When I told a friend recently that fried rice was one of my very favorite foods, she raised her eyebrows in surprise.
I could see that she was thinking of that oily, salty fried rice studded with shriveled peas and carrots we’ve all encountered.
No! Not that fried rice. I mean the kind that takes yesterday’s leftovers and turns them into something that excites — not exhausts — the palate.
Ordinary, steamed rice goes through a transformation when properly stir-fried. The individual grains take on a toasty, slightly chewy quality. And some may go beyond chewy to crispy, which is a wonderful thing.
Added ingredients provide contrasting pops of flavor, color and texture — maybe celery or other crispy vegetable, some soft, pillowy egg, or cubes of salty-sweet bacon or ham perhaps.
Fried rice is so wonderfully adaptable – so long as you have a hot pan and cold rice — you can throw just about any edible odds and ends into it and it will work.
That adaptability has led to a campout tradition in our household. Whenever we go car camping, I bring along a container of leftover rice, some soy, ginger and garlic. On the final morning, I scavenge the cooler and throw together a killer bacon (or Spam!) fried rice.
Excellent fried rice is more a matter of technique than recipe. Here are suggestions for best results:
Use cold, cooked rice — ideally one to two days old. Freshly cooked rice — even cold rice has too much moisture to achieve ideal texture.
Short grain/long grain, brown/white — the type of rice doesn’t much matter, although you’ll want to avoid very starchy/sticky rice.
If making rice specially for fried rice, rinse it well before steaming on the stovetop or a rice cooker. When done, fluff the rice with a fork. Lay out the cooked rice on a tray, let cool to room temperature and then transfer to the refrigerator.
Use high-heat. Stir fry the rice in a wok or well-seasoned cast iron pan that can stand up to the heat and metal spatula. If the rice is clumpy, wet your hands with cold water to break it up.
To keep the heat, don’t overcrowd the pan. It helps to cook in stages: aromatics (e.g. ginger, garlic, onion) first; then meat and/or vegetables. Remove from the pan and then stir fry the rice. Recombine, season and serve.
Be patient and let some of the rice get a little toasty or crispy on the bottom of the pan before stirring.
Avoid adding too much moisture to the rice, either in the form of seasoning or ingredients.
So long as the basic rules of preparation are followed, ingredients can be adapted to your taste and what you have on hand. Think outside the frozen vegetable bag.
Pictured is one of my favorite ways to serve fried rice — over a little shredded lettuce with a fried egg on top. An easy one-pan dish that’s good for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
If it’s a good fried rice recipe you want, let me steer you toward any of the 20 or so available on the Woks of Life food blog online — a fantastic resource for all foods Asian.
Make fried rice part of your culinary arsenal and you’ll never be bored with leftovers again.