Fried rice is a quick, easy, inexpensive dish you can pull together with whatever's in your fridge.

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Take Out-Style Fried Rice
Credit: Buckwheat Queen

Fried rice is one of those basic but useful one-pot recipes anyone can make. It can be a side dish or a main dish, depending on what you throw into the mix, and it's a great way to use up leftover meats and vegetables. Making fried rice is very simple — it's one of the first dishes my mother taught me how to make when I was very young, and now I'm teaching my son — and there isn't only one way to do it. But there are a few tips that help you get the best results. I'm going to share my time-tested method (thanks, Mom!) for making fried rice.

How to Make Fried Rice: Top Tips

1. Use rice that's cold and day-old

Recipes will tell you to use cold, day-old rice. Why? Because freshly cooked rice is just too soft and sticky to stand up to all the tossing you'll do when you make fried rice. Day-old rice, on the other hand, has dried out enough to separate into individual grains that soak up all the flavorings you add.

When I'm steaming rice as a side dish, I always make extra to turn into fried rice for another meal. Cooked rice freezes well, making it a very handy convenience food to stash away for when you're ready to fry rice. To help break up clumps of cold rice, put it in the pan (on top of the cooked meats or vegetables), cover, and turn heat to low. Let the rice steam for a few minutes and check after two or three minutes to see if you can separate the grains. Note that long grain and brown rice won't clump as much as short grain white rice does.

2. Bite-size is best

Fried rice isn't meant to be knife-and-fork food. For easy cooking and eating, cut up ingredients into small, thin, uniform pieces. If you're using raw meats and uncooked vegetables, cook them before adding rice to the pan.

3. Use a bigger pan than you think you'll need

Fry rice in a large skillet or wok. You'll need all that room to toss and mix ingredients thoroughly.

4. The right way to add eggs

It's very common to add beaten eggs to fried rice, but you have to do it right otherwise you end up with eggy mush. Here's what works: After you've combined your rice with any other proteins and vegetables, and it's all sizzling along nicely, push your rice to the side of the pan to clear a space to add the beaten eggs and cook them right in the pan. This is where you'll be glad you're using a big skillet or wok. Some cooks make a wide well in the middle, and some push the rice to one side. I push all the ingredients to one side in my wok, but you do what works for your pan. Pour the beaten eggs into the cleared space and start stirring them gently to cook. Try to avoid stirring rice into the cooking eggs as much as possible. When the eggs are cooked to your liking (I like them a little soft) then you can mix them into your hot rice. If you don't have a big enough pan to push the rice aside, just scramble the eggs first, remove them from the pan, and proceed with your fried rice recipe. Add the scrambled eggs back in at the end.

5. Make it sizzle

Be sure to turn up the heat at the end to let the rice get sizzling hot and get the flavors working together. After all, you want fried rice, not just warm rice. Right?

Once you master the basics, you can create your own fried rice recipe out of whatever's in your fridge.

Fried Rice Ingredient Ideas

Vegetables

  • Green onions
  • Carrots
  • Green peas
  • Snow peas
  • Spinach, kale, or chard
  • Bamboo shoots
  • Celery
  • Bell pepper
  • Garlic
  • Bean sprouts
  • Kimchi
  • Bok choy
  • Cabbage

Protein

  • Bacon
  • Eggs
  • Chicken
  • Duck
  • Pork
  • Ham
  • Shrimp
  • Tofu

Flavorings

  • Soy sauce or tamari (gluten-free soy sauce)
  • Sesame oil
  • Coconut oil
  • Gochujang (Korean hot pepper paste)
  • Fish sauce

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