All About Chinese Fried Rice

Eight-treasure Fried Rice

Chinese fried rice is the quintessential comfort food. Think of it—a bowl of steaming white rice cooked to just the right consistency, filled with bits of meat and vegetable. No wonder fried rice is one of the world's most popular rice dishes!

For the home cook, the beauty of fried rice is that it is very adaptable. Like chow mein, it's perfect for those nights when you're cleaning out the refrigerator and want to get rid of any leftover meat or vegetables.

Fried Rice History

While the exact origins of fried rice are lost to history, it’s believed that it was invented sometime during the Sui dynasty (A.D. 589–618), in the city of Yangzhou in eastern Jiangsu province.

Yangchow (Yangzhou) fried rice is still the standard by which all other Chinese fried rice dishes are judged: morsels of fluffy rice tossed with roast pork, prawns, scallions, and peas. In American-Chinese restaurants, you’ll sometimes find it called "special fried rice."

Today, fried rice dishes are found throughout China, particularly in the south, where rice is the staple grain.

Rice Is the Star of the Show

The key to making fried rice is using rice that has been previously cooked. Older rice is dryer, reducing your chances of ending up with a dish that is wet and gloppy. Day-old rice is fine, but rice that is two or three days old is best. Rub the rice between your fingers to get rid of any clumps before cooking.

Long-grain rice, which comes out fluffier and is less sticky than other types of rice, is perfect for fried rice dishes. Here are photo instructions showing how to cook rice.

Instead of plain white rice, scented rice also can be used. Basmati rice is preferable to jasmine rice. Here is how to steam scented rice.

Don’t Have Cooked Rice on Hand?

While nothing beats previously cooked rice for making fried rice if you don't have any on hand, here's a tip from television chef and restaurateur Ming Tsai:

  • Prepare a batch of freshly cooked rice, spread it on a baking sheet, and freeze for 25 to 30 minutes.

The texture of the fried rice isn't quite the same as days-old cooked rice, but it makes a handy substitute.

Cooking the Egg for Fried Rice

There are several schools of thought on how to do this. Here are two ways and either method is fine.

  • Fry the beaten egg and cut it into strips to use as a garnish.
  • Scramble the egg and mix it in with the rice. The egg is scrambled separately and added to the rice in the final stages of cooking.

Cooking the Ingredients Separately or Together?

One of the secrets of fried rice is that the ingredients are cooked separately—helping them maintain their distinct flavors—and then combined in the final stages of cooking.

There’s no question that it’s easier to do this if you remove each ingredient from the pan after cooking and then add it back at the end, as in this basic fried rice recipe. But the choice is up to you.

If you leave all the ingredients in the pan, make sure each is cooked before adding the next—the vegetables lightly stir-fried, the egg fully set (if you’re scrambling the egg instead of adding it as a garnish), and so on.

What About Seasonings?

Purists often argue against adding any seasonings (except perhaps a pinch of salt), believing all the flavor should come from the stir-fried ingredients.

However, whether to season fried rice is really a matter of personal preference. If you decide to season the dish with soy sauce or oyster sauce, go lightly at first and then add more if needed. Restaurants often add thick soy sauce to give the rice a nice dark color.

When to Serve Fried Rice?

Fried rice can be served either as a main dish or side dish. Simple fried rice, without any meat or seafood, makes a nice substitute for plain cooked rice at an evening meal.

At Chinese banquets, fried rice is frequently served at the conclusion of the main meal, before the dessert course.

Can You Freeze Leftover Fried Rice?

Yes! Just reheat the frozen rice in a frying pan or microwave with a bit of chicken broth.