Basic Asian Fried Rice
The secrets to fried rice are simple, but most cooks who make fried rice are not aware of them—thus their creations do not taste authentically Asian. Remember these two secret ingredients, if nothing else: sesame oil and ginger. Also, the system for making fried rice is so fiendishly simply, you will soon be freed from the need to read a recipe, and will be able to whip this up in no time—using whatever you have on hand.
Start with a tablespoon of sesame oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Lightly scramble an egg or two in the oil, and remove it. Add another tablespoon of sesame oil, and to that, a few tablespoons of chopped onions (green onions and their tops are especially good, but half of a medium yellow or white onion will do as well), and anywhere from several tablespoons of chopped ham to an entire cup of ham if you like. You can also use shrimp, or a combination of the shrimp and ham, or use tofu. If you do use shrimp, add it just before serving and only heat it through—do not overcook it. If using tofu, fry it separately in a little oil and some soy sauce until it develops a slight skin, then add back to the other frying pan). Stir fry until the onion is almost translucent.
Add about a cup of any vegetables you like, and stir fry until cooked through. (Use firm vegetables, not mushy ones, as described in Veggies, below.) Sweet frozen peas are recommended. Chopped snow peas are great too. Soybeans (eda mame) add a lot of protein.
Add three cups cooked and cooled rice. (It’s important that the rice be “dry.” Moist rice will make your fried rice gooey. If you make more rice than you need one time, then use the leftover for fried rice. Or, simply make rice ahead of time and refrigerate it overnight or let it rest until it is cool.)
Lightly stir fry the rice for a few minutes—it does not need to be cooked—just tossed with the seasonings.
Last Minute Items
Add 1 tablespoon grated ginger root and about a tablespoon of soy sauce to taste. Add ground pepper to taste. Stir fry for another minute, making sure the soy sauce gets evenly distributed in the rice.
Just before serving, add in the scrambled egg, chopping the eggs with your spatula to separate into small bits. Serve.
While the most typical fried rice has green onions, eggs, peas, and ham or shrimp, other stir-fry type veggies can be added, such as greens (cabbage, bok choy, tok choy, kale, etc.), or firm vegetables, such as green beans, peas, corn, snow peas, celery, bean sprouts, carrots, etc. Not recommended are mushy vegetable, such as mushrooms, eggplant, or squash. Mushy vegetables add liquid to the rice; the worst thing you can do to fried rice is to add liquid.
You can substitute 1 tablespoon vegetable oil for one of the tablespoons of sesame oil for a lighter taste. But use sesame oil for that authentic Asian taste. A yummy variation is hot sesame oil (use only a few drops along with other oils).
Add more oil if necessary as you stir fry, but do not use too much. Fried rice should be light and not greasy. A tablespoon or two should be plenty. It’s not essential for every grain of rice to be coated with oil. It is essential for each grain of rice to have a uniform color—there shouldn’t be any bald, white spots (where the soy sauce was not evenly distributed).
Use olive oil for Italian fried rice, as described below.
Italian Fried Rice
Use olive oil instead of sesame oil, and leave out the eggs. Fry a clove of crushed garlic in the oil, if desired. Otherwise, make the recipe the same except instead of soy sauce use salt and balsamic vinegar. Season with oregano, rosemary, etc. Use cubed or thinly sliced pepperoni, prosciutto, or other Italian meat instead of ham.
- Fried rice makes a great pot-luck dish.
- Fried rice is excellent for picnics—it tastes fine at room temperature.
- You can make fried rice ahead, and reheat it in the microwave easily. It should last about a week in the refrigerator. Fried rice also freezes beautifully.
- Think variations: what about Indian fried rice made with basmati and curry spices? Or Thai fried rice made with coconut milk and lemon grass. Or Hawaiian fried rice with Spam chunks and pineapple. Be creative!