I almost ALWAYS have leftover rice in the fridge. It’s not an accident; I make a big pot at some point during the week and store it to toss into salads, stir into breakfast grain bowls, whathaveyou. But you know what a really good use for leftover rice is? Fried rice. And, you don’t have to be hungover in your college dorm room to eat fried rice. In fact, you can make fresher, more delicious, more healthyish fried rice right at home with what you have in the fridge (and without having to answer the door in your jammies.)
Fried rice also isn’t just cheap, hungover college food. After some 200 miles of cycling last week in California, so many meetings and little adventures, a big snowstorm, a huge hike in the very cold Rocky Mountains, and just general life, I was hungry. And sort of lazy. And a bowl of something warm and hearty, yet fresh and easy was what I was craving. Oh, hello fresh fried rice!
I cooked it up with eggs, leftover grilled chicken, kale, carrots, radishes…what was in my fridge. And even though I give you the recipe for my concoction below, I want to encourage you not to run out and buy these specific ingredients but to give your own fridge leftovers a try because you really can use whatever you have on hand to make a fresher fried rice that’s crunchy, umami, so satisfying and…frankly, really good for you and your belly (and its soul.)
Before you get started, you’re going to need a few tips, tricks and one simple piece of equipment: a wok (I have a big wok skillet from All-Clad that I LOVE) or a 24″ cast-iron skillet…a pan big enough to fit all the goodness in it and still allow you to turn the ingredients as they fry.
Next, a few tips. My best pointers:
- Use leftover rice. I know it’s temping to make fresh, but trust me, this is best with the leftovers. At least one or two days old if you can swing it. If you make fresh rice and use it, the rice will be clumpy – not crispy, and that cripness is what your college hangover dreams were made of (your post-century ride dreams aren’t that different!) That said, if you have some leftover quinoa or another grain you could feel free to toss them in here in lieu of the rice. Innovation! Yay! Literally, if you have some almost stale rice, your just one step away from an incredible meal at home.
- Add a bit of maple (or sugar.) I drizzle a bit of maple syrup over my fried rice ingredients as they’re cooking – its not much, probably just a couple of tablespoons for the whole batch. You could also use granulated organic sugar or brown sugar here. Gorgeous.
- Don’t skimp on the oil. Reminder: fat is good for you! And it’s what makes this fried rice so satisfying and nourishing…especially after a big day outside in the winter, keeping the rice silmoutaneaously moist and crispy. Use a neutral oil; I use a combination of olive oil and sesame oil. (Be careful not to get too excited and over-use the sesame oil – its a pretty powerful flavor.) Then coat the pan with a nice slick of oil, and don’t be afraid to finish with more if you need.
- Definitely don’t skimp on the veggies. Traditional fried rice recipes call for frozen peas, carrots and corn. I don’t keep those around to be honest. BUT, I do keep around beets, cauliflower, broccoli, bok choi, radishes, deep leafy greens…all of which go beautifully in a stir-fry. Don’t be shy add them all.
- Pick your flavors. Scallions and chopped chicken is traditional. But there are lots of ways to make fried rice really interesting. Try kim chi, bacon, cauliflower, shallots, squash, kale, shrimp, broccoli, pork shoulder and curry…the possibilities are endless. Below, I used a combination of traditional and fresh ingredients.
- Prep before you fry. The cook time for fried rice goes by quickly, as with most high heat dishes. Before you ever turn on the heat, prep all of your ingredients. Chop your veggies, gather your cooked meats, whip your eggs, assemble your oils, vinegars, and sauces.
- Build according to cooking time. Add your aromatics (onions and garlic) to the pan first, then meats, then rice. Add delicate vegetables (like radishes and greens) closer to the end of cook time. This way, flavor will build, everything will get cooked through, and you won’t have any overcooked or mushy bits.
- Respect your eggs. Fried rice contains eggs, but we’re not scrambling here – your pan is SUPER hot when you add the eggs, so they ought to cook very quickly! I suggest moving all of the rice and other ingredients to the side, then drizzle in oil and Bragg’s liquid aminos and then add the beaten eggs to the center of the pan and stir contantly so the eggs set and form threads that weave their way into your fried rice. NOMS.
- Finish with flavor and CRUNCH! Just because your fried rice is done cooking, doesn’t mean you’re done building flavor. Add fresh herbs, sauces, and crunchy toppings to make it a meal. Crumbled potato chips, toasted sesame seeds or savory granola. Once you’d properly finished your fried rice, you’re ready to serve that sh*t!
The formula below is a great jumping off point for fried rice explorations. The ingredients I included here are things I nearly always have on hand, so it’s a standby.
If you have nearly stale rice + some veggies lurking in your fridge, you basically have a delicious dinner.
- 2-4 tbsp toasted sesame oil
- 2-4 tbsp olive oil
- 2 cups leftover grilled or rotisserie chicken, chopped
- 1.5-2 cups shredded carrots
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed and finely diced
- 1 bunch kale leaves, destemmed and torn
- 1 bunch radishes, sliced thinly
- 3-4 cups leftover sushi rice
- 4 large eggs, beaten
- Bragg's Liquid Aminos
- 2-4 tbsp maple syrup (basically a big drizzle)
- thinly sliced scallions
- toasted sesame seeds
Heat the sesame oil in a large nonstick pan (I use a large, 24" copper-core wok pan) over medium heat. Toss in the carrots and a couple of cloves of crushed garlic if you like. Stir to slightly brown. Add a handful of kale leaves and cook, tossing until the vegetable start to brown. You could also use cauliflower, broccoli, broccoli rabe or okra.) Add the chopped chicken and stir until starting to warm, then push all of the ingredients to the side of the wok, drizzle with olive oil and add the rice to the pan, spreading it so it covers the bottom. (If you're using a smaller pan, you can transfer the veggies and chicken to another pan and add back after the rice is crisped!)
Cook, undisturbed, until rice begins to get golden and crisp. Use a wooden spoon to create a part down the center of the pan. Add the beaten eggs to the center of the pan along with a few big squirts of Bragg's Liquid Aminos and cook, stirring occasionally, until eggs are almost set. At this point, stir the veg and chicken back in. Add the remaining kale and a big handful of radishes and stir to just combine.
Lastly, splash with Bragg's, drizzle with maple and then serve into bowls and top with more radishes, scallions and toasted sesame seeds. (If you like, you could also use soy sauce, fish sauce, rice wine vinegar, and harissa or sriracha to taste!)