How to Boil Water: The simplest fried rice to use up whatever you have

Illustration for the "How to boil water" series on how to make fried rice.
(Hanna Carter / For The Times)

With so many of you having to stay home and cook for the first time — ever or more than you have in a long time — we get that it can be overwhelming to have to cook all your meals from scratch. So we’re here to get you started.

Each weekday, we’re going to post a new skill here and go in detail about how to do it — a resource for cooking basics so you can get food on the table and get through this.

A series of simple tutorials for making some basic recipes at home.

March 26, 2020


Lesson 18: Fried Rice

My twin daughters are now the age I was — 16 going on 17 — when I swore I would never be like my mom. Yet here we are. At the dinner table, I ask again and again if they’ve had enough to eat and shovel more on their plates regardless of the answer. My mom and her mom and well, every immigrant mom I know, never let any food go to waste.

That lifelong lesson is especially relevant now. Infrequent grocery trips plus occasional empty store shelves keep me from trashing any ingredients. Instead, I throw them into fried rice.

At its foundation is leftover rice. (If you try to stir-fry fresh hot rice, you’ll end up with sticky clumps.) Because day-old rice dries out in the fridge, the grains separate easily and fluff and crisp a bit in the pan.

While fried rice can be complex and upscale, this simple formula is designed to clean out the fridge. It’s basically the carb version of stone soup.

All you need: leftover rice, oil and aromatics such as onions, green onions or garlic. Beyond those bare essentials, you can add sausage or bacon, eggs, marinated raw or leftover cooked meat or seafood, fresh or preserved vegetables (such as kimchi), and seasonings such as soy sauce, oyster sauce, fish sauce or spicy chili crisp.

Because the goal is fluffy seasoned rice studded with crisp bits, start by dicing your ingredients to about the same size, somewhere between ¼ and ½ inch. If you’re using eggs, beat them lightly in a small bowl and season them with salt and pepper. Have everything ready by the stove; this one-pan meal comes together quickly.


Start by par-cooking the eggs, so they’ll be partly set and ready to finish in the pan at the end. Then add sausage or meat so its rendered fat can coat and flavor the aromatics and vegetables that follow. Finally, the rice gets folded in and heated before being coated with the par-cooked eggs and seasonings. One thing to remember is that even though this is called “fried” rice, it shouldn’t be greasy. Too much oil dampens the taste. You need just enough to cook the eggs, meat and vegetables and barely slick the rice. A well-seasoned or nonstick pan helps.

Here’s the fried rice workflow

Heat a large wok, well-seasoned Dutch oven or cast-iron or nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat the bottom and sides with a high-heat oil, such as vegetable oil. When the oil looks wavy, swirl it once more, then pour in the eggs and immediately tilt the pan to spread the eggs in a thin layer. As soon as the bottom sets but the top is still a little wet, use a silicone spatula or wooden spoon to slide the eggs back into their bowl. Wipe any bits of egg out of the pan if needed.

Add a thin layer of oil to the pan and heat, then add the chopped cured or leftover meat in a single layer. After its bottom side browns and crisps, add the finely sliced or diced aromatics, sprinkle lightly with salt and stir. Continue cooking and stirring until they’re fragrant and lightly browned, then add any other finely chopped vegetables if using. Season lightly with salt and stir until barely tender.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and rinse your hands under cold water. Grab handfuls of leftover rice and crumble into the pan in an even layer to separate any clumps of grains. Once all the rice is in, let it sit for 30 seconds, then stir well until heated through. Slide the eggs back in and coarsely chop them with your spatula while mixing. Drizzle a spoonful of the seasonings over the rice and stir well. Taste the rice and add more sauce if you’d like, but don’t let the mix get soupy. Remove the fried rice from the heat.

At this point, the rice is done and ready to eat. If you’d like a rich finishing touch, fold in a thin stream of toasted sesame oil or pat of butter. For a hit of freshness, mix in finely chopped fresh herbs like cilantro or thinly sliced crunchy lettuce or squeeze a little lemon or lime juice on top. Enjoy the steaming one-bowl meal and the satisfaction of using up what you’ve got.

Yang Chow Fried Rice

Time15 minutes
YieldsServes 4

Chinese Fried Rice

Time25 minutes
YieldsServes 4

Cauliflower and kimchi 'fried rice'

Time20 minutes
YieldsServes 4