Fried Rice: A Basic Strategy

Simple Fried Rice

Simple Fried Rice

Ah, fried rice. So temptingly delicious I end up ordering it with meals half the time, and then being sorry, because really I’d rather just have plain white rice if I’ve got a saucy dish. The problem with fried rice in this town is that it sucks — it tastes like they fried it in months-old deep fryer oil, and nobody wants to taste that. What to do, then?

Fortunately we eat a lot of rice here. I go through enough of it that I used to buy the 20lb-ish bags when I lived alone. And there really isn’t much easier than fried rice, plus it’s much better than leftover, cold, half-dried-out gross white rice for lunch or dinner the next day. Technically you can prepare rice just to make fried rice, but then you have to dry it in the oven. Better, I think, to use it for what it is: A leftovers catchall.

Once you have the basic technique down, you can make fried rice with just about anything, even ketchup; look up omuraisu if you doubt me. I nearly always use an egg in mine, because it’s my favorite part. Try vegetables, chopped up leftover meat (rotisserie chicken, anyone?), any seasonings you’ve got around, even fruit that might be slightly past its eating-raw prime. (I’m getting to the recipe; I just want to instill confidence. Especially if you’re watching your grocery budget, just use what you have. It will almost definitely be good, unless you go with, like, plums and cheese or something.)

Here’s the version I made today, which I will call

Beef Fried Rice with Sesame and Spice (see, it rhymes!)

pantry raid

pantry raid

First, get your ingredients. At the very minimum you need oil and cooked rice. Supposedly you should only use long grain, but since we mostly eat Japanese short-grain rice, that’s what I use, and I say it’s tasty in its own chewy fashion. I also tend to add garlic and onion no matter what, as well as the aforementioned egg. Here I also have gyudon leftovers (I just used some of the beef), soy sauce, sesame oil, and sambal oelek (a hot chile paste).

If you don’t have or don’t feel like soy, sesame, and chiles, try miso, dashi, and a little sugar. Or ketchup. No, really. It tastes totally different when it’s cooked on high heat. Maybe coconut milk and fish sauce with curry powder and pineapple chunks? I have not tried chocolate syrup but now that I think of it, I might give dessert fried rice a spin.

The important point here is that (a) you like the flavors you’re putting together and (b) that you get everything ready before you heat the pan up; like most stir-frying, this needs to go fast once the s**t hits the pan. Ha, ha.

sunny orange egg

sunny orange egg

Really, this is just a gratuitous picture of the wonderful eggs we get from a friend. See the nice, dark yellow yolk? See the irony of the pheasant bowl? Mmm. This concludes your “buy local, free range eggs from chickens who get to eat bugs and stuff” PSA. So crack the egg into a bowl, and mix it up as you would for any scrambled egg:

action shot

action shot

Get out your cutting board and knife and mince up some onion and garlic; I used one small onion and one clove of garlic for about 2 cups of rice, because that’s what I felt like doing. The onions are actually cut smaller than this photo would have you believe. They’re just still stuck together. Do you all know the onion-dicing trick? If not I should put up some pictures. At this point I also chop up whichever meats and other vegetables I might be using, if any; they don’t all go into the pan at the same time, but I assume the best of you, dear readers, and know that you can separate them out as needed. Though I will add that if you chop them on the cutting board in order of pan-addition, it makes the sorting much easier later.

beef, onion, and garlic

beef, onion, and garlic

Get everything over by the stove. Ready? Put the pan on medium-high heat; a nonstick is nice for cleanup purposes. Obviously a wok would do well, but I don’t have one (I KNOW, OK?) so it’s OK to use what you have. Once it’s hot, add a little bit of oil and tilt to coat. I always do hot pan, cold oil, because it was drilled into my head at the restaurant. Someday I’ll look up the science of that, if there is any, and report back. Pitch the eggs in and scramble. I like to let it cook as a kind of big, thin egg pancake, because I like big pieces, but you can do as you please. Once they’re cooked, remove them to a bowl (I just put them back in the same bowl, since they get cooked again at the end, a little) and set to the side.



Here is where I generally crank the heat and add more oil to the pan. I may have gone slightly overboard here; you can get away with a little less, but don’t be stingy. This is a combination of canola oil with a hit of sesame. Once it’s good and hot, put the onions and garlic in and stir fry. I kind of like the taste of slightly-burnt garlic in fried rice, but if you don’t, you can do the onions first, then the garlic. Cook for a few minutes, until they start to brown, then add the rice.


like white on?

Stir lots, at this point; you do not want any chunks of rice all globbed together, and you want to coat each grain nicely with oil. Stir stir stir. After a second, add your seasonings; in my case, soy and sambal oelek. Keep stirring until it starts to smell good. It’ll stick to the pan a little bit, but that’s good — you get caramelized brown bits of yummy wok hay, sorta. Just make sure it keeps moving so it doesn’t burn, and you’re good to go. Usually it takes about three to four minutes. Near the end, add your meat (if it’s already cooked — I should’ve mentioned, if it’s not, to add it with the vegetables at the beginning) and the egg, and stir around for a minute more.

stir stir stir!

stir stir stir!

Now you’re done, and really all you need to do is transfer your rice onto some kind of serving plate (I prefer a bowl, but I would almost always rather eat everything with a bowl and a spoon; I’m not sure if that means I’m lazy, or if I’m just at the forefront of the next culinary revolution somehow) and eat. You can also add some fresh herbs or lime juice at this point if you’d like a little pick-me-up in flavor.

that's some yellow egg

that's some yellow egg

Oh, what, you wanted a less-verbose version? Here’s an attempt:

  • Chop some vegetables, onion, garlic, and/or meat.
  • Whisk an egg.
  • Heat a pan on medium-high heat, add canola or peanut oil, scramble egg; transfer egg to bowl.
  • Turn the heat up a bit; add more oil, your onion, garlic, raw meat, and vegetables. Stir-fry until brown.
  • Add your leftover rice and stir stir stir so it gets all coated and doesn’t stick, then add your seasonings. Keep stirring for a few minutes. Really, you can tell by smell when it’s good and done.
  • Add the egg back, as well as any other precooked ingredients. Stir fry a few minutes more.
  • Place in bowl. Eat!


9 thoughts on “Fried Rice: A Basic Strategy

  1. I tried this the other day with just soy sauce because I had no clue how to do it. It was so salty that I think I drank about a gallon of water after eating it. I’ll definitely try this way soon! 🙂

  2. I adore sambal olek. I wish you’d used some veggies for color, but you could make this a sorta-thai dish and add cashews, raisins, pineapple, carrots and scallions and some peanut sauce on the side.

    I’d come and visit you, if you did that.

  3. Well, we haven’t gotten all the groceries here yet, so there weren’t any veggies for color or I’d have added them 😉

    The coconut milk/fish sauce/pineapple version is really good and sorta thai. I like it with crab meat. Come on over!

    Ralph, I only used about… I dunno, maybe 1-2T of soy sauce for the whole thing. I think if you’ve never made it before the tendency is to put a LOT of soy sauce to try to get it the right color.

    • “I think if you’ve never made it before the tendency is to put a LOT of soy sauce to try to get it the right color.”
      -Yup, that’s exactly what I did and why. 🙂

      • You know what I would use instead of soy sauce (well mostly cos i don’t HAVE regular soy sauce lol) is this fantastic stuff from TJ’s, you prolly have it in your own fridge. Their Soy-yaki, sauce. This stuff is like soy sauce on steroids… not super salty, thick, full of ginger and sesame seeds and other spices. mmmm. dood. i am so making fried rice soon. love it!

  4. Lydia, yeah — we have that around sometimes, cause it makes a nice marinade for TOTALLY faked-up bibimbap. Also, dipping sauce for dumplings. Also, to eat on a spoon. Uh. I may have a teriyaki problem. You might like kecap manis — have you tried it? It’s like thick, sweet soy sauce with star anise and garlic, and makes mean fried rice, too.

    I am like the queen of sauces and condiments, and my fridge is usually full of them, so being able to use them all in fried rice is pretty awesome.

  5. Where is your cock sauce, girl??? You gotta put hot sauce on that yummy looking plate of fried rice. Look comments 2 days in a row!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    (Exclamation forest grown just for BiNkS)
    Wow I need to go to sleep….

  6. thanks for sharing your recipe. I’ll pay attention to the hot pan – cold oil order. ”
    Indian cooking also has this thing about putting all the spices in the oil and fry them before the food… I always wonder the reason for these cooking rituals, but there must be some.

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