As simple as fried rice sounds, there are a lot of tips, tricks, and rules (some more useful than others) to making it. Fried rice was a childhood favorite of mine, as well as a college and post-college staple. It’s a great way to use up leftover rice and whatever else you have in your fridge. But great fried rice requires a little more than simply heating up a pan and adding your leftovers to it.
While there are innumerable styles of fried rice, the key to all of them is getting the texture of the rice slightly crispy, a little bouncy, and keeping it from being soggy and clumpy. This can be accomplished with just about any rice and this guide focuses on how to achieve that perfect texture. Understanding two core concepts—correct preparation and frying the rice—are the keys to mastering this dish.
The Rice Two factors are important to consider when preparing the rice: starch and water content. The starch is the simplest of the two. Excess starch will make the rice sticky and bind it together, which will result in clumpy fried rice. While various types of rice will have different amounts of starch, most types of rice are workable for this dish. Anything from long grain varieties like basmati, to medium-long grain jasmine, to medium-short grain “sushi” rice work great. I personally like to use jasmine rice due to the moderate starch content and the grain shape, but have made great fried rice using just about any type of rice, including instant rice. Exceptions to this would be glutinous or sweet rice, which are not great for making fried rice due to the very high starch content. Overcooked or soggy rice will also work poorly because of the compromised structure—the rice grains will break apart in the pan, resulting in sticky rice particles instead of whole grains.
If you are planning to make fried rice, or just want less sticky rice, you can reduce the amount of starch in the rice. The simplest way to do this is to rinse it before cooking it. Simply run some cold water over the rice, stirring with your hand. The starch will cloud the water at first. Pour this out and continue rinsing until the water runs mostly clear.
Now that you have removed any extra starch, the next key factor is the water content of the cooked rice. This is where you start hearing rules like “only use day-old rice” to make fried rice. The sentiment is not incorrect, but the core concept is not addressed directly. Rice absorbs a lot of water when it is cooking, so allowing the rice to dry before frying is the key to good fried rice.
There are many ways to achieve this. You can spread the cooked rice out on a sheet pan after it is done cooking and allow the excess moisture to evaporate or use a fan to further dry out the rice. Or you can keep it really simple and just fluff up the rice and leave it in the rice cooker overnight with the lid ajar.
How fast you want the rice to dry will determine what method works best for you, but one thing to avoid is covering the rice with an airtight seal. This will trap moisture in. If you want to refrigerate the rice, just leave it uncovered or only partially cover it.
Remember, you want the rice to dry out a bit, not be completely desiccated. A few hours with a fan will work great, and leaving it overnight, uncovered, in a fridge will work as well. If you’re in a rush, simply spreading the rice out and allowing it to cool to room temperature will yield better results than trying to fry freshly cooked rice. I have found the best results from spreading rice out on a sheet pan, allowing it to cool, then partially covering it and leaving it out overnight.
Now that your rice is dry, the next step is frying it.
Frying the Rice The key to frying the rice itself is remembering that you are frying it, not sautéing it. Frying implies high heat, and the amount of heat you use is more important than the type of pan you use, although having ample heat and a proper pan makes it really easy.
A carbon steel wok or other similar pan will help yield the best fried rice. You want a pan that will hold a lot of heat over a wide surface area. The more surface area you have, the more evenly the rice will fry. Aluminum and other lightweight pans don’t retain heat well and will cool down quickly relative to a pan made from a denser material. This is the reason denser pans like cast iron are better at searing meats and fish.
While the frying vessel is important, the heat source is what makes or breaks it. Wok specific burners are ideal, but a large gas burner will suffice. I’ve used commercial woks that sound like a jet engine when fired up, and while they are amazing, they’re not practical for most home cooks. Using the largest burner on your range, a propane burner attached to your grill, or even a turkey/fish fryer burner will work. Underpowered heat sources will not properly or evenly heat the pan regardless of how well the pan holds heat.
Now that you have the proper setup to fry the rice, you want to get your mise en place prepared. Fried rice comes together quickly, so you want everything that you plan on putting into it at the ready. Then add a little oil to the pan, get it ripping hot over high heat, and start frying.
The order in which your ingredients go into the pan will depend on what you are cooking. Raw ingredients that need to be cooked (raw meats and vegetables) should be cooked first before adding the rice. Ingredients that just need to be warmed or have short cook times (blanched vegetables, egg) can be added after you fry the rice. If you are unsure, or if your pan is cooling down too much between ingredients, just cook each thing separately and set them aside. You can combine it all in the end after the rice is done. This will allow you to get each ingredient cooked to exactly the doneness you want, and also allow the pan to warm back up between ingredients.
Go light on the liquids you add to the fried rice. All this effort to get the rice dry and fry it crispy will be useless if you add a bunch of liquids to the pan and saturate the rice.
The Recipe I have never written down any recipe for fried rice because I don’t think I’ve ever made it with the same ingredients twice, but the process and method remains the same. This is a guideline for a simple fried rice with venison and egg. The venison could easily be replaced with mushrooms, gamebird, hog, or beef—add what you want to the rice based on what you like and what's available. Although this method is born from using leftovers, it is far from a throwaway technique.
Fried Rice with Venison and Egg