Not Recipes

How to Make Fried Rice Without a Recipe

By • April 21, 2014 • 20 Comments

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Here at Food52, we love recipes -- but do we always use them? Of course not. Because once you realize you don't always need a recipe, you'll make your favorite dishes a lot more often.

Today: Pat Tanumihardja, author of The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook, explains how to make a takeout favorite, with whatever happens to be in your fridge tonight.

How to Make Fried Rice on Food52

Fried rice is a wildly popular takeout choice, often served with lunch specials and always ordered by a friend of mine, who shall go unnamed. But fried rice is the last thing on the menu I'd order when dining out, for one reason: It's so very simple to make at home. After a quick dig in the fridge for cooked rice, last night's leftovers, and whatever treasures lurk in back, everything comes together in less than 20 minutes.

More: Learn the ins and outs of getting perfect, fluffy rice, every time.

Just about anything can go into fried rice: leftover roast chicken, grilled steak, ham, and fresh or frozen vegetables. Just don't use super "wet" leftovers, like a curry, or your fried rice will turn to mush. Cleaned everything on your plate last night? Just season thinly sliced chicken breast, peeled shrimp, or tofu cubes in some soy sauce and sauté until almost cooked, then set it aside.

Cooking fried rice isn't a science; you don't need exact ingredients or measurements. But getting it right does take a little know-how. I've dished up my fair share of burnt fried rice, clumpy fried rice, and simply not-very-good fried rice, and I'm happy to share my lessons learned:

  • Use medium- to long-grain rice. Medium-grain jasmine rice is my choice for fluffy, sturdy grains that don't clump or fall apart when fried. Short-grain rice tends to be softer and to stick together.
  • Start with leftover cooked rice that's been refrigerated overnight. Cold rice is firmer, making it easier to separate and decreasing the probability of mushy fried rice. Two to three cups should be enough to feed two. Break up any large clumps and separate the grains with wet fingers.

How to Cook Brown Rice on Food52

  • A blazing hot wok and an adequate amount of oil will ensure your ingredients don't stick to the surface. A large pan, skillet, or Dutch oven will do the trick as well.
  • Use the biggest pan available in your kitchen and don't crowd it with ingredients. In other words, don't try to cook fried rice for your spouse, son, twin daughters, and grandma and grandpa too. 1 to 2 servings is ideal.

Now that you're suitably enlightened, you'll never order fried rice for takeout again!

Here’s how to make fried rice in 5 steps:

1. Preheat a 14-inch wok, or the largest pan you own, over high heat for about 1 minute. Swirl in about 2 tablespoons of oil and heat it until it shimmers. Reduce the heat to medium and add some minced garlic and chopped onion, then stir until fragrant. 

How to Make Fried Rice on Food52

 

2. Add the vegetables -- I like carrots, peas, broccoli, and napa cabbage, chopped into bite-sized pieces -- in order of how long they will take to cook (carrots and broccoli usually take the longest, and should be added first). Cook until they’re tender, about 2 to 3 minutes.

How to Make Fried Rice on Food52

 

3. Add the cooked meat, and cook it for a minute or so to let it crisp up.

How to Make Fried Rice on Food52

 

4. Move all the ingredients to one side of the wok. Crack 2 eggs into the middle, letting them sit for a minute or so until they begin to set. Then, stir to scramble them until they are almost cooked through, but still a little soggy.

How to Make Fried Rice on Food52

 

5. Add the rice, stirring and tossing between each addition. Use your spatula to break up any clumps. Add a few tablespoons of your chosen sauce (tamari, oyster sauce, bottled teriyaki sauce, chili paste, etc.), plus salt and freshly ground black or white pepper to taste. Don't add too much sauce or things will get mushy.

How to Make Fried Rice on Food52

 

6. Stir everything swiftly around the wok until the rice is heated through, well-coated, and well-colored (little bits of white here and there are okay). Add more oil if the rice begins to stick to the wok; reduce the heat if it starts to scorch. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary, then divide the rice among dinner plates. Serve immediately and enjoy!

How to Make Fried Rice on Food52

Tell us: How do you like to make your fried rice?

Photos by James Ransom

Jump to Comments (20)

Tags: how-to & DIY, fried rice, rice, leftovers, weeknight, everyday cooking

Comments (20)

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5 months ago Crispini

Oh, yes! I read this and immediately headed into the kitchen. I made them with all purpose GF flour, added in shreds of some English cheese studded with chives. Mix, cut, bake, slice, butter...heaven! Thanks so much for reminding me of the simple pleasure of biscuits on a rainy morning.

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5 months ago Crispini

Oh no! This was for the biscuits recipe and I don't know how to remove it. I'm planning on making the fried rice soon....

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5 months ago Danielle

I tried this method, substituting Farroh for the rice. I went without the meat, and bulked up on broccoli, mushrooms, cabbage, and onion. Delicious!

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5 months ago foodie in nh

I start with some peanut oil in the wok and add 2 beaten eggs and make a soft omelet and top with a bit of sesame oil and remove until later, then I add lots of minced ginger, onion, and garlic for a few seconds and then add cubed chicken, and chopped chilis, splash of soy and Korean chili paste to taste., raw shrimp, stir frying until nearly cooked through, then add chopped carrots, small amount of chopped red and green pepper, also chopped cabbage and put the lid on to wilt and cook through. I then add the cold leftover rice, usually short grain sticky rice or jasmine. I then toss, add some soy and sesame oil and green peas, chopped green scallions, crushed dried chiles, and add the egg breaking it up in pieces. Top with toasted sesame seeds when serving. YUM. Makes great leftovers too.

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5 months ago Pat Tanumihardja

Hi Sammo, this is not meant to be Cantonese or any other style but your style of fried rice! My family is from Indonesia so we don't use ginger in our fried rice. But please go ahead and use ginger in yours if you'd like! I've tried adding other herbs like lemongrass and Thai basil as well and it's so good!

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5 months ago lacerise

I heat a little peanut oil and add a good amount of minced or grated ginger and garlic. After a minute or so, sliced celery goes in with red pepper slices. After they've softened up a bit, I add sliced crimini or shitake, whichever is in the fridge. Then comes the leftover rice. I let all that heat up for a minute or two before I add frozen peas. Then i make a space in the center and add a teaspoon of sesame oil in which I crack and scramble an egg or two. When that's done, I add my soy sauce or tamari. Let that heat and then add chopped scallions just prior to serving. Sometimes I'll add tofu cubes or torn pieces of chicken if I have them moldering away in my fridge, but usually it's a vegetarian affair.

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5 months ago Pat Tanumihardja

I love the idea of adding sesame oil to cook the egg. Adds so much flavor.

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5 months ago Sammo

Wow, she is not claiming to ba an expert cook, I hope. The very first step she missed. One of the most important ingredient in a Chinese kitchen is "ginger." Ginger is very, very important. We're talking fried rice, so I assume she's talking about Cantonese style, and not northern way, as they don't favor ginger that much. On high flame, the cook (well, first fry....) would mix the initial key ingredients at blazing flame and speed.... then the other ingredients. She missed the boat?

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5 months ago Pat Tanumihardja

Hi Sammo, this is not meant to be Cantonese or any other style but your style of fried rice! My family is from Indonesia so we don't use ginger in our fried rice. But please go ahead and use ginger in yours if you'd like! I've tried adding other herbs like lemongrass and Thai basil as well and it's so good!

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5 months ago MsBunny

I do the eggs first, then remove them to cool while I do the rest. Toward the end, once the rice is added, I break up the set eggs with my fingers and add, creating flecks of egg throughout.

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5 months ago Emma

Sorry my name has appeared on recipe ,not my recipe.Wanted to save it .

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5 months ago Helen @ the crispy crouton

I've tried making fried rice a few times and it has turned out a little soggy! So thank you for your advice - I will follow it step by step next time.

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5 months ago Pat Tanumihardja

You are most welcome. I hope your next fried rice attempt turns out wonderful!

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5 months ago Annette Lowrie

I add the rice first to heat it up, and scramble the egg in last because I don't like over cooked eggs. Isn't fried rice wonderful?

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5 months ago Pat Tanumihardja

There are so many way to cook the eggs and Katherine, I've tried Ming Tsai's method too! It's great if you prefer your eggs in bigger clumps. Sometimes, I'll do as above but add the rice first and make a well in the middle before cracking the eggs in. The Indonesian way is to fry an egg sunnyside-up or over-easy--one for each person--and top off each plate of fried rice. Sprinkle with fried shallots et voila!

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5 months ago Katherine

Ming Tsai cooks the eggs first: In a medium bowl, whisk eggs together until well-combined. In a large sauté pan over high heat coated with 1/4-inch of oil, gently lower the eggs in and season. Eggs will puff up and cook through very quickly; transfer eggs and oil to a paper towel-lined plate. Then cook the rest of the ingredients per the above instructions. Add the cooked eggs back in at the end, breaking it up a bit. Excellent!

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5 months ago Lannae Long

My friend showed me long ago my favorite breakfast fried rice: fry up bacon to small bits, add onions and veggies as desired and stir fry, add eggs and scramble, add soy sauce to taste, add day+ old rice and stir fry.

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5 months ago Andrea Vaughan

That sounds so good..I think I will have to try that !

Stringio

5 months ago Andrea Vaughan

That sounds so good..I think I will have to try that !

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5 months ago Judy

Years ago when I was in university my roommates, one Japanese descent the other Chinese descent and both Hawaiians, they taught me how to make this version of fried rice. It was a go to recipe for too busy to cook students. To this day left over rice winds up as fried rice the next day or two