Everyday Cooking

How to Make Fried Rice Without a Recipe

April 21, 2014

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

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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

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Born in Indonesia and raised in Singapore, I'm a food and travel writer, author of "Farm to Table Asian Secrets" (Tuttle Publishing, 2017) and "The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook" (Sasquatch Books, 2009) . My Asian Instant Pot cookbook will launch in May 2020. Find simple Asian-inspired recipes on SmithsonianAPA.org/picklesandtea.


nanna576 June 20, 2022
Tell me more about jobs tears
ashwilly February 9, 2022
This has been my go to for so long but I wish so badly it had a stir fry sauce recipe.

I’ve been using this for years and it turns out best when I use panchetta - that salty fatty flavour makes all the veg perfect and salts the rice and egg well - and butter to fry the egg. I also add ginger to the garlic and use a mix of soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, rice vinegar, honey, and oyster sauce.

The sauce makes all the difference so I suggest experimenting!

Thanks for this tried and true no recipe recipe.
Pat T. February 10, 2022
So happy my article has been helpful to you! Here's a quick sauce if you'd like to try: https://www.instagram.com/p/CMP5VrVB9JY/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link
ashwilly January 24, 2023
Omg! I just tried the sauce and replaced the Kecap manis with honey + mirin cause it’s what I had on hand but SO good.

We added some chili crisp too and my hubby went back for thirds. Thank you for this gold!
BARBARA M. March 7, 2020
Great Article. Quick to read and really good photos for reference. I always have leftover rice and I find it makes for a quick dinner after a long day at work. I basically follow your process but I don't add eggs. I am not an egg eater but I think I will give it a try. I made fried rice the other night and my husband even commented on how quick I cooked it up and how good it was. He actually asked me for the 'recipe' just in case I die before him and he needs to actually cook something beyond a grilled cheese sandwich. Something I would like to have ideas on are spice mixtures that can be added to an 'quick off the shelf' fried rice dinner.
msa June 18, 2018
I want to say something about your recipe. your recipe is so simple and so delicious. its a great opportunity to learn a tasty recipe. your fried-rice recipe is very good and simply made. so thanks to post and sharing your recipes ideas.
Traveler April 8, 2018
I have always heard that one should not reheat rice. Uncooked rice can contain spores of Bacillus cereus, a bacterium that can cause food poisoning. The spores can survive when rice is cooked. If rice is left standing at room temperature, the spores can grow into bacteria. These bacteria will multiply and may produce toxins (poisons) that cause vomiting or diarrhea.
Stephen L. March 18, 2019
This is correct! If you are going to save and reuse rice you have cooked, you need to spread it out as soon as it is cooked (I use a 1/4 sheet pan, and cover it with cling film) and refrigerate it immediately. The alternative is too cook off your rice for fried rice right before you fry it. Be safe!
Here's the standard reference on food-born illnesses: https://www.fda.gov/downloads/Food/FoodborneIllnessContaminants/UCM297627.pdf
Judith April 8, 2018
We love fried rice meals. My latest go-to sauce is Red Boat Fish Sauce. It is outstanding to put in all dishes saucey -- stews, gravies, soups, etc.
Neil M. April 8, 2018
Thanks, will try. Seems to me a great sauce idea is what's missing here.
Pat T. April 8, 2018
I love Red Boat! It’s my go-to fish sauce. A fine choice for stir-frying any dish!
Fariza October 7, 2015
I go all out on the spice when it comes to my ideal fried rice dish! Sambal (chilli paste), chilli padi (bird's eye chillies), dried shrimp and green onions! No holding back when it comes to the first two ingredients!
Pat T. April 8, 2018
Yum! Are you from Singapore or Malaysia, Fariza?
sewold September 30, 2015
just reading it makes me hungry! Wish I had some left over rice already. That may be on the menu tonight.
Bonnie September 30, 2015
My family coming from Hawaii, friends that Cantonese would shun this recipe. Too much stuff it, it's a simple dish day old rice, meat or shrimp but preferably cubed ham, chopped green onion, scrambled egg to coat the rice. The oil? peanut oil...the only spice dried ginger and the sauce? Soy...I've had it this way for years. If it is to be used as a main dish. Cut the green onions bite size and the meat should be larger pieces.
Crispini May 8, 2014
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.
Crispini May 8, 2014
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....
chris September 30, 2015

Too funny! For a couple of seconds, I was considering the wisdom of adding GF flour and English cheese into fried rice.
Amy February 25, 2017
I had a total mental pause after reading the first sentence.
Danielle May 1, 2014
I tried this method, substituting Farroh for the rice. I went without the meat, and bulked up on broccoli, mushrooms, cabbage, and onion. Delicious!
foodie I. April 30, 2014
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.
Pat T. April 23, 2014
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!
lacerise April 23, 2014
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.
Pat T. April 23, 2014
I love the idea of adding sesame oil to cook the egg. Adds so much flavor.
Sammo April 23, 2014
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?
Pat T. April 24, 2014
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!
Evie S. October 18, 2017
You need to chill out!
MsBunny April 23, 2014
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.
Emma April 22, 2014
Sorry my name has appeared on recipe ,not my recipe.Wanted to save it .
Helen @. April 22, 2014
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.
Pat T. April 23, 2014
You are most welcome. I hope your next fried rice attempt turns out wonderful!
Annette L. April 21, 2014
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?
Pat T. April 21, 2014
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!