The best fried rice I ever had was the batch I whipped up in the middle of the night while watching Eat Drink Man Woman, the award-winning Chinese language film about a chef who expresses affection for his daughters by cooking them elaborate meals. Ever since then I have been making fried rice whenever I have leftover rice on hand.
This is a dish for which technique matters. Fried rice should be cooked over a very high heat. Searing heat imparts a flavor that no seasoning or sauce can provide. It also should be made from leftover rice, not fresh rice. That is because you want the rice to fry, not merely cook through. The moisture in freshly cooked rice will cause it to steam, which is not what you want. Rice left over from a takeout order is ideal.
There is no need to chop a ton of vegetables into tiny cubes (or worse, use frozen ones), like they do in many Chinese restaurants. I like it best done simply: loaded with shallots and garlic and mixed with soft scrambled eggs. But the nice thing about this dish is its versatility. It is meant for leftovers, after all, so you can use whatever you have in the fridge.
The quantities in the recipe below are approximate and there is no magic to them. I always eyeball it, and in any event it depends on how much leftover rice you have. When it comes time to add the soy sauce, give it your best shot, then taste and adjust. I find that peanut oil adds a really nice flavor, but sesame oil or even vegetable oil will do. Unfortunately, I would have a hard time doing this right without a wok, but a deep saute pan or a nonstick skillet might work.
- 3-4 tablespoon peanut oil or sesame oil, divided
- 2 eggs
- 2-3 cups leftover rice, preferably at room temperature
- 2 shallots or ½ onion, chopped
- 4-5 cloves garlic, chopped
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- 1-2 tablespoons shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry (optional)
- Prepare all the ingredients and have them standing by near the stove. Things will happen very quickly once you turn the heat on. Beat the eggs in a bowl with a fork.
- Heat the wok over medium heat. When it is hot, add 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add the eggs and scramble them with a spatula or pair of chopsticks. When the egg is nearly done, remove it to a plate and set it aside. The egg will cook again later, so leave it soft or even a little bit runny.
- Clean out the wok with a paper towel and heat it again, this time over very high heat. When the wok is hot, add the rest of the peanut oil. Add the shallots and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, for about 30 seconds.
- Add the rice to the wok gradually, breaking it up with your hands. Cook for about 3 minutes, tossing or stirring the rice frequently to avoid burning, while letting it get a nice sear. Add the soy sauce and the wine, if using, and toss for another minute. Finally, add the egg back in and stir one more time, breaking up the egg into smaller pieces if necessary. Serve immediately or, if you need the wok for something else, keep warm in a 200 degree oven until ready to serve.
Note: If I were to add meat or chicken, I would cook it in the wok to the right temperature after Step 2 and remove it, and then add it back in Step 4 right before the egg goes back in. If I were to add other vegetables, I would add them at the end of Step 3.
For information where to obtain shaoxing rice wine and other Asian ingredients, please see our guide to Food Shopping in Chinatown. You can also obtain some of them using these links: