What I’ve Learned About Making Fried Rice

I’ve always loved fried rice, but this summer it’s become a weekly staple. I try to cook a few cups of rice when I have a moment in the morning, and then we know we can get down the wok, chop up the garlic, and fry the already-cooked rice when we’re starving in the evening. Usually, there are leftovers of that, a repurposed repurposing which bodes well for at least one more meal.

I used to make fried rice the same way every time. Recently, I’ve varied my fried rice practice, thanks to inspiration from professional fried rice makers, like Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Andy Ricker. Because fried rice is such a cheap, quick, and filling dish, and a brilliant way to use up leftover grain, it makes sense to me that so many experts from around the world would have pioneering methods that they swear by.

Chefs may swear by single methods, but I’m much more fickle, likely to swear by them all, depending on the day. As I became enamored of one way and then another, I’ve gathered tips that inform the dish overall. Maybe they’ll inform your fried rice making too, whatever phase you’re in right now.

Vegetarian Fried Rice

You can make fried rice my old way

For a long time, I’ve made fried rice in the same way as any other clean-out-the-fridge stir-fry: cook onions, ginger, and garlic, add other vegetables in hot oil in a wok, add cooled white or brown rice, push everything aside to make room for a beaten egg, which I’d scramble egg, and add sauce. If I was using meat, I’d stir-fry it first and then set aside before returning it to the pan. For sauce, I’d go as minimal as nothing but salt, take a middle ground of pouring on soy sauce, or max out at soy sauce plus brown sugar and sriracha. This fried rice can be vegetable-rich or poor, it’s sometimes a bit clumpy, but most importantly it’s addictive and delicious.

You can use other grains

For a while, my biggest variation was what grain I used. In the name of eating a whole protein, I stir-fried quinoa in addition to or instead of rice. This idea lets you play around with the nutritional content of your dish, or use up what’s in the pantry.

You can caramelize your onion and garlic

Probably my first big departure from fried rice as usual happened after I read this Vongerichten recipe, which Food52 published three years ago. The ingredients were minimal, but the method was peculiar. You almost deep-fry minced garlic and ginger, strain the pieces out, caramelize some leeks, cook rice in the flavored oil with the leeks, and then top everything with a fried egg, soy sauce, and sesame oil.

You should cook in small batches and season with fish sauce

Here’s where I am right now, today: Andy Ricker’s recipe for khao phat muu from Pok Pok. You start with a crispy fried egg, which you roughly push to the side of the wok instead of treating delicately, because it doesn’t matter if your yolk breaks. You cook shallots and garlic. You make one serving at a time, so that every grain touches the pan. (While that means you probably don’t want to cook this for a crowd, you’ll find that for two or three the batches go so fast that you’ll follow Ricker’s direction.) You use bits of pork, or shrimp, or no meat at all. You season with a mix of fish sauce, soy sauce, and sugar. You garnish with something spicy–bird’s eye chilies in vinegar, or sriracha. Ricker calls for a garnish of cilantro, but this summer I’ve been sprinkling on both mint and Thai basil, because that’s what’s growing in the garden.

You can use freshly cooked rice

And here’s maybe where I’m going, at least in a pinch. In a recent Bon Appétit video, we witness Danny Bowien saying that he uses fresh Jasmine rice, straight from the rice cooker. Using a really hot wok means, I guess, that you can press out the lumps against the surface, and so the dryness and separateness of previously cooked rice isn’t at such a premium. 

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