How to Make Fried Rice at Home
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Growing up working in my family's Chinese takeout restaurant, I've made and served fried rice of all sorts. Here's my favorite homestyle fried rice recipe, along with some helpful tips.
Have you ever noticed children doing homework, playing video games or bickering with their siblings at the corner table of your neighborhood family-owned Chinese takeout restaurant? I grew up as one of those “takeout kids” and worked front-of-house in various roles since I was 12 years old.
Even though there was so much to choose from when it came to mealtimes, one of my favorites was always fried rice, made with grilled chicken thighs and served with a side of peppery hot and sour soup. This comforting combination never failed to satisfy and comfort my teenage soul as I ate at the corner table while burying my nose in a library book.
That’s why I’m excited to share how to make fried rice using my family’s homestyle recipe!
The History of Fried Rice
Yang Su, a general in the Sui dynasty over 1,400 years ago, is most often credited for inventing fried rice in the city of Yangzhou, located in Jiangsu province. The dish was updated and made famous in the Qing dynasty by a regional magistrate named Yi Bingshou (1754–1815), whose recipe added shrimp and char siu (Chinese barbecue pork). Yi’s version of fried rice is the Yangzhou fried rice popular worldwide today. In American Chinese restaurants, this version of fried rice is often called the “house special” fried rice.
Restaurant-Style vs. Homestyle Fried Rice
In nearly 15 years working at my family’s restaurant, I’ve served thousands of steaming bowls of fried rice. While all variations of this dish were in high demand, shrimp fried rice and the house special fried rice were most frequently ordered.
This restaurant-style fried rice, browned with a generous amount of soy sauce, frozen peas and carrots, and a variety of protein options, was quite a departure from the simple homestyle version I grew up with in my ethnic Chinese, from South Korea family.
Professional kitchens are equipped with large flaming stoves that engulf the bottom of sturdy woks. Chefs expertly flick their shoulders and wrists all day before a sizzling wok, tossing the ingredients rhythmically while holding a metal ladle in the other hand to tenderize and mix the rice. By contrast, heat sources in home kitchens are tame by comparison. This makes it difficult to mimic Chinese restaurant cooking, but you can still make versions of your favorite restaurant dishes.
My mother’s beloved fried rice consisted of leftover rice stir-fried with eggs and diced Spam or hot dogs sliced thinly on a sharp bias, and very lightly seasoned with salt and white pepper. (Please don’t ever let anyone tell you white pepper is the same as black pepper. White pepper adds a complex, smoky spiciness with more umami flavor. It’s my not-so-secret ingredient for many Chinese dishes.)
Unadulterated by the soy sauce or fish sauce popular in many variations, our homestyle fried rice was intended to allow the fluffy egg and salty meat flavors to shine against the tender pearls of starch.
The Comfort Food for Every Stage of Life
Many American kids grow up on a steady diet of mac and cheese. For my brother and me, it was fried rice. It was the first dish I ever attempted cooking by myself, guessing at how to make it while my parents weren’t home. I can’t say it was a success. As a teenager, a Korean Auntie made a kimchi fried rice so delectable I gorged myself with multiple servings and then, risking humiliation, sneaked more when her back was turned. In college, I brought a rice cooker full of fried rice to my first dinner party, and beamed with pride when everyone raved.
In my 20s, as my culinary experiences expanded further beyond my Chinese and Korean roots, I fell in love with Thai pineapple fried rice, served in the fruit shell with decadent cashews and hot chunks of juicy fruit. I was introduced to new varieties masterfully infused with fish sauce, curry powder and sweet basil—influenced by flavors from Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and beyond.
This dish has been a staple comfort food in every stage of my life. Now, as a mom to a first grader, I’ve come full circle as I teach my son how to make the fried rice that has nourished our family for generations. His face lights up with excitement as he cracks and beats the eggs. He stands taller, the responsibility of a dull knife weighty in his little hand as he exclaims, “I’m a chef!”
How to Make Fried Rice
Michelle Yang for Taste of Home
The key components to homemade fried rice are rice, eggs and oil. The rice should be previously cooked, 1 to 3 days before, for lower moisture content. (Here are tried-and-true methods for how to cook rice on the stove, in a rice cooker or in the microwave.) The rest is variable and adaptable for every palate and culture. Fried rice was invented to revitalize leftovers and it does exactly that! It’s a dish that invites experimentation and creativity. Use any leftover proteins, like sliced hot dog, Spam, baked tofu, shrimp or meat. Even roasted vegetables from last night’s dinner will likely be welcome guests at your fried rice party as long as they’re not heavily seasoned with competing flavors.
Yield: 4 servings
- 4 cups loosened leftover cooked rice
- ½ can Spam (6 ounces), diced very small
- 3 eggs, beaten
- 1 carrot, peeled and chopped
- 2 to 3 scallions, thinly sliced
- White pepper
- Canola oil or other neutral oil
Tools You’ll Need
- A wok is the traditional cookware for any dish requiring a stir-fry technique, but I prefer a nonstick skillet at home. The wide, flat skillet gives me more room to work with for cooking the eggs, incorporating other ingredients and evenly cooking the rice. I also find it easier to break up clumps of rice on a flat pan.
- Most restaurant chefs use a metal ladle to cook fried rice, using the rounded base to break up clumps against the rounded inner surface of the wok. A metal ladle would scratch the nonstick surface and a plastic ladle is not sturdy enough to withstand the pressure needed to break up the rice, so my preferred cooking utensil for fried rice is a wooden spatula.
- A good dish starts with good ingredients. Because the foundation of fried rice is leftover rice, a rice cooker makes the process so much easier. An automatic rice cooker guarantees consistent results so you can focus on the rest of your meal. A multipurpose appliance like an Instant Pot also cooks rice very well.
Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.
Coat pan with oil, about 2 tablespoons.
Add Spam and fry, stirring until crispy and browned on all sides.
Add chopped carrot and stir-fry until slightly softened, about 2 minutes.
Add rice and break up any clumps with a wooden spatula, mixing well until the rice is softened and heated through.
Push rice to one side.
Add beaten egg and cook until it begins to set before scrambling.
Once soft scrambled, mix egg into the rest of the rice until well incorporated.
Season with salt and white pepper to taste. (I prefer 3 pinches of salt and 3 generous dashes of white pepper.)
Turn off heat, add scallions and mix thoroughly.
Tips for Making Fried Rice
When storing rice, resist the temptation to cram it tightly into containers. This will create clumps that will be tough to break up later. Instead, loosely store the rice with room to breathe and release moisture for perfect, toasty fried rice.
Don’t have precooked rice but want a quick meal? Frozen precooked rice (like Trader Joe’s) has served me well in the past.
Fried rice pairs especially well with soup, a side of kimchi or some Sriracha sauce.