There’s very little you can do to make bad fried rice. Even if you throw the most random things together, you’ll probably end up with something that’s at least edible. That said, there is such a thing as great fried rice, and to achieve that only needs a good grasp on the basic components of fried rice: rice, sauce, and mix-ins. This guide walks you through these three fried rice components; once you understand them, you can mix and match to your heart’s content.
The first—and perhaps most important—component of fried rice is, well, rice. Day-old rice is best for fried rice because the grains are drier and are more separated, making them more firm once cooked and an over-all better vehicle for flavor. If you don’t have leftover rice though, you can achieve that same effect by drying out freshly cooked rice in the fridge.
You’ll need to break up the rice before working with it in the pan. (You wouldn’t want to break it up while cooking, or else you’ll still end up with large clumps and/or burn a portion.) The easiest way to do this is to use your hands, running your fingers through the rice until the grains are separated. You can wear gloves, wet your hands, or put a tablespoon of oil in the rice to make it less sticky.
The sauce is essentially any mix of seasonings that can coat your fried rice. The usual suspects are soy sauce, oyster sauce, and liquid seasoning; maybe some chili sauce for extra heat. But you can play around with a variety of flavors from bottled sauces and flavorings in your pantry, as well as some spices and aromatics. We suggest mixing liquid and dry seasonings for the best results!
Fried Rice Mix-Ins
The mix-ins are where you can really go crazy in fried rice. This component can be almost anything: meat, fresh seafood, vegetables, canned goods, junk food—whatever you can grab in your fridge or pantry. There are some fried rice recipes that weave these mix-ins into the fried rice in a more complicated manner (e.g. cooking everything at the same time, swapping mix-ins in and out, etc.). But most basic fried rice recipes are straightforward in that they simply add these into the pan with the already-cooking fried rice at the latter part of the process.