A One-Ingredient Trick for Even Better Chicken Fried Rice

September  5, 2019
Photo by Bobbi Lin

In a recent New York Times newsletter, Julia Moskin called chicken and rice “one of the world’s great recipe genres,” and I couldn’t agree more. When these humble ingredients team up, they turn into some of the best dishes on our site, whether the recipe is Hainanese, Lebanese, or Persian.

I could never pick a favorite, but these days, my at-home go-to is American-Chinese, sparked by many takeout orders of chicken fried rice—large, always a large.

As cookbook author Pat Tanumihardja notes in our guide on how to make fried rice without a recipe, this dish is a dreamy way to use up leftovers. “Just about anything can go into fried rice,” she writes. “Leftover roast chicken, grilled steak, ham, and fresh or frozen vegetables.”

Pat’s cheatsheet goes something like this: Stir-fry aromatics like garlic, scallion, and/or ginger. Add fresh vegetables and cook until tender. Add chopped, cooked meat to crisp up. Scooch everyone to one side and use the empty space to scramble eggs. Now add cold, cooked rice (this “[decreases] the probability of mushy fried rice”) and season with anything from soy sauce to chile paste.

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Top Comment:
“Will definitely be trying this! Sounds like a tasty way to cook the thighs that chicken fat flavor. I'll be using cauliflower rice though and No canola oil! It's very unhealthy. ”
— javajulz

This template works wonders on a weeknight, when you have a little of this and that, and want dinner fast. But the next time you have some time to spare, consider flipping the script. Instead of mixing in cooked meat toward the end, start with raw chicken thighs and let them lead the way.

My chosen method for cooking chicken thighs comes by way of the Geniuses behind The Canal House, Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton. They figured out that if you place the meat, skin-side down, in a lukewarm pan, the fat will steadily render, producing a potato chip–like crust.

All that rendered fat is what sets this fried rice apart. After the chicken thighs are done, you’ll pull them from the pan and pour the golden schmaltz into a heatproof glass or bowl. Consider this your fried rice’s magical fountain of flavor.

Ginger and garlic will cook in chicken fat. Onion, scallion, carrot, and peas will cook in more chicken fat. And rice will cook in even more chicken fat. Yes, yes, and yes.

If this sounds lush, don’t forget that these ingredients are cooked in fat either way—we’re just swapping out a neutral-flavored oil for something just the opposite. This means even before you nestle the crispy chicken thighs on top, you’ll have a fried rice that’s chickeny as all get out. Just the way I want it.

What’s your favorite chicken and rice dish? Tell us about it in the comments!
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Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


Adrienne B. October 31, 2019
One of the "problems" with fried rice is having cold, day old rice. Either I just had rice the night before, or I don't remember to make enough for leftovers. The solution is to use packaged, precooked rice. It's already cold and it's just dry enough to absorb all that good flavor. I won't mention the brand except to say the bag has a picture of an older man on it who might have been someone's uncle.
Kristen M. September 5, 2019
I love this! And always felt like the schmaltz in the pan needed a higher purpose...
javajulz September 5, 2019
Will definitely be trying this! Sounds like a tasty way to cook the thighs that chicken fat flavor. I'll be using cauliflower rice though and No canola oil! It's very unhealthy.
Elaine C. September 5, 2019
Sorry, have already eaten too much chicken as it is.
Emma L. September 5, 2019
Here's a crispy rice salad with fried eggs (and no chicken) that I've been meaning to try:
Ella Q. September 5, 2019
Can't wait to make this! Look at those crispy thighs...