There is no one way to make fried rice. You can use freshly cooked rice and light seasoning, making a comfortingly bland and stodgy dish, or you can give it a bit of tooth, a bit of fire. The latter is what you’ll find here.
This is an adaptation of Kasma Uncha-Lohit’s fried rice recipe with extensive guidance from Gilt Taste. I really miss Gilt Taste’s recipes and detailed how-tos; thankfully, I absorbed their lesson on making really good fried rice before all those pages went down last year.
The main points go as follows:
- Use cold leftover rice. If the surface of each grain is firm and dry, they fry up whole and toasty. Compare the two fried rices here: if you want it mushy, use steaming freshly cooked rice (right), if you want them a little chewy and nutty, use leftover rice (left). Even cooking it earlier in the day and spreading it on a plate to cool makes a difference.
- Hot oil. This is fast and fierce. You want to each and every grain to feel the hot kiss of oil so that the surface of the rice will blister slightly.
- Stir-fry each element separately before combining at the end. Yeah, it’s a pain in the arse, but it does make each and every element sing the loudest if you let them warm up (OHHH DO YOU SEE WHAT I DID THERE yeah ok), adding up to an amazing dish of fried rice. It also helps prevent some things from overcooking, like that one chunk of burnt garlic which decides to pass on its bitterness to all the other innocents in the wok (so rude). Make sure you’ve got a platter on hand to receive each element after it’s been fried.
- Don’t be afraid to layer up the flavours. Related to the previous point. Use different aromatics, sauces and seasonings, try adding some tom yam, roasted chilli or curry paste, stir in fresh herbs at the end. Rice accepts flavours willingly. I recall the original author of the Gilt Taste fried rice piece felt that Thai sweet basil gave the rice a lovely perfume. You can certainly use Italian basil, which is different but still complementary.
There may be more but I have frankly forgotten. These will serve you well, anyhow.
I must emphasise again that this is just one way to make great fried rice, not the end-all, be-all: don’t come after me with your cooking shovel, please.
What follows is, again, just one possible combination of fried rice, with nutty broccoli and smokey-sweet tofu.
SPICY THAI-STYLE FRIED RICE (perhaps joyfully topped with an egg)
For 1 serving. Eat it right away. Leftover fried rice = NOPE. For me, at least.
Vary this with vegetables, meat/tofu, sauces and pastes as you please.
1 serving of cold, cooked long-grain rice (for me, this is 1 1/2 US cups, made with just under 1/2 cup raw white jasmine rice + 2/3 cup water)
2 fat cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 plump spring onion, or 1 peeled shallot, sliced thinly
2 bird’s eye chillies (more or less to taste; to me, this is comfortingly warm), de-stemmed/de-seeded and sliced thinly
Handful of sprouting broccoli/kai-lan, cut on the diagonal into long slices or bite-size florets
1 teaspoon sweet dark soy sauce (kecap manis)
A few drops each of Golden Mountain seasoning sauce, light soy sauce, or whatever you like (you could use the leftover chilli tofu marinade if you like things super hot)
Salt and pepper to taste
As many pieces of chilli tofu (or other addition) as you want
Handful of sweet Thai or Italian basil, leaves picked
2 -3 tablespoons vegetable oil for cooking
1 fresh egg
Lime wedge, white pepper, nam pla prik, maggi to serve
Make sure everything’s laid out ready to go near the stove so you can add them to the wok without undue stress.
Break the cold rice up so it’s mostly in separate grains. Set aside. Arrange the minced garlic, chopped spring onion and chilli, and the sliced broccoli together. Dole out and mix the soy sauces (or other seasonings of your choice) in a small, light bowl. (But obviously if you’re more confident & dextrous than me, you needn’t bother.)
Ensure there’s a platter of some kind near the stove to receive the cooked vegetables.
Add 1 tablespoon oil to the wok and get it really hot. Tip in the garlic, spring onion, chilli, and broccoli all at once. Stir-fry for a few minutes until the broccoli is coming up to cooked and the garlic just golden. Immediately transfer this to a platter, clearing the wok completely.
If necessary, add another spoonful or two of oil and get it nice and hot again. Now fry the rice, breaking it up and tossing it til it smells and looks beautifully toasted. Add the soy sauce and other seasonings, stirring until the rice is evenly coated and just darkened with soy sauce.
Finish the fried rice by returning the vegetables and garlic etc. to the wok, combining thoroughly with the rice. Add the tofu and basil, giving everything a good toss (if the tofu is fridge-cold, add it earlier, halfway through the end of the broccoli cooking time).
When everything is looking like it’s coming together well, lower the heat, give the broccoli a prod with a sharp knife to make sure it’s just cooked, taste the rice and adjust the seasonings as needed. Transfer to a plate right away.
To fry the egg: heat a small frying pan with a thin yet slightly sloshy layer oil over a high heat (if you fancy multi-tasking, do this towards the end of combining the rice and seasonings). If I’m being careful, I crack the egg into a small bowl or cup and have it ready by the stove.
Once the oil’s really hot, carefully slip in the egg. It will immediately spit angrily at you, edges frilling. Don’t fear: it’s just a temper tantrum. Wait it out as the white sets, spooning a little of the oil over the yolk.
Once the edges are nice and crispy and deeply browned the centre should be runny. This should take mere minutes. Turn the heat right down for a firmer yolk. Once it’s juuuust the tiniest bit underdone for you, immediately remove from the heat and top the fried rice with it.
Scatter over the basil and any other seasonings you wish. You may wish for nam pla prik or maggi to shake over. Eat right away.
Now, about that chilli tofu: I baked it because the recipe sounded awesome, and it’s hands-off so an oaf like me doesn’t reduce the tofu to a paste as I stir-fry. There’s a bit of waiting around but, as always, it’s an investment: these things keep well so you can add it to whatever you like over the next few snacks or meals.
Pressing and then baking the marinaded tofu changes the texture so it’s a little less wobbly and tastes wonderfully of whatever sauces you turned it in. Here, they become distinctly smokey-sweet with nam prik pao, a traditional roasted Thai sweet chilli jam (YMMV on the vegetarian aspect: most contain shrimp paste), and helped in the garlic and chilli stakes with Sriracha. They’re not crispy but they’re so flavourful that I don’t mind.
For the fried rice above, you can obviously just fry the marinaded tofu before you do the rice, but for me, the less stir-frying, the better.
BAKED CHILLI TOFU
Adapted from Dave Lebovitz
Adjust the heat to your taste. To me, this has a nice ping of chilli. If it sounds too hot for you, it probably is: make your tastebuds your priority. Add more or less of the hot stuff, balancing up with more soy sauce/salt, making up for loss of aroma with some freshly chopped garlic.
This is also great added to noodle soup or whatever you like.
About 400g firm tofu (either silken or cotton can be used)
1 tablespoon nam prik pao, as hot or mild as you like (read more about it on SheSimmers)
1 teaspoon Sriracha sauce
1 tablespoon light soy sauce (Thai-style light soy sauce is really different to its various dark counterparts, but use what you like)
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon cornflour, for dusting
Completely wrap the block of tofu in paper towels and press between two plates, the top weighed down with a heavy tin or similar. Leave for 30 minutes.
Mix together the nam prik pao, Sriracha sauce, soy sauce, and water in a medium container til you have a smooth marinade. Pat the tofu dry, cut into 3 cm cubes, and gently add to the container of marinade and stir to coat thoroughly. Cover and chill for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Line a small baking tray with paper. Drain and transfer the marinaded tofu cubes to a large bowl. Sift over the cornflour a little at a time (sifting is necessary to get a light, even coating, so don’t skip), lightly dusting the tofu pieces. Gently turn and remove to the tray. They will still look quite wet, but don’t be tempted to dredge til dry or the too-thick coating will bake to a white floury crust.
Bake for 40 – 45 minutes, turning several times (with care, they’ll be soft in the early stages) until browned. Eat right away or chill til needed.