How to Improvise the Perfect Fried Rice

Today: Pat Tanumihardja, author of The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook, explains how to make a takeout favorite, with whatever happens to be in your fridge tonight.

Fried rice is a wildly popular takeout choice, often served with lunch specials and always ordered by a friend of mine, who shall go unnamed. But fried rice is the last thing on the menu I’d order when dining out, for one reason: It’s so very simple to make at home. After a quick dig in the fridge for cooked rice, last night’s leftovers, and whatever treasures lurk in back, everything comes together in less than 20 minutes.

Just about anything can go into fried rice: leftover roast chicken, grilled steak, ham, and fresh or frozen vegetables. Just don’t use super “wet” leftovers, like a curry, or your fried rice will turn to mush. Cleaned everything on your plate last night? Just season thinly sliced chicken breast, peeled shrimp, or tofu cubes in some soy sauce and sauté until almost cooked, then set it aside.

Cooking fried rice isn’t a science; you don’t need exact ingredients or measurements. But getting it right does take a little know-how. I’ve dished up my fair share of burnt fried rice, clumpy fried rice, and simply not-very-good fried rice, and I’m happy to share my lessons learned:

Use medium- to long-grain rice. Medium-grain jasmine rice is my choice for fluffy, sturdy grains that don’t clump or fall apart when fried. Short-grain rice tends to be softer and to stick together.

Start with leftover cooked rice that’s been refrigerated overnight. Cold rice is firmer, making it easier to separate and decreasing the probability of mushy fried rice. Two to three cups should be enough to feed two. Break up any large clumps and separate the grains with wet fingers.

A blazing hot wok and an adequate amount of oil will ensure your ingredients don’t stick to the surface. A large pan, skillet, or Dutch oven will do the trick as well.

Use the biggest pan available in your kitchen and don’t crowd it with ingredients. In other words, don’t try to cook fried rice for your spouse, son, twin daughters, and grandma and grandpa too. One to two servings is ideal.

Now that you’re suitably enlightened, you’ll never order fried rice for takeout again!