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Volume III
April 27, 2012

Weekly Home / Cook'n & Eat'n

How to Make the Perfect Fried Rice

By Alice Osborne

Do you like fried rice, and have you tried to make it at home? It's not all that difficult, but it does take a little know-how. About two years ago I found some great information how to make perfect fried rice on a blog (that I've since lost the address to, darn it), by a person named Maki. I'm giving full credit to this person and express gratitude to him/her for sharing their expertise!

Fried rice, a very frugal dish, is quick to make and is a great way to use up leftover vegetables and meat. Perfect fried rice should have separate grains, each coated with a bit of oil and flavoring, not too greasy, and enhanced by bits of vegetables and/or meat or shrimp and fluffy yellow egg throughout.

Fried rice is best made in a red hot wok on a strong gas flame - they don't work all that well on electric cooking ranges. Our expert, Maki, advises not to even consider the stand-alone plug-in electric woks - what's the point of a wok you can't move around anyway? (Besides, they take up a lot of space.)

But Maki's good news is that it's possible to make great fried rice with a weak heat source and even without a wok. The procedure for making fried rice with a frying pan rather than a wok is different, though. And the instructions that follow are geared to the no-wok, weak-heat scenario. However, if you have a gas range, you can still use these instructions by using medium to medium-high heat.

Frying Pan Fried Rice

Serves 1-2

1 to 1 1/2 cups cooked plain rice
1 cup chopped green onion
1 cup chopped vegetables of your choice (see notes below)
1/2 to 1 cup chopped roast pork or ham
2 medium eggs
pepper (white pepper is more traditional here, but black pepper is fine)
2 tsp. to 1 Tbsp. soy sauce [I like Bragg's Liquid Aminos; it tastes like soy sauce without all the sodium)
cooking oil
optional: sesame oil

Equipment needed: A large frying pan (at least 11" in diameter), spatula. Before cooking, prep all ingredients.

First, the aromatic vegetables - those that add lots of flavor. A bunch of green onions, chopped, for instance. Or a yellow or red onion will work. Then some fresh ginger and chopped garlic (both to taste).

Next comes the non-aromatic vegetables (any vegetables that are not too watery, such as sweet bell pepper and zucchini). Add at least a cup's worth per 1- 1 1/2 cups of cooked rice.

Then the chopped, precooked meat, which adds to the flavor - about 1/2 cup's worth per 1 to 1 1/2 cups of rice. Roast pork is nice, as are tiny whole shrimps or chopped shrimp, chicken, turkey (anything you have on hand, actually).

Eggs are a must-have in fried rice. Two medium eggs or 1 large to extra-large egg is enough. Beat it lightly with a pinch of salt added.

Now for the rice. Leftover cooked rice works well, just be sure it's hot or at least warm, not ice cold straight out of the fridge (which will cool down the pan and make the rice go greasy). The easiest way to warm it up is to pop it in the microwave for a minute or two, or pour some boiling water over the rice and then drain well before using.1 to 11/2 cups will serve 1 person (or 2 people with small appetites).

If you decide to cook rice fresh, expressly for the purpose of making fried rice, use a little less water than you might normally do. This will give you cooked but firm and separate grains.

Finally it's time for oil for cooking, salt, pepper and soy sauce.

With all ingredients prepped, it's time to cook, and it will go fast. Heat the large frying pan over high heat (if using an electric heat source), or over medium to medium-high if you're using gas. Spread a little oil on the bottom of the pan. You'll know the pan is hot enough when you drizzle a little bit of the beaten egg in it and it cooks right away.

Pour in the beaten egg and spread it around the bottom of the pan, as if you were making an omelet. Break up the egg rapidly to make scrambled eggs.

When the eggs are nearly set but a bit runny, remove from pan; clean pan with the end of your spatula or a wadded up paper towel and add a little fresh oil. Return pan to heat and add the non-aromatic vegetables and cut up meat. Let cook for a couple of minutes, stirring gently. (There's no need to toss it around in the air as you see professional chefs doing on TV - they're working with much stronger heat than you are. Let your weaker heat source work for you.)

Add the green onion and/or other aromatic vegetables. Stir a couple more minutes, using the entire surface of the pan. Season with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. It should smell very good now.

Add the warm rice and spread it thinly over the bottom of the pan. Break up any clumps with the end of the spatula. When the rice is sizzling on the bottom, stir it gently, letting the heat of the pan do its work before you start stirring like crazy. If the rice gets stuck to the pan a bit, scrape it off as you go along. Try not to add more oil at this point, as it makes the rice greasy. Then add in the scrambled egg and continue stirring.

Spread the cooking food to clear a space and pour the soy sauce onto that hot spot - it will sizzle. Immediately mix the soy sauce into the rice. This method ensures that the soy sauce flavor is distributed evenly and also adds a bit of toasty flavor to the whole thing.

Taste the mixture and season with pepper and additional salt if needed. If you prefer, you can add a few drops of sesame oil at this point. Serve immediately while piping hot. (Cold fried rice is fine, but hot fried rice is much, much better.)

So to sum up, here are our expert's (Maki's) key points to making fried rice in a frying pan:

•  The most important rule: Do not overcrowd the pan! That is the sure way to make sticky, greasy fried rice. If using a large 11 to 12 inch frying pan, then 3 cups of fried rice is probably the maximum you can do successfully at one time.
•  Have all ingredients prepped before you start cooking.
•  Warm up leftover rice before using it. Don't use ice cold rice.
•  If using an electric heat source, use the highest setting you can achieve. If using gas, use medium-high heat.
•  Make sure your frying pan is hot, and that you use the entire bottom surface of the pan.
•  Cook the eggs first, then remove from pan to avoid having hard little egg-bullets.
•  Cook and season the vegetables and meat/shrimp before adding the rice.
•  If the rice sticks to the pan, just scrape it off; don't add more oil - the rice will just become greasy.
•  "Sizzle" the soy sauce on the bare surface of the frying pan rather than pouring soy sauce onto the rice.

Variations: Use finely chopped white onion and saute it in butter instead of oil. Omit the soy sauce and just season with salt and pepper. Add some grated Parmesan cheese and dry oregano at the end.

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And from a previous newsletter, here's some more delicious recipes for leftover rice that I think you'll enjoy!

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