A few years ago at “peak pandemic” I wrote a short blurb about fried rice where, among other things, I praised the tireless work that Uncle Roger had been doing to defend this staple of East/South Asian cuisine against a seemingly never-ending onslaught of stupidity, overthinking and general cluenessness.
Sadly, his work has not been enough. Even now in 2023 we who love this dish are still under a constant barrage of bad fried rice recipes. So I felt I had to act. Here I will repeat my long standing simple fried rice recipe, but with a few refinements to reflect the added insight about the dish that I have gained since I wrote that down more than 15 years ago. In addition I’ll provide some reference links to other places to look for good fried rice advice. With all of this material in hand you can now safely ignore any new suggestions for how to make fried rice coming from the mainstream food media of the damned (New York Times, Bon Appetit, etc) and just bookmark this page instead.
The Big Picture
Fried rice is easy. Don’t overthink it. Almost every fried rice recipe that is posted on the internet is
- Too complicated.
- Uses too many different ingredients of different types.
- Uses too much of each one.
You do not have a gigantic 16-20 inch restaurant wok sitting on top of a rocket engine burner. You have (maybe) a 12 inch skillet or (if you have been listening to me) a 12 inch non-stick wok. Maybe you have a 14 inch wok. Great for you. They still tell you to put too much shit in that pan. This means
- You can’t move the food around without it falling out of the pan.
- The food does not cook.
- The food does not mix into a pleasureable arrangement of flavors, because you can’t mix it, because it keeps falling out of the pan.
A recent recipe in the NYT told you to pile all of the following material into your poor 12 inch skillet:
- 1 entire pound of ground meat.
- 4 cups of cooked rice.
- 2 eggs.
- Frozen peas, maybe?
- Something else I forgot.
And this is for “four servings”. NYT servings are huge.
Anyway, you are now doomed. It doesn’t matter what else you do. You will have a mess.
So, on this page we are doing to start with the easiest recipe, with a volume of food that is manageable. Then I’ll tell you some cool variations, including one of the best fried rices ever that was published in the New York Times, of all places, more than 10 years ago. They have this recipe in the bag and still trot out all kinds of terrible bullshit anyway. I don’t get it. Anyway, here we go.
Simple Fried Rice
In its simplest form all you need for fried rice is this:
- Some day old cooked white rice. Let’s say about 3 cups. Rule number one is that this rice has to be pre-cooked and preferably at least a day old. You can’t make fried rice with freshly cooked rice. It has to at least be cold. Short or medium grain is best. Jasmine can work. If you are thinking about brown rice just stop reading and go away now.
- An egg or two.
- Some kind of onion/garlic/ginger or other aromatic. Let’s say we have 3 or 4 scallions.
- Salt, a little soy sauce, white pepper, MSG if you want to get fancy and dark soy sauce if you really want to get fancy.
Here is what you do.
First, dice the scallion into little pieces and put them in a bowl. If you are using garlic and ginger, mince that stuff too.
Second, heat your pan on medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add a teaspoon or two of oil (or if you want to live large, use lard) and crack the two eggs into the pan. Stir them around until they are 1/2 cooked.
Now add your onion/ginger/garlic. Mix.
Now add your rice and break it up into little pieces and mix it up with everything else. Work really hard at this, you don’t want any big lumps of rice, but rather all separate kernels.
When the rice is good and broken up add salt to taste, a few sprinkles of white pepper and the MSG if you have it. Then toss a 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of soy around the side of the pan and mix that in. If you have dark soy add a tiny bit to get a deeper brown color.
Mix mix mix mix mix until it looks like fried rice.
You are done.
It will look like this
Variations that You Will Love
OK. The first variation is to add meat. Whatever you pick, you don’t need much. 3 or 4oz is usually enough. If you want something really meaty, you could go up to 6oz or maybe half a pound. You can add a lot of different kinds of meat:
- Ground pork/beef/lamb/whatever. If you hate yourself go all out with ground chicken/turkey. I’d rather not.
- Hot Italian sausage.
- That sweet Chinese/Taiwanese cured sausage.
- Kielbasa or other European cured sausage.
- Hot dogs.
The game here is always the same. First fry/saute/brown off the meat so it’s completely cooked. Put it into a bowl. Then do the same thing as we did above, and at some point mix in the meat.
Next, do everything we just did. But at the end mix in frozen peas (maybe even peas and carrots). Classic Chinese American staple:
Next, we can do more interesting vegetables than just the scallions above. Shred up any sort of green veg. that cooks fast:
- Chinese cabbage
- Bok choy
Saute the vegetable in the pan first, like you did with the meat. When the vegetable is done, do the whole egg fried rice thing above just piling everything on top of it. It will be great. Here we have put all these ideas together for Chinese sausage and cabbage fried rice, with a fried egg on top and chili crisp:
Here is another example with kielbasa and cabbage in it:
And now you might be wondering about the egg on top with the crispy nuggets of something.
This is one of my favorite versions which comes from Mark Bittman at the NYT, via the Jean George restaurant in NYC. That a French person has one of the best fried rice recipes in the world is certainly … something.
Anyway, you can read the recipe here. Basically you take the minced ginger and garlic and brown them in a small pan until crispy. Then you do the fried rice above, but without the egg, and with leeks as the main vegetable. Then you assemble it by putting a fried egg and the crispy garlic on top. Fry the eggs in the oil you used to brown the garlic and ginger. Stupendous.
Bittman made a good video about it too. Watch that here.
There are a few more fancy techniques for incorporating eggs into fried rice that I have not gone over here, but the references below will show you how to do that. Especially Chef Wang. Go to town and have some fun.
For more fried rice insight start at these places:
Chef Wang. His channel has 4 or 5 great videos on this subject, including one on the fanciest most expensive fried rice ever. The egg strand technique in that video is incredible. I wish I could do it, but I’m too lazy.
Finally, here is a link to my dumb idea for a fusion fried rice food truck.