Pickles and Tea Adventures in Asian American Cooking

5 Secrets to Making Fabulous Fried Rice

fried rice 008

Leftovers come together beautifully in a delicious bowl of fried rice

Everyone loves fried rice!

I know, I know, it’s a bold statement to make. I don’t think it’s a stretch though. Just think about the infinite permutations worldwide. Examples include: Indonesian nasi goreng, Thai pineapple fried rice, Filipino garlic fried rice (siningag), and that’s only in Asia! (Don’t worry I’ll delve into these a little more in another post). Fried rice is also wildly popular at Asian restaurants, often served with lunch specials and always ordered by my friend, X, who shall go unnamed.

I have a confession to make. Fried rice is the last thing on the menu I’d order when dining out (unless it’s chicken and salted fish fried rice, yum!) for one reason—it’s so very simple to make at home. A quick dig in the fridge for cooked rice, last night’s leftovers and whatever treasures are lurking in the back, and everything comes together in the wok in less than 20 minutes!

Making fried rice is easy in theory, but getting it right does take a little know-how. I don’t know about you but I’ve dished up my fair share of burnt fried rice, clumpy fried rice, and simply not very good fried rice.

After years of experimenting and watching, however, I have to say my fried rice is pretty good.  So here are my 5 secrets anyone can pick up and you’ll soon be on your way to making fabulous fried rice.

  1. Use cold, leftover cooked rice. Left in the fridge overnight, the rice grains will firm up, making it easier to separate and decreasing the chances of your fried rice turning out mushy. If you can’t wait, air freshly-cooked rice to remove moisture and refrigerate the rice for a few hours before cooking.
  2. Use medium to long grain rice, not short grain sweet/sushi rice or glutinous 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.
  3. A blazing hot wok (a wok is ideal but a large pan, skillet, or Dutch oven will do) and an adequate amount of oil will ensure your ingredients don’t stick to the surface. That’s how restaurants achieve the smoky, “burnt” flavor in their stir-fried dishes. Your home stove probably doesn’t have the same BTU strength (unless you have a commercial Viking or Wolf range *JEALOUS*) but just remember to preheat your wok before adding ingredients.
  4. Use the biggest pan available in your kitchen and don’t crowd it with ingredients. Don’t try to cook for your spouse, son, twin daughters, and grandma and grandpa too. You’ll have rice and peas flying everywhere! Ideally, you should cook 1 to 2 servings at a time. My recipe below makes enough for 3 moderate appetites. When you have too many ingredients, the wok doesn’t get hot enough and your ingredients will get soggy causing the rice to clump together. If you prefer, cook each ingredient individually (raw vegetables or meat, egg) and remove to separate plates. Return all the ingredients to the pan at the end for the final mixing and seasoning.
  5. Don’t overdo the saucy seasonings like soy sauce or oyster sauce. I add just a few tablespoons of my chosen sauce for flavor and then add salt for saltiness and savor. Too much sauce will make your rice mushy.

It’s a lot to remember but keep your mind set on one goal: non-mushy fried rice and everything will fall into place.


Fried Rice Any Way You like It

fried rice 009

Cooking fried rice isn’t a science; you don’t need exact ingredients or measurements. And just about anything belongs in fried rice: leftover roast chicken, fried tofu, ham, frozen veggies. Just don’t use super “wet” leftovers like a curry or chap chye, or your fried rice will most likely turn to mush. As for seasonings, experiment with ginger, sesame oil, kecap manis, chili paste, etc. or add herbs like Thai basil or cilantro.

Time: 20 minutes
Makes: 3 to 4 servings

4 cups cooked long or medium grain rice, leftover from the day before or refrigerated for at least 2 hours
1 tablespoon canola or other neutral oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 medium red or yellow onion, coarsely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1 cup carrots chopped into small pieces (about 2 medium)
3 eggs
1 cup chopped leftover meat or tofu
1/2 cup frozen peas, defrosted
2 tablespoons oyster sauce (or sweet soy sauce)
2 tablespoons soy sauce (or fish sauce)
White pepper powder

Break up large clumps of rice and separate the grains with wet fingers.

Preheat a 14-inch wok or 12-inch skillet over high heat for about 1 minute. Swirl in the oil and heat until it becomes runny and starts to shimmer.

Reduce heat to medium and add garlic and onion and stir until fragrant, about 15 to 30 seconds. Add the carrots and cook until tender, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Move all the ingredients to one side of the wok. Break the eggs into the wok, and stir to scramble until they are almost cooked through but still a little soggy, about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes.

Add the meat and the peas, followed by the rice, stirring and tossing between each addition. Use your spatula to break up any clumps.

Add the sauces, and salt and white pepper to taste. Stir everything swiftly around the wok until the rice is well-coated and -colored (little bits of white here and there is OK) and heated through, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add more oil if the rice begins to stick to the wok; reduce the heat if it starts to scorch. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.

Divide the rice among dinner plates. Serve immediately.



To see some live fried rice action, check out the following videos:

Frugal Chef: She is clear and easy to follow

S&D Recipe Channel: Watch a professional chef at work

Do you have any tips for making amazing fried rice? Please share!


  • Good tips on fried rice. I agree, all of these are very much needed to have a perfect fried rice.
    Thanks for Sharing!! http:\www.ChefDeHome.com

    • Pat

      Thanks, TechieChef!

  • Thanks for this. I’ve never tried fried rice but I’ve heard it can be a little tricky so it;s nice to have such an informative post to read. Good stuff.

    • Pat

      Thanks, FrugalFeeding. Fried rice comes in all sorts of guises–pilaf, pulao, jambalaya, etc. Give it a go sometime!

  • I’m with you on not ordering fried rice, but my in-laws love it. I went to a excellent Chinese restaurant recently, and looked on Yelp afterwards to see what people said. Most of the comments were about takeout fried rice and whether it was too greasy. Sometimes I wonder how far we’ve come!

    • Pat

      Hi Dianne, I hear ya. Fried rice seems to be a perennial favorite at Chinese restaurants. I always prefer to order one of the many other dishes on the menu but I guess it’s the one standard dish everyone knows and is comfortable with. Cheers, Pat

  • Love the post. I wrote how miserably I’ve failed at making rice dishes including fried rice in the past. But I’m on the road to recovery in regards to making great rice dishes and your blog post should help.

    I found a great Vietnamese recipe that eats like fried rice but is in a bit of a different method. You heat the raw rice in oil then add broth (as if you were making a risotto) and then add the marinated and cooked chopped vegetables.

    Check it out here. http://www.francisfoodie.com/francisfoodie/2011/10/5/going-beyond-steamed-rice-chicken-and-vegetable-clay-pot-ric.html

    Again great post and beautiful blog.


    • Pat

      Thanks, Francis! Fried rice can be a little tricky but practice does make perfect. Sounds like a very interesting recipe. I’ll have to try it out too, and if it’s Andrea’s, it has to be good! Cheers,

  • -mo-

    Nice to see you’re blogging again! 🙂

    • Pat

      Hi Mo Mo,
      Thanks, it’s great to be back!!

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  • Christine

    This recipe was fabulous – thanks for sharing all of your helpful tips. We followed this recipe exactly, using poached chicken as the meat and peanut oil. It was great and will definitely stay in our rotation. Can’t wait to try out more of your recipes.

  • Aye to 1,2,3,4 and 5.

    i keep it simple with the sauces, kicap manis (sweet and dark), light soy sauce (salty) and white pepper. I hv never tried with oyster sauce… I hv always found it too heavy.

    • Pat

      Hi Su Chin, you must be Indonesian! My mum always uses kecap manis in her fried rice. I alternate between that and oyster/soy sauces depending on my mood. Thx for stopping by!

  • mo
  • Pat

    OMG, Dick Lee! Heh heh, thx for the video, Mo, brings back memories :).

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  • i was looking for long to this one.useful recipe.Thank you for sharing.

  • Yes! Finally something about Tips For Cooking Rice.

    • Pat

      Glad to help!

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  • Stefanie

    Rice vinegar is key if you like it have a little extra flavor!

    • Pat

      Thanks for the tip, Stefanie. I put vinegar in fried noodles sometimes and it gives the dish a nice tang. Will try it with rice too.

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  • Don

    Love your recipe ideas. I bought a 100,000 BTU burner from Thai Imports that gets me that char flavor (I just have to use it outside). Like you I prefer Jasmine rice if I am frying or short grain Japanese if I just want steamed rice. One thing that helps me is I will turn the rice cooker off after my jasmine is done and let it sit an hour. Then when I take it out I break the rice up with my fingers before putting it in a container to refrigerate. That way the next day, I just dump the rice into a smoking hot wok and the grains are already separated.

  • Nice post and Great tips!
    I agree that high fire is better, but actually I would suggest using medium heat, overnight rice, and add a little bit of water for those not as experienced. Doesn’t taste as good, but increase the success rate quite a bit 🙂

  • Pat

    Hi Don, I”m going to look for that burner right now! My mom always had an outdoor kitchen and since we just moved into a new house, perhaps I should think about setting one up.

  • Pat

    Hi Dan S, thanks for the tips. Most household burners don’t get that hot anyway so high heat is probably good. Careful with that water, too much might turn your fried rice soggy!

  • u r fab, thanks for such a delicious dish

  • morna

    hi! I just made an awesome batch of fried rice. my things are that sweet chinese sausage, two or three of them cut small, the eggs – i mix about a tablespoon of chili garlic sauce and hoisin sauce into my eggs and fry them super hot in lots of oil and set aside until almost the end and lettuce a big double handful of shredded iceberg lettuce at the very end after the heat’s turned off. it gives a lovely soft crunch and lightens the whole thing up a bit. anyway thanks!

    • Pat

      Hi Morna, thanks for your fried rice tips! Always love hearing how others do it. The shredded iceberg lettuce is a great idea! Cheers, Pat

  • Hi there! I realize this is somewhat off-topic but I had to ask.
    Does running a well-established blog such as yours
    require a lot of work? I am completely new to blogging however
    I do write in my diary on a daily basis.
    I’d like to start a blog so I can easily share my personal experience and thoughts online.
    Please let me know if you have any kind of recommendations or tips for brand new aspiring
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  • rocketman3

    My wife has been making fried rice for our family for 60 years; only once do I remember anything but delicious–that was during a diet excursion when unsalted brown rice was used. I think her secret is fry 3 pcs, smoked bacon and use the oil to scramble the eggs; sliver the carrots -not chopped-cooks faster. She throws in the frozen peas near the end because ” they stay pretty that way”.


  • gonzalezhanson
  • Sandra

    I’ve been looking for the perfect Chinese fried rice and this sounds like the perfect recipe….. I think I would add some mushrooms to this dish….. Thanks

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  • I love fried rice but I have not a recipe but now, I am so much thankful for sharing your recipe with us. I will must try this delicious recipe.

  • Megan

    This really is the best version ever. I made the rice and chicken another day, so making dinner tonight was super fast.

    • Pat

      Thanks, Megan. So glad you like the recipe.

    • Pat

      Thanks, Megan!

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  • I am really enjoying to read this post because it’s too interesting and also informative. I love asian food and I am thankful to you for sharing these tips. I will try this recipe to make rice fabulous.

    • Pat

      Let me know how it turns out for you!

  • There are hundreds of tastes you can add on to the basic fried rice.

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  • Lawrence Robinson

    I’m trying to perfect my fried rice. As I had no time to cook rice a few days ago I had no choice but to cook fresh today and probably that’s where things went south. Even though, as suggested by someone, I used less water in my rice cooker to leave the rice a bit more dry it stuck together like crazy glue after cooling (I use Thai jasmine rice).

    Attempted the stir fry and before doing so heated my wok to smoking, added oil and rice only to see the oil apparently being “sucked up” by the rice which in turn changed into little balls that I couldn’t separate for the life of me. Meanwhile the whole thing was burning up in a hot wok without oil….

    * drama music playing *

    What happened here?

    • Spikeygrrl✓Right Wing Nut Job

      Heh. The first time I tried to make fried rice (not this recipe), I used freshly cooked rice. Can you spell M-U-S-H??? Mr. Spikey, who during high school bussed tables at a Chinese -American restaurant, was horrified. lol

      Stay with it, making only one change at each iteration, and it’ll come. I just went through this process with Blooming Onions. Took me three iterations before I finally got it right the fourth time out. My signature lasagne took me TWO YEARS before I “perfected” it, far, FAR from the initial recipe.

      Happy cooking!

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  • Filed Under

    October 7, 2011
    Comfort food
    Culture    Chinese    
    • Posted By

      Born in Indonesia and raised in Singapore, Pat Tanumihardja writes about food, travel, and lifestyle through a multicultural lens. Pat especially enjoys covering topics that converge on food, history and culture and has been published in numerous international, national and regional publications. Her cookbook, The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook—Home Cooking from Asian American Kitchens is a treasury of family recipes and stories spanning over a dozen Asian cultures.

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