cold cooked brown rice, such as long-grain brown Texmati, Wehani, or red rice
Dark Asian toasted sesame oil, for drizzling, if desired
Soak the shiitakes in boiling water for 30 minutes, until nice and soft. Trim and discard stems; mince the caps. Set aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon of oil over the bottom of a frying pan or wok. Pour in the eggs. When they have set, turn the omelet over with 2 spatulas; cook briefly on the second side, but do not brown. Slide the omelet out of the pan onto a plate; cut into thin strips with kitchen shears.
In a medium bowl, combine the egg white, wine, and cornstarch with a small whisk. Add the shrimp and toss to coat.
Wipe out the frying pan or wok, and add the remaining oil over high heat. Add the shrimp and stirfry for 30 seconds, until lightly cooked. Remove the shrimp to a bowl, leaving any liquid in the pan. Add the shiitakes, green onion, sprouts, carrot, celery, zucchini, bok choy or green beans. Stirfry until cooked, a few minutes. Add the soy sauce and rice. Stirfry 5 minutes, breaking up any lumps of rice, until nice and hot. Stir back in the shrimp and cook until hot. Serve hot.
Mushroom Fried Rice with Walnuts and Scallions
From creative consultant and recipe consultant, Julia Scannel, here is one of her unique creations. She recommends serving this rice as a meal starter or appetizer piled into individual butter lettuce leaves with a drizzle of plum sauce, like the rolling lettuce minced chicken dish that some Chinese restaurants serve. The fried rice should still be hot and contrast with the cold lettuce leaf, a real sensory treat.
Yield: Serves 2 as a light meal, or 4 as part of a larger meal
1/4 cup sliced green beans, cut on the diagonal into 1/2 inch lengths
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine (or substitute a medium-dry sherry)
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon peanut oil, divided
1/2 small white onion, diced
2 cups cleaned and chopped mushrooms (mix of cremini, oyster and shiitake)
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups leftover cold cooked white rice
1 scallion (both white and green parts) sliced fine, on the diagonal
2 tablespoons toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped
Blanch the green beans in a pot of salted, boiling water for 1 minute, drain and set aside. Combine the soy sauce, oyster sauce and rice wine (or sherry) in a small bowl and set aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet or heavy wok over medium-high heat. Sauté the onions in the skillet until they begin to soften, about 2 minutes. Stir frequently to avoid burning. Add the mushrooms to the skillet, stirring frequently until the mushrooms have cooked through, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and the beans to the skillet and cook for 1 minute.
Make a large well in the bottom of the skillet by pushing the mushroom mixture to the outside of the pan. Add the remaining oil to the middle of the skillet. When the oil is hot, add the eggs to the well in the skillet. After the eggs begin to set gently stir them until they reach a crumbly stage. Add the rice to the skillet and stir to incorporate the eggs and rice into the mushroom mixture. Add the soy sauce mixture to the skillet and mix well. Serve the rice sprinkled with the sliced scallion and chopped walnuts.
Excerpted from The Ultimate Rice Cooker Cookbook, by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann. (c) 2002, used by permission from the Harvard Common Press.
Recipe and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2015
Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.