Fried rice is the ultimate lazy meal; all you need is cooked rice, random meat and veg, and some sauces, and you’re pretty much set. Done right, though, it transcends being just leftovers thrown together. The simple dish becomes a medley of flavors and textures, one that can stand on its own.
The first—and perhaps most crucial—step to making great fried rice is preparing your rice (duh). That is, making it and breaking it up before cooking. Of course, leftover rice is the way to go here. It’s dried out and the grains are separate. So after re-cooking it, it develops a nice, firm bite and you can taste each grain. Plus, it cooks better with whatever mix-ins and sauces you add to the pan.
Prepping Freshly Cooked Rice for Fried Rice
You won’t get the same result with freshly cooked rice as you would leftover rice. Freshly cooked rice will be gummy and mushy, and just a nuisance to work with. That said, if you don’t have leftover rice, there are steps you can take to get freshly cooked rice fried rice-ready.
To get freshly cooked rice to a state similar to leftover rice, you’ll have to dry it out. Let your rice cool after cooking it, speeding up the process by spreading it on a baking sheet (but make sure your rice isn’t hot anymore before you do!) to increase the surface area.
After it cools, place the baking sheet in the fridge. This helps quickly pull out moisture from the rice, making it similar to day-old rice. (This is a trick we learned from Serious Eats.) After 30 minutes, it’s ready to be used for fried rice.
Breaking Up Your Rice
The key characteristic of fried rice is that the grains are shiny and separated. So whether you use leftover rice or freshly cooked rice that’s been dried out, breaking it up is an essential step to making fried rice. Refrigerated rice tends to clump up, and we all know it’s a pain to break it up—especially if you forget to do it beforehand and have to do it in the pan.
We found that the easiest way to go about it is to use your fingers. Transfer your rice to a bowl, then run your fingers through it to separate the grains. You can wet your hands or wear gloves so that they don’t stick. If you’re still having a hard time, you can add a tablespoon of oil; that should make it easier to separate, plus it helps keep the grains apart.