Simple! Sensible! Sensational!®

February 2005
© 2005 by Bret S. Beall


As I've written before, I'm always looking for great ways to use leftover cooked rice. This quest probably began over 25 years ago when I started using my leftover rice to make Chinese Fried Rice, following my mother's example.

Chinese Fried Rice is one of those great dishes that is so flexible because it is almost "designed" to use all kinds of leftovers. Have a bit of leftover meat? Toss it into the fried rice. Have some leftover veggies? Toss them in the fried rice. You create a delicious meal while helping the earth at the same time!

The Chinese New Year falls on February 9 in 2005 (which is 4703 on the Chinese calendar). In case you were wondering, the Chinese New Year always falls on the second full moon after the winter solstice. By definition, it is a lunar festival, and traditionally, moon pies are the classic New Year taste treat. But the New Year has additional symbolism. Eggs and rice imply abundance, and green vegetables imply money. Since all of these ingredients go into fried rice, what better dish is there to celebrate the Chinese New Year? None, in my opinion, since abundance and money both come from not wasting food, and this basic fried rice recipe takes advantage of your leftovers, leading the way to abundance!


I begin with the most basic preparation of Fried Rice, which can be increased by altering proportions based on the amount of cooked rice available. It is suitable for lacto-ovo vegetarians, as it includes only eggs. If one is determined to create a vegan version, omit the egg(s); this will only slightly reduce flavor, but it will greatly reduce visual appeal; you can also add tofu, as described below under "additions." More carnivorous versions are also described below under both "additions" and "variations."

Please note that I have recommended cooking this dish over medium heat. This is to avoid burning the aromatics, which is SO easy to do. As I was preparing this column, I actually saw a newspaper recipe for Fried Rice that involved cooking the aromatics for 5 minutes over high heat; I was reading this newspaper while on the train, and I know the people around me saw my grimace. I could actually mentally taste the acrid flavor of the burned garlic. Even typing this anecdote is distasteful!

Just because a recipe is published doesn't make it good. But I can assure you that the following recipe is good. It's better than good. It's Simple! Sensible! Sensational!®

In a wok or large skillet over medium heat, add 1 t peanut oil; when oil is hot and evenly distributed on the cooking surface of the wok or skillet, add the beaten egg(s) and scramble until just cooked; remove immediately to a holding dish. Wipe wok or skillet with a clean cloth or paper towel. Return wok or skillet to medium heat, add the remaining 1 T peanut oil; when hot and distributed across the cooking surface, add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until translucent and slightly caramelized. Add the garlic and ginger and stir quickly until aromatic, about 15 seconds. Add the rice and stir quickly to incorporate the rice with the aromatics, and to break up any clumps of rice. When the rice is warmed through (about 2 to 3 minutes), add the soy sauce and sesame oil and continue stirring to blend. If using scallions, add the reserved sliced tops and stir to incorporate. Heat through and serve immediately. Serves one as a main dish, or two as a side dish (accompanying a stir fry, or pan-seared chicken breast [or other poultry cut], pork/lamb chop, steak or fish, or just some steamed vegetables with a drizzle of sesame oil and/or a drizzle of hoisin or oyster sauce).


The following additions can be used to enhance flavor, increase visual appeal, and enlarge the volume and robustness of the completed dish. Please note that the meats, fish and poultry in these versions are already cooked (leftovers are great!). Raw meats, fish and poultry can be used, but they need to be cooked prior to adding to the rice; I will rely on your existing skills to allow you to cook them (it's easiest to just use leftovers, if available). With some practice, they can be cooked as part of the sequence of preparing the Fried Rice, but I won't burden this column with specific instructions for each ingredient that can be added in.

Vegetables: Add ½ to 1 c of lightly cooked carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers (roasted red peppers can be delicious and gorgeous in Fried Rice), or your favorite vegetable, cut in small (1/2" to 1") pieces, to really enhance basic Fried Rice.

Herbs and Leafy Vegetables: about ½ c of coarsely chopped cilantro, basil, arugula, spinach, Romaine lettuce or other soft leafy herbs and vegetables add a real punch to the visuals and flavor of basic Fried Rice. Be sure to add these delicate ingredients at the very end of the cooking process in order to preserve their flavor, texture and color.

Meat: Add ¼ c salami, pepperoni, Chinese sausage, andouille, Spanish chorizo (which is smoked; Mexican chorizo requires pre-cooking) or other ready sausage in small (1/2") pieces (note: though ready to eat, kielbasa must be cooked before adding because it produces an abundance of very sticky grease that will negatively affect the final dish). Precooked beef, pork, lamb, ham, bacon or other meat can also be added (about ¼ to ½ c) to the basic Fried Rice proportions. Leftover barbeque adds a really special flavor to Fried Rice (and barbequed pork is a common addition to traditional Chinese Fried Rice).

Poultry: Precooked chicken, turkey, duck, goose or other poultry (plain or smoked) make excellent additions to the basic Fried Rice recipe.

Seafood: Precooked fish (any type will do), shrimp (cut in ½" pieces), lobster (also cut in ½" pieces), calamari (cut in rings), lump crab meat, or even surimi will add wonderful flavor, texture and (sometimes) color to basic Fried Rice.

Tofu/Seitan: Add ½ c firm tofu or your choice of flavored seitan (seitan is a wheat-based protein that should not be used by individuals with allergies to wheat) to the basic Fried Rice recipe, and you can even exclude the eggs to keep it vegan. The tofu will absorb the other flavors and add protein and a contrast in texture.

Nuts: A great final edition to any Fried Rice preparation is about ¼ to ½ c chopped (and preferably toasted) nuts. I have used walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts and even peanuts (dry roasted!). They had texture, flavor and nutrition!


Fennel Fried Rice: Thinly sliced or diced fennel can be substituted for the onion in basic Fried Rice to offer a new flavor profile.

British Fried Rice: Substitute Worcestershire Sauce for soy sauce (I tried this years ago when I discovered I had no soy sauce on hand; it's really quite tasty).

Hawaiian Fried Rice: This "unusual" meaty variation includes the addition of ½ c each cubed (1/2") Spam and pineapple (canned in syrup, or fresh); some cilantro and a squeeze of lime juice at the end will enhance everything.

Italian Fried Rice: Add about ½ c whole basil leaves and ½ c chopped prosciutto, pancetta or salami, and substitute balsamic vinegar for the rice wine vinegar; scallions are nice to use as the onion, and fry them in olive oil instead of peanut oil. Instead of soy sauce, add a little tomato sauce and/or maybe some particularly fruity olive oil right at the end. If tomatoes are in season, add about ½ c of small diced tomatoes; if out of season, use roasted or sundried tomatoes, chopped in about ½" pieces.

Pacific Northwest Fried Rice: I recently created this special Fried Rice by adding 2 oz (between ¼ and ½ c) of smoked salmon (I used nova style, but any style will work) and about 1 c of stir-fried broccoli fleurets to the basic Fried Rice recipe. I tossed in some chopped Oregon hazelnuts at the end, and it was a HUGE hit.

In case you haven't figured out the pattern, I'll be explicit: Fried Rice is an imprecise recipe. I have provided you with some basic proportions to get you started, but once you get the "feel" of this general recipe, just experiment to your heart's desire. Remember, this recipe is really about using leftovers! And, it's also about saying, "Happy New Year" every time you prepare it, since every day is the start of a new year. Try this recipe, then try it another way, and then another, and then let me know how you are enjoying your New Year at 773.508.9208 or email me. It's SO easy, and SO delicious.