Fried rice is a joyful food! A one-dish meal of rice, colourful bits of meat and vegetables, it is basically cold rice quickly reheated in a frying pan, to which you add tasty ingredients to make a fast and enjoyable hot meal.
Fried rice is my favourite food for lunch at home on the weekends, or on weeknights when I am eating dinner by myself and have some cold rice in the fridge. It is the perfect food to eat alone – there is nothing in it that requires cutting so you can eat it with a spoon or fork, leaving one hand free to swipe a tablet or turn a page. While a salad or sandwich has similar virtues, there is something much more comforting for me in a hot meal, especially in the evenings.
One thing I like about making fried rice is the process of assembling contrasting textures, colour and flavour from whatever suitable that happens to be around. To make fried rice attractive, think confetti. Yang Chow Fried Rice, a classic Cantonese dish served in many Chinese restaurants, is a tri-colour affair made with red-tinted diced barbequed pork, yellow egg, and green peas or spring onions.
Fried rice in restaurants is often very greasy because a lot of oil is needed to stop rice from sticking to the iron woks. You don’t have this problem when you make fried rice at home. Making a delicious fried rice is quicker than boiling an egg, and requires not much more effort.
There are 3 easy steps: soften, cook and mix.
First step – soften the rice
- Put a little oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium heat and add the quantity of leftover rice you would like to eat. Cold rice will be in clumps. Let the rice heat while you prepare anything else that will go in later. When you start to hear a sizzle and pop from the pan, after about a minute or so, sprinkle a teaspoon of water over the clumps; it will generate enough steam to soften the rice. Do not use more water as it can turn the rice soggy. After about another minute when the steam has done its work, press on the clumps with a spatula to break them apart.
Second step – cook what needs cooking
- When all the lumps have been dealt with, make a clearing in the middle of the pan, add a few drops of oil and fry anything that needs cooking, such as an egg. Break and mix up the yolk and white, and sprinkle some salt all over the egg and rice. Use the spatula to break the cooked egg into rough pieces.
Third step – mix in anything else
- Lastly, add anything you are using that is already cooked or is fragile or heat sensitive. While the rice (below) was heating I opened up a tub of pulled ham hock to toss in, and then snipped some spring onions with kitchen scissors right into the pan. Mix everything together, taste and adjust seasoning. The rice is now done: an attractive, tasty, piping hot meal that takes no more than 10 minutes to cook from start to finish.
I often make minimalist fried rice with just egg and some fresh herbs. I then over-season the egg to get a flavour contrast.
Fried rice can be made with many colourful and tasty ingredients, as long as they do not ooze moisture and make the rice soggy; I would not recommend raw meat or tomatoes for this reason. Things which disintegrate easily are not a good idea either, unless they just need warming up and can be stirred in last. The added items are preferably in small bits, so that there is some of everything in every mouthful. There are exceptions, of course – I will make an exception any time for chunks of lobster meat, for example.
You can add as many things to the fried rice as you want, but bear in mind that the more things you add, the longer it will take to prepare. Also, the more ingredients you add, the less quantity of each you should need – fried rice should be predominantly rice, in my opinion.
The sequence in which you add the ingredients within the basic three steps of soften, cook and mix depends on how much time an item needs to be cooked or warmed up. Depending on what you use, you may also want to switch or combine the first two steps of soften and cook. For example, you could sauté a chopped onion first, before you add the rice to the pan to soften.
The less effort required to make something delicious, the more enjoyment I get from eating it. That’s why, to me, fried rice is a fast feast.
When I like some cooked vegetables on the side, I cook them first in the pan before making the rice, to avoid having one more item to wash. Usually I will start by choosing something tasty, then something aromatic and, if needed, something else to add texture and colour to the fried rice.
Crab, Ginger, egg white, chilli flakes
- Sizzle the chopped ginger in a bit of oil before adding the rice; the oil will help carry the fragrance of the ginger throughout. Fry a leftover egg white if you happen to have one. While I would not encourage dumping any old leftovers into your fried rice, it is an opportunity to make good use of some odds and ends. Stir in a tub of white crab meat to heat through, and sprinkle over chilli flakes.
Rare roast beef, garlic, leek
- Sauté the garlic and sliced leek before adding the rice. While the leek is cooking, chop up some leftover rare roast beef. Stir the beef in at the end so it warms up but doesn’t really cook further, to preserve its colour. Scatter with some chilli flakes, or give it a few grinds of black pepper.
Chorizo, fresh thyme, onion, egg
- Sauté the onion before adding the rice. Meanwhile, cut the chorizo into small pieces. When the rice has been heated, mix in chorizo and thyme and stir until the juices from the chorizo gives the rice a lovely colour.
Pulled ham hock, onion, sugar snap peas
- Sauté the onion before adding the rice. While the rice is heating, snip sugar snap peas straight into the pan with kitchen scissors (if you likewise prefer to avoid washing a chopping board). Let the rice cook a little longer than usual so the sugar snap peas have time to become crisp tender. You can sprinkle an extra teaspoon of water over the rice to create some more steam. Stir in ham last, just to warm up.
Roast chicken, roughly chopped ginger, fresh chilli, coriander, sultanas
- Sometimes I like to assemble a palette of colours before starting to cook. Start with sautéing the ginger. Add the sultanas to the rice at the beginning so they benefit from the steam and get plump. The sultanas give a burst of sweetness somewhere in every bite, and makes this fried rice especially delicious.
Shrimp, ginger, onion, egg, peas and soy sauce
- If you like the taste of soy sauce, you can always add a teaspoon or two of it to the rice instead of water at the beginning of the process. This fried rice is comparatively complicated as it has many ingredients, including frozen ones straight from the freezer. Cook the ginger and onions first, then park frozen shrimp on the rice to defrost while the egg cooks, and finally add frozen peas to the mix and stir the mixture around until everything is piping hot. If you used only one teaspoon of soy sauce, you would probably still need to season the rice with some salt.
The next time you have some rice left over, freeze it in individual portions. When you want to make fried rice, blitz it in the microwave for a minute or so and you are ready to go.
Huge thanks to Diana for her wonderful post on making quick and delicious fried rice.
Do let us know your favourite combinations to add to fried rice and if you follow Diana’s instructions, let us know how you get on.