Perfect Chinese Fried Rice

Updated on January 14, 2020
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Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.

Learn how to get perfect fried rice every time!
Learn how to get perfect fried rice every time! | Source

Can 7 Billion People Be Wrong?

Did you know that . . .

  • Half of the world’s population of 7 billion eats rice on a daily basis.
  • 90 percent of those people live in Asia.
  • 20 percent of the world’s total calorie intake comes from rice.
  • Rice is grown on every continent except Antarctica.
  • The oldest evidence of rice used as food is grains found in a rock shelter in the Hunan province of China—they are at least 10,000 years old according to radiocarbon dating.

Fried Rice Is Not Merely Take-Out Food

If so many people across the globe consume rice on a daily basis, one might assume that a few of those people are eating fried rice.

Fried rice actually has a long and interesting history. Food historians tell us that the dish originated in the Yangzhou province, and was created not merely as a “fast food” but as a frugal means of using whatever ingredients might be on hand, with rice as the common thread that pulls everything together into a harmonious mix of tastes and textures.

The people of Asia have probably 10,000 years of experience in making fried rice, but the American experience is less than 200 years old. People from China began their immigration to the United States in the 1850s hoping to find a better life during the California gold rush. They worked in the mines and established communities (Chinatowns) because they were not allowed by law to own land of their own. In these small ghetto areas, they started their own small businesses, including restaurants. The food in these restaurants was improvised to accommodate American tastes and adapt to the availability of ingredients.

According to an article in Wikipedia:

. . .cooks developed a style of Chinese food not found in China. Restaurants . . . provided an ethnic niche for small businesses at a time when the Chinese people were excluded from most jobs in the wage economy by ethnic discrimination or lack of language fluency. By the 1920s, this cuisine. . . became popular among middle-class Americans.

So, what does it take to make great fried rice? Let's look at the basic components.

The Components

Rice

The most common problem with fried rice is texture. No one wants a bowl of fried rice that is a mushy, gloppy, soggy mess. Minute Rice won't work. Hot rice fresh from the steamer won't work. Perfect fried rice requires P.R.A.P.P.—perfect rice and prior planning. But, don't let that scare you away.

My friend Kenji, the chief culinary consultant of Serious Eats (and author of the James Beard Award-nominated column The Food Lab), is obsessed with food science and understanding how foods work (and also how they don't). He embarked on a discovery of fried rice. Kenji tried long-grain, he tried short-grain, he used parboiled rice, and he even used Thai fragrant jasmine rice. Some rice he used immediately, some was covered and stored in the refrigerator—he even brought out a house fan to speed up evaporation, thinking that moisture could be a culprit. Here's a summary of what he found:

  • Medium-grain rice works best. Long-grain rice tends to break down. Short-grain sushi rice works too—but as you know it is sticky, so it tends to clump together.
  • Moisture is not your friend, but you don't need days-old rice. Freshly-cooked rice is perfectly fine if you spread it out so that the steam will escape.
  • Mash it up. Well, mashing is too-strongly worded. If you are using rice that was pre-cooked, stored, and is clumped together, break it up (fingers work best here) before attempting to toss it into your wok for stir-frying.

Peas and carrots
Peas and carrots | Source

Veggies

Although fried rice can be an exercise in "clean-out-the-fridge," bear in mind that you don't want to overwhelm your fried rice with an abundance of goodies. After all, the rice should be the star of the show.

Consider flavor, texture, and color. Keep all of the players the same size (less is more).

  • Diced onion, carrot, and celery all play nicely together and cook at the same rate.
  • Frozen peas contribute bright color (and you don't need to defrost them).
  • Diced red bell pepper would be nice as would teeny tiny bits of broccoli florets.

Protein

Eggs

Scrambled egg is a must in my fried rice, but you don't need to prepare it separately and artfully display strips of it on top of the fried rice when you present the dish. I like little bits of cooked egg throughout my Chinese rice (and it's easier to cook that way too). Simply push your (almost finished) rice and veggies to one side, break in the egg or eggs, and quickly scramble right in the center of the pan. Easy peasy.

Meat

Not a necessity, but if you need to use up a bit of leftover chicken, turkey, beef, or roast pork, by all means, toss it in right after adding the egg. Chop it up finely so that it heats quickly and evenly and so that you can get a little bit of the meat with every bite.

Cooking Oil

I am a huge proponent of using olive oil (a heart-healthy oil) as often as possible. I don't deep-fry. Olive oil takes care of most sauteeing needs. But once in a while (for example, when you whip out the wok and need to stir-fry on high heat), olive oil simply won't do. It has a low smoke point, which means that it will flame and become bitter before it reaches the proper heat for quick stir-frying.

Peanut oil to the rescue. It's what Asian cooks use and with good reason. Trust me on this.

Sauce and Seasoning

Soy sauce, fish sauce, hoisin, oyster sauce—any or all of these are a great addition to a meal of fried rice if your dish is lacking in flavor, texture, color, and freshness. There's nothing like an overly-healthy dash, splash, double-glug of liquid umami to disguise what would have/could have been a delightful meal.

Are you getting my drift? If you have wonderful toothsome rice, freshly scrambled eggs, a few tender bites of meat (optional), and fresh veggies, why drown all of it in a heavy dose of sauce to obliterate, mask, and obscure those wonderful tastes and textures?

In the words of The Eagles, "Take it Easy." A teaspoon of soy, a teaspoon of toasted sesame oil, a pinch of 5-spice (my own personal addition), a mini-glug of hoisin, and a dash of salt should be plenty seasoning for your perfect fried rice.

Fresh cilantro leaves
Fresh cilantro leaves | Source

Herbs and Fresh Things

Fresh herbs lend such a bright, clean flavor to any dish. If you can grab a bit of parsley, cilantro, chives, or even mint (used sparingly) please do so. Don't add at the start. Toss it on at the very last second.

The Method

Source

Perfect Chinese Fried Rice

Yield: 2 to 3 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons peanut oil, divided
  • 2 cups cooked rice (see guidelines above)
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped yellow onion
  • 1/2 cup finely diced vegetables (any combination of carrots, celery, bok choy, red bell pepper, green beans, broccoli florets)
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame seed oil
  • 1 teaspoon hoisin
  • 1/2 teaspoon Chinese 5-spice powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 to 1 cup finely-minced cooked meat (chicken, ham, roast pork, beef), optional
  • Handful of fresh herbs. minced

Instructions

  1. Prepare all of your ingredients ahead of time (mise en place). Once you begin cooking, you won't have the time to stop and measure out ingredients, mince and chop veggies or (for example) dice up leftover cooked chicken.
  2. Heat one tablespoon of the oil in a wok over high heat. Add rice and, working quickly, stir and toss for about 2 minutes.
  3. Push the rice to the side and add the veggies, sauces, and seasonings. Stir and toss for a minute or until the vegetables begin to color and soften (if they are diced small this shouldn't take long at all).
  4. Push veggies off to the side and add the remaining cooking oil. Break the egg into the pan and begin to stir (immediately) to break the yolk and begin scrambling the egg. It will be done in moments.
  5. Push the rice and veggies back to the center of the wok. Add the meat (if using) and toss everything quickly so that all components are combined and heated through. Serve immediately and garnish with fresh herbs.

Questions & Answers

    © 2020 Linda Lum

    Comments

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      • k@ri profile image

        Kari Poulsen 

        7 days ago from Ohio

        I do not use it in many foods. I do not always like it. Even when I do it takes a couple of bites first. Then I love it.

      • MizBejabbers profile image

        Doris James MizBejabbers 

        8 days ago from Beautiful South

        I'd be happy to send you some of tomorrow's warm weather, Linda, except I don't know how to separate it from the tornadoes. LOL

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        8 days ago from Washington State, USA

        Thank you, Kari. Have you used 5-spice in other dishes? Some people love it, others loathe it (like black chocolate and cilantro, some people interpret the flavor of star anise as offensive).

      • k@ri profile image

        Kari Poulsen 

        8 days ago from Ohio

        This sounds delicious. I have not tried putting in 5-spice powder, but I bet it makes a nice addition. I'll have to try this recipe next time I make fried rice.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        8 days ago from Washington State, USA

        MizB, it sounds like you were cooking it just the way I mentioned at the beginning of this tale. It was "use what we have to feed my hungry children." Thanks for stopping for a visit.

        By the way, if you could send some warm weather my way it would be much appreciated.

      • MizBejabbers profile image

        Doris James MizBejabbers 

        8 days ago from Beautiful South

        Greetings, Linda, from the top rice-producing state in the U.S.A., Arkansas! I love rice in any form, especially fried rice. Back when I was a single mom having to pinch pennies, I came up with my own recipe for fried rice, basically using peas, carrots, onions and scrambled eggs. Back then there weren't a lot of sauces to ruin, uh flavor, the rice, so I used chicken broth or bullion. I still use it. Why mess up a good thing? Thanks for the recipe, I guess I'll have to try a real recipe. I'm sure I'll enjoy yours.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        9 days ago from Washington State, USA

        Thank you John. I'll include this in next week's Q&A.

      • bravewarrior profile image

        Shauna L Bowling 

        9 days ago from Central Florida

        Cool. I have Calphalon cookware as well.

      • Jodah profile image

        John Hansen 

        9 days ago from Queensland Australia

        Linda here is an article about the benefits ofRice Bran Oil: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/rice-bran-oil

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        9 days ago from Washington State, USA

        Sha, I've never owned a wok. I use my Calphalon 12-inch non-stick pan (anodized aluminum).

      • bravewarrior profile image

        Shauna L Bowling 

        9 days ago from Central Florida

        Linda, I love fried rice but no longer have a wok. I used to store it on top of a pantry in the laundry/cat room. Axel, by boy kitty, would somehow get up on top (I think by way of the water heater). One day he pushed the wok off and the wooden handle broke off once it landed. So into the garbage can it went.

        Since I don't have a wok, what other type of pan or skillet could I use to make fried rice?

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        9 days ago from Washington State, USA

        Good morning Pamela. I know that you could do this, and if you prepare all of the components ahead of time it takes very little time at all to whip up. I know you have a problem with being on your feet for a long time--this recipe was made for you.

        Have a wonderful week my friend.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        9 days ago from Washington State, USA

        Bill, that is high praise indeed (from you). I feel that I can now take off my apron and retire in dignity.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        9 days ago from Washington State, USA

        Good morning Manatita. Yes, I love rice too; actually I love all Carbs (hence the moniker). Your rice with broccoli, garlic and egg sounds wonderful. I've written other articles noting the inventions of the Chinese. It's an amazing list.

        I wish you a wonderful week.

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        9 days ago from Olympia, WA

        I would eat this if you served it. High praise! I actually like rice...a lot!!!!

        Happy Monday dear friend!

      • Pamela99 profile image

        Pamela Oglesby 

        9 days ago from Sunny Florida

        Most of the time we get fried rice as a take-out. Your desccription is very detailed but you made it easy to understand.

        I want to try this recipe soon. Have a great week Linda.

      • manatita44 profile image

        manatita44 

        9 days ago from london

        You are up my street now. Rice and I are extremely good friends. My favourite in New York, on my twice a year visits, is broccoli in garlic sauce and egg fried rice. The soy is a little strong for me, so I don't use it usually.

        Some great history here and yes, the Chinese should be given credit for even more inventions. After all, they have been around for a while. A thrifty, ingenious and industrious people. Nice Hub.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        9 days ago from Washington State, USA

        Chinese New Year is January 25.

      • FlourishAnyway profile image

        FlourishAnyway 

        9 days ago from USA

        Definitely making this! Thank you!

      • Jodah profile image

        John Hansen 

        9 days ago from Queensland Australia

        Yes it has a very high smoke point. Thank you for the prayers.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        10 days ago from Washington State, USA

        Hi John. I haven't heard of rice bran oil. I'll need to look that up. I'm assuming that it has a high smoke point?

        I continue to pray for you and all of the people in Australia.

      • Jodah profile image

        John Hansen 

        10 days ago from Queensland Australia

        Great article, Linda. I love a good fried rice and your recipe sounds perfect. I agree peanut oil is good to cook it in (and we do live in an area called the Peanut Capital of Australia) but we sometimes use rice bran oil as well.

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