secrets-to-cooking-the-best-chinese-fried-rice

Secrets to Cooking the Best Chinese Fried Rice

fried rice

Fried Rice is the Chinese version of casserole. Basically, its a great way to use up leftover bits in the refrigerator. My ingredients change based on what vegetables and meat I have on hand.

The only 3 constants are:

1) Rice

2) Fish Sauce

3) Chinese Sausage “Lap Cheong”

The above photo includes 1/4 of a red bell pepper, frozen peas/carrots, 2 eggs, 1/4 of a red onion, lap cheong (Chinese sausage). Sometimes I use bok choy, broccoli, cabbage, baby corn, pork, shrimp, chicken, ground beef, scallops…well, you get the picture. I’ve written a recipe for fried rice already, so instead of another recipe, I’m going to talk about some of the secrets that make the absolutely best fried rice in the world. I might repeat some of what I’ve written earlier, but its worth the read.

Secret #1: The Rice Just freshly cooked rice is hot, steamy, very moist and a little sticky. All of those things would make a very clumpy and soggy fried rice. Thats why day-old rice makes the best fried rice (storing in the refrigerator dries out the rice). My fried rice is flaky, light – which allows the individual flavors of the ingredients to really shine through. I almost always use Jasmine Rice for fried rice. If I want to make fried rice and don’t happen to have day-old rice on hand, here’s what I do: Make a batch of rice, except use 1/4 to 1/3 less water. This creates a rice that is a bit drier. Once the rice is done cooking, spread it out on a baking sheet so cool it off and let the steam (moisture) escape. Don’t try to fry the rice until its completely cool. You can put the baking sheet in the refrigerator, freezer or open window to expedite the process.

Secret #2: The Fish Sauce Many of my non-Asian friends will respond with “ewwwww…..fish sauce?” But let me tell you, most dishes served in a Thai or Vietnamese restaurant contain fish sauce. Its like the SE Asian version of salt. Plus, do you know what Worchestershire Sauce is made of?!?! Just like anchovy paste in Italian cooking, a little goes a long way and once you cook it in a dish, I’ll bet you $10 that you can’t even pick out the taste of it. I use a brand called “Three Crabs”

Three Crabs Fish Sauce

A sign of good fish sauce is the color. You want to buy a brand that is tea-colored, which signifies that it probably came from the first pressing (best quality). Now, why the brand is called Three Crabs when the fish sauce doesn’t even contain crabs is a mystery. If the fish sauce is any darker, like the color of coca cola, don’t buy it. Ok, so why do I use fish sauce and what does it taste like? Well first lets talk about what it smells like. No. Let not. I’m not going to kid you. It stinks. Don’t even try. But for some mysterious reason (and especially since you only use a few shakes from the bottle in the dish) your final cooked dish will smell nothing like it. Taste: pure on your tongue is very pungent. However once you start adding different flavor notes: like sour (lime), sweet (sugar), spicy (chili) – it transports you into another dimension – many call it “umami“. I use it because it rounds out the flavors – giving the dish a hit of salty/sweet that I can’t replicate with sugar and salt. I add the fish sauce to the fried rice the same time I add the other seasonings, about 1/2 tsp at a time until it tastes just right. Not too salty. Not too pungent. You want to make sure that you have big “wok fry” motions to get the fish sauce evenly dispersed throughout the dish. Last thing you want is one of your guests taking a bite and getting KO’d by a shot of fish sauce.

Secret #3: The Chinese Sausage It’s like pancetta in Italian cooking, where you render the fat (a.k.a. low heat and melt the fat). The fat is where all the flavor is hidden. Chinese sausage also is described as having “umami”. It’s preserved like Italian sausages so they last quite a while in the refrigerator. I dice the sausage into 1/4″ pieces, put them in the warm wok on low heat and just leave it alone for a few minutes. You’ll be rewarded with rich, flavorful fat oozing out – this is what you’ll use to fry the rest of the ingredients of the fried rice in place of oil. (see all those pockets of flavorful fat?!)

Chinese Sausage

Secret #4: The Heat Once you add your rice to the wok, crank up the heat to high. Your wok or saute pan has to be so hot that it heats up every single grain of rice through to the core. The heat does two things: helps meld the flavors together to create a cohesive dish and evaporate any extra moisture from the rice and liquid seasonings (soy/fish sauce/wine). Your fried rice is done with the grains practically dance off the wok.

Secret #5: Storing and Re-heating Store leftover fried rice tightly covered in the refrigerator. The rice will dry out further just by being in the refrigerator, however it will taste just as good the next day. The secret is to wet your hands and “flick” or “splash” water onto the fried rice, cover, and microwave on high. The microwave will heat up the water, turn it into steam and basically re-steam the rice. Don’t use too much water, just maybe a teaspoon or so. For the recipe – use this as a guideline, but feel free to substitute meats/seafood/vegetables. All you need to know to make the most delicious fried rice are the secrets in this post! Enjoy!

Comments 65

  1. cindy

    my husband LOVES fried rice…he always substitutes it for the white rice in restaurants. i have tried to make it but it is never quite right. maybe with your tips i can make a better version, thanks! i like the lap cheong sausage just steamed on top of some jasmine rice!

  2. Mae

    I am the same with using whatever veg i have in the crisper. My favourite Chinese fried rice is Charsiu fried rice. I love the sweet flavour of the charsiu.

    I am yet to try some lap cheong sausage. My oriental store do keep these in stock so i will get some later this week. I have been meaning to get some in a while now but always forget them.

  3. Jaden

    Cindy- Sometimes when I make white rice in the rice cooker, I throw in a couple of lap cheong links in – it flavors the rice as it cooks.

    Tigerfish- I think I remember you are Singaporean….do you use Fish sauce in your cuisine as a regular spice?

  4. lindsay

    I’ve never tried the secrets of fish sauce! Having been born and raised on rice and such, I’ll have to give that a go. One of my favourite versions of fried rice include egg whites, pickled turnip (‘choi bow’ in cantonese), lots of ginger, and finely cut chinese broccoli.

    cheers,
    Lindsay.

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  7. scotte

    I just made fried rice for the first time the other day. My friend had been talking about Pineapple Fried Rice for ages. She didn’t really have a recipe, just some guidelines, so I had no idea how it would turn out. Delish!

    I didn’t have day old rice, I spread it on a sheet and then put in a warm oven for a few minutes to dry it out a little. Worked really well.

    Here’s the recipe I came up with, based on my friend’s recommendations:

    http://sseichinger.blogspot.com/2007/04/fruity-fried-rice.html

  8. Steve

    Just found your site via Slashfood. Love it!

    Fried rice is probably the dish I cook the most, and my stand-by ingredients (due to the ease which with they can be found in any supermarket) are scallions, egg, and deli ham. I make my rice fresh, and I do not measure the water other than to have the water level about one fingernail depth above the rice (in a rice cooker). I add the egg at the end, just before seasoning, so that every grain of rice is coated with a little egg. I season with salt, MSG (the most direct way to add umami!), and white pepper. I will sometimes use ketchup as well, rather than salt and MSG.

  9. SteamyKitchen

    Steve- I love ketchup in my fried rice too! It sounds so weird, but it works. There was a Vietnamese restaurant in L.A. that I used to go to and order only 2 things on their menu: teeny tiny 1/2″ snails in some creamy broth and fried rice with ketchup.

  10. Grebby

    I finally made it to the international market and was pleased to find the Three Crabs fish sauce and several varieties of lap xuong (they all seemed to be labeled with the Vietnamese spelling). I always have some jasmine rice leftover (this time from making a Thai red curry) so I’ll be dining in style tonight.

  11. GuyJ

    I find that the secret to fried rice is sesame seeds, it adds a slightly more savoury edge to it, and when the rice is topped with soy sauce the seeds are amazing.

    – I have yet to try the chinese sausage yet. What meat is it?

    I use a concentrated fish sauce made by bart spices, I think an english brand, its very much tea coloured, and its very strong so a little goes a long way, I bought it 6 months ago and haven’t finished it!!!

  12. SteamyKitchen

    GuyJ- I love sesame seeds too, esp toasted black sesame seeds! Adds texture and great color.
    Chinese sausage is mostly pork. There are some other varieties as well that include some duck liver.
    Haven’t seen the Bart Spices fish sauce…will have to google that!

  13. SteamyKitchen

    They have a lot of great products – love the freeze dried herbs (process keeps it very fresh and it is the next best thing to the freshly picked). Also like that they have a ton of organic products.

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  16. aseno

    Me & my brother are fried rice crazy. Can you recommend a good, non pork, sausage substitute? Thanks!

  17. SteamyKitchen

    Hi Andy-
    You can use any type of sausage, really. Today, I made chicken sausage fried rice. Since chicken has very low fat, no need to “render” the fat.
    1. fry sausage until 80% done. remove.
    2. fry all the other ingredients
    3. add sausage back, fry until sausage is done
    4. add rice and seasonings

    Good luck, let me know how it turns out.

  18. Rudi

    3 comments.

    1. I love your pics.. what camera do you use? They are also very vibrant shots, so do you up the saturation in them also?

    2. Ketchup in fried rice is divine. Adds a vinegry taste to it, and also, if the batch is not as good, like cheese, ketchup fixes every mess up in the kitchen.

    3. re: Comment from india, its easy to make a fried rice with vege stuff. use whatever veges you want, add coriander/cilantro, add soy sauce instead of fish sauce. And leave out the sausage, add nutrella or other soy product for protein. All great recipes come from our parents, grandparents, great grandparents and so on. I refuse to believe that they always had all the ingredients, and so I am sure they improvised with their meals. Work out the essence of what you want to create and experiment towards it.. if it fails, just add ketchup… or cheese and then TRY AGAIN!… thats what cooking is all about. would you agree steamy kitchen?

  19. SteamyKitchen

    Ash – Instead of fish sauce, just use a little more soy. Instead of Chinese sausage, just leave it out and use some grated ginger to give the rice a nice fragrant flavor.

    Rudi- Here are your answers

    1. I have a Canon Rebel XT. I usually increase the brightness and contrast of the photos. Sometimes I increase the saturation. Food photography really does need a little boost.

    2. YUMMMMM>…. i use ketchup too!

    3. Thanks for the ideas!

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  21. sandra

    fish sauce and sesame oil makes a big difference, thanks! I added some soy to colour the rice a little. It’s a great improv dish… chicken, leftover ham ends all make it taste good. My favourite version is julienned chicken with salted fish from Chinese restaurants… haven’t figured this one out yet. Do you have a good recipe?

  22. SteamyKitchen

    Hey Sandra,

    I haven’t made salty fish fried rice before – though I always order it out at restaurants. I haven’t been able to find salty fish at the markets where I live and I’m not quite brave enough to bring some with me in my suitcase coming home from Los Angeles.

    ;-)
    jaden

  23. Sandra

    Thank you so much for putting this on the web. I am absolutely thankful and anxious to try this recipe out. I love integrating my own recipes with others. Again cheers to making fried rice everyone!

    -Sandra

  24. lynn

    Hi,

    I enjoy reading your blog especially all the different recipes and
    looking at all those nice photos.

    I remembered reading a joke in your website that you mentioned your
    brother sent you. It was about a lady having some problems after consuming some bowls of beans. Unfortunately I was not able to locate
    that joke in your archives any more; could you kindly email me the
    joke or direct me to the source?

    Thank you and have a great day.

  25. Charlotte

    Jaden,

    Good tips but I would like to emphasize that a HOT WOK is the key. I could not figure out why my fried rice is never the same as in restaurants. One day, I found this recipe. It inspired me to buy a good wok and it opened up a whole new world for me.
    http://thaitable.com/Thai/recipes/Fried_Rice.htm.
    Now I have an “authentic” well-seasoned carbon steel wok that delivers consistent results every time (unless I have bad ingredients etc.)
    I agree with the fish sauce addition. It makes the dish sweeter (go figure!). My typical recipe calls for a ratio of 2:1 where 2 is soy sauce and 1 is fish sauce.

  26. Patte

    In Hawaii we always use oyster sauce instead of fish sauce. I think fish sauce is more southeast asian. I like water cheasnuts, bamboo shouts, fried egg, lots of green onion, garlic, ginger, peas or other veggie and char sui if available. Yummm….Chinese New Year is Sun. Feb. 14 and Year of the Tiger…good time to make some fried rice..Hung Hee Fat Choy…

  27. Jenny

    My secret ingredients to fried rice is Worchestershire sauce. Just a little bit.. but it adds a nice flavor. Sesame seeds are great too!
    -Jenny
    Kitchen Scales

  28. Jenna

    I lived in Asia as a child and I LOVE rice in general, but especially fried rice! I have thought about using the Jasmine rice but have not yet, I just use a mixture of regular white rice and brown rice–though I do agree that refrigerated or dried out rice works best. I am interested in using the fish sauce as well, I have always used soy sauce.

    This is how I make my rice–as far as the oil I use either Safflower or Olive oil, minced garlic, red pepper and/or curry powder, green and white onions, bean sprouts, water chestnuts, baby corn, and scrambled eggs. My meat source is always shrimp that I boil in whatever Asian sauce I have on hand before I throw it in the fry pan.

    YUM YUM!

  29. Alexandra

    Good advice! Thanks.
    Coincindentally, I cooked fried rice last night (hadn’t cooked it in a while) and I did exactly as you say. Save for the Chinese sausage(didn’t know it) and the fish sauce, which I have never used. I’ll buy it asap (not too dark, ok!)
    As you say, the rice is the real secret.
    I also cook the rice in advance. I presume in a rice cooker it would turn out better, don’t have it.
    Anyway, good to know, from a Chinese (i.e. an expert), that I do it right. Thanks again!

  30. gladen

    I used the thai fish sauce nam pla because I use it for other cooking and added a tablespoon of dark shoyu. Whatever leftovers I had in the fridge – bacon, shrimp, green onions, bok choy, green peas, spam (yes spam) was tossed in…delicious.

  31. sharona

    Hi Okay I have a carbon steel wox well seasoned and i also have a 10 psi burner I converted a turkey fryer I got at walmart for 35 bucks but I cannot get the flavor like the takeout and restuants my wok heats up super hot so its not the burner i cook my rice ( jasmine ) in a rice cooker 2 to 3 days before im gonna use its very dried i have all the other ingredients fish sauce, kikoman soya sauce, pure seasame seed oil, i also have the other sauses used in asian cooking, I have watched numberous video;s on youtube.. but still cannot get that flavor…what else is there that might be added .. thank you

  32. Ron

    jaden,

    So glad I found your site, it’s an inspiration.
    20 years ago, I cooked in an electric wok, and used fish sauce and toasted sesame oil to flavor my fried rice, it was heavenly, but I thought I was a little cracked since I never thought the pros did it.
    I never got the texture quite right back then, but now I can.
    Anyway, I forgot about the fish sauce, and anjou sausage, I used to love that too.
    Been 20 years since I made fried rice till today, I forgot how great it can be.
    While at the market today, I picked up some smoked white fish, do you think it would be good in the rice?
    I might try a small batch just for fun.
    Does peanut oil make a big difference in flavor?

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  34. Simon Jensen

    Hi Jaden

    You are a massive inspiration to me when it comes to cooking and presenting beautiful dishes. I always make fried rice out of left-overs, but one trick i learned from my former Shanghai father in law was using left over char siu pork dices. Also a really delicious addition. Bean sprouts also adds a lovely crispy texture to the rice. however, great recipe. I think the options are endless with fried rice.

    And about the peanut oil Ron: Peanut oil is not necessary. The point about wok cooking is using a oil that has a high smoking point ideal for stir fries. In other words not toasted sesame oil or olive oils. I tend to use Grapeseed oil, rapeseed oil or any other neutrally flavored vegetable oil.

  35. Justin Barba

    Great article–thanks! I am going to cook up a batch of Jasmine Rice right now and let it dry out. I haven’t tried that before and have definitely had soggy rice in the past (I have only tried making fried rice a few times). Off to cook and dry my rice . . .

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