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I see a lot of recipes for fried rice, but never seem to be able to give the gorgeous lightly browned color (and therefore flavor) to my rice.

This is before adding soy sauce or anything else. Is this a question of heat, or quantity of oil? How do they do it in the restaurant (e.g. young chow fried rice)?

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9 Answers 9

up vote 42 down vote accepted

There are really only a few secrets to good fried rice:

  1. Day Old White Rice (Make it the day before, let it cool, place it in the fridge)
    • This I'd say is absolutely, the main thing.
    • The texture will NOT be right if you use freshly cooked rice. There will be too much moisture.
  2. HEAT!
    • Your Wok needs to be hot. You want everything to cook quickly.
  3. Cook stuff separately.
    • This is a follow-up from 2. You want it all to cook very quickly, a crowded pan will hinder that.
    • Cook Meat to 80%, take it out, cook the other stuff, add the meat back in.
  4. Don't touch it.
    • Unless you have a blazing professional burner, your food needs time against the wok. Put it in, leave it for a bit, mix it some more.
  5. Fish Sauce & Chinese Sausage
    • They add great flavour.

If it all seems complicated, it really isn't. Use day old rice & give it lots of heat.

Here are a couple of recipes that give further detail and have great explanations:

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Thanks so much for the answer / links! A couple of things that I wasn't doing were NOT keep the rice moving (I don't have a gas burner) and using fish sauce. –  Eric Dec 2 '10 at 21:51
    
+1 for fish sauce.. gotta try that one –  zanlok Dec 2 '10 at 23:12
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My wife (then fiance) once made a stir fry and mistook fish sauce for soy sauce. The experience was so traumatic I haven't been able to stand the smell of fish sauce ever since. –  Sobachatina Dec 3 '10 at 13:57
    
Haha, well @Sobachatina that would do it. I wouldn't say that's an absolute, absolute essential ingredient (though I do love the flavour). IF you can get that "unami" flavour from something else like the chinese sausage or some other protein, you could still get a tasty fried rice. –  talon8 Dec 3 '10 at 14:09
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@Sobachatina Similar story...I kept fish sauce in the door of my fridge. The bottle of my fish sauce bore an unfortunate resemblance to a half drank bottle of Dr Pepper. I got thirsty... –  Jolenealaska Dec 11 '13 at 5:29

As FRANKO wrote, every comment above is based on personal experiences. Nobody mentioned anything about using vinegar in the process. That is the "secret".

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I find making a good Chinese style fried rice both simple and difficult at the same time. It is simple in concept but difficult in practice. I also like to differentiate between a home style as well as a restaurant style fried rice. I do believe there is a difference.

Home style fried rice, this is the common recipe of day old rice and then whatever ingredients you have to add flavor and texture to the dish. Rice here makes a difference as the Chinese and Thais tend to use "long grain" rice. While Japanese and Koreans like the medium to short grain rice. I find that long grain rice works best for fried rice or "chao fan". Less sticking and clumping with the long grain.

Restaurant fried rice, uses freshly cooked rice, that has been cooked with slightly less water so make it less sticky. Can you imagine a restaurant wasting space with day old rice specifically for making fried rice? And let's face it, most people are taking about the fried rice at their favorite Chinese restaurant, right?

Anyways the keys are really the wok and high heat. These two things are the keys to making a good fried rice or just good Chinese restaurant food. A well seasoned wok will allow you to toss the rice easily so as to make for even browning. The high heat will allow you to brown it without drying it out. You could make this in a flat pan but it is a bit more messy and for me not as fun. Another secret for the home cook is adding beaten eggs to the rice, this gives them a coating to prevent drying and sticky clumpy rice. We don't have as much fire power as a professional chinese kitchen.

As with all good cooking technique, have your ingredients prepped and ready to go before you even think about cooking them. In this case have your rice ready, add enough beaten eggs to coat all the rice, mix it well till all the grains look yellow. If you are adding some kind of meat, this is the time you would half cook it first in the wok. Wash out your wok and then prepare to cook the rice. Raw vegetables can be cooked with the rice later or precooked with the meat.

In a hot wok, add some oil and swirl it around the wok till it covers the wok, then toss this oil out, and add fresh oil. Wait just a second or two, then add the rice to the wok and spread it out over the sides for just a second or two. This allows the rice to get it's initial browning. The hotter the wok the less time it takes, the less hot the more time.

After initial browning, it's time to toss the rice, this is where the wok outshines any other pan. Moving food in a wok is very easy as the sloped sides naturally allow the food to come back to the center, you don't have to chase the food. If you coated all the rice grains then they will not stick to each other, they will slide around easily. If they do start to stick, add just a few drops of oil around the edges of the wok and let them slide to the center of the wok.

When you can smell the delicious aroma of rice then you can start to add whatever ingredients you want. Some of the meat and vegetables and some extra beaten eggs if you want. At the very end of cooking time, is when you add the wet ingredients, this will keep your rice moist and soft. Soy sauce (dark or light or both), oyster sauce, and or sesame oil. When you add the wet stuff, drizzle it along the edges of the wok and let it slide to the center. This adds a bit of steam and also doesn't reduce the heat too quickly. Heat is your friend in wok cooking. A few more tosses and you are done.

For a visual demonstration just go to Youtube.com and type in "cha han", "chao fan" or just plain old "fried rice"

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My process is this. Makes a full meal for 1 or an side amount for 2 or 3:

  • Make rice ahead of time, cool and put in fridge. If anything, slightly under-cook your rice.
  • Heat medium-sized saute pan to medium or medium-high.
  • Add about a tablespoon of veggie oil.
  • Add rice, a little salt and pepper. Cook about 2 minutes.
  • Add soy sauce and stir.
  • Add frozen veggies (like one of those Asian veggie mixes)
  • Keep cooking and stirring until veggies are completely heated through, about 5-7 minutes.
  • During the 5-7 minutes above, grab 2 eggs. Break into a small bowl. Add salt and whisk/mix.
  • (optional) I add in a little sliced jalapeno. Cook another minute.
  • Push/pile rice onto one side of the saute pan.
  • Pour eggs into free area. They should take about 1-2 minutes to cook almost all the way.
  • When they're almost all the way cooked, stir the eggs and rice mixture all together. Cook another minute.
  • Pour onto plate and enjoy!

The whole process takes about 15 minutes and only dirties one saute pan and a small bowl, plus your eating plate.

I just started making fried rice a few months ago and now make it this way at least once a week! It's so good and the frozen veggies make it a snap.

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For a Chinese fried rice, it is best when it is just made of old cooked rice, eggs, green onion, and oil;

  • fry the eggs first, set aside
  • fry the previously cooked rice with some oil and some green onion
  • combine the cooked eggs and rice and fry them together
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Thanks for your edit. –  Kyleinincubator Mar 21 '12 at 19:56

Something to add onto the answers given above. "Chinese fried rice" is a very broad term. Because different regions in China produce a wide variety of rice, there are just so many different ways to fried them.

While using day old rice is common among house-holds to deal with left-over rice, it is not the authentic way to fried rice.

Most chiefs use fresh rice. They cook rice with less water and remove them from the cooker before it gets completely cooked. That is to give rice the moisture and chewiness while at the same time, perserve its rigidity as it gets fried. Day-old rice will easily crack into two or more pieces as you apply the turner, and absorb sauce or broth very inconsistently.

Out of the "Chinese fried rice" context, Korean and Japanese almost never use day-old rice for frying. Chinese from the north also do similar. Using day-old rice seems to be a concept for Thai-type rice or southern type rice which are more brittle, dry and less chewy. To deal with this physical properties, southern restaurant often fried their rice in clay pot in medium heat. If you go to a high class Canton restaurant, this is how it's done. If you see fried rice where the rice is crack apart - they are not good. Fried rice is not just about the taste, texture and feeling are also crucial classifying indicators.

The browning of rice are not from the sauce (supposedly)! At least this is not the right way to brown the rice, and many real chief fried rice without soy or fish sauce. The browning comes from the natural browning of the ingredient, such as garlic, onion etc. Brown the ingredient before adding rice will brown the rice.

As to how most, real Chinese restaurant flavor their fried rice? Answer is chicken broth or stock or powder.

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everyone's comments are spot-on from my experience. but you might also want to consider changing the KIND of soy sauce you are using. try some of the chinese (not japanese!) soy sauces at asian markets. maybe a lighter flavor, or a sweeter one, or something like that will give you the intangibles you are looking for. japanese and chinese soy sauces taste very different, and in addition to that, i'd stay away from some of the ones made in the U.S., since those just taste wrong, haha.

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The secrets to my fried rice:

  • Fried eggs: start by frying some eggs, scrambled with some salt, at high temp, in oil. It should turn brown and fluff up in layers. I usually let it sit until it forms an omelet-like circle, then turn it over to brown the top. The browning is essential for the flavour (I wouldn't eat my breakfast eggs this way). Remove from wok, slice into pieces, then add back in at the end.
  • Soy Sauce: turns it brown, makes it salty
  • Chinese BBQ pork (the red kind): adds some sweet, garlicky flavour
  • After everything is done, drizzle with sesame oil. Not too much!
  • Add your eggs back in

I've made it with other kinds of meat and it's not really the same. If you're making it vegetarian I'd recommend frying up some vegetables in garlic and sauce (I'm not sure what the red bbq pork sauce is).

BTW I agree with the other suggestions about high-heat and slightly dry rice.

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I think it's four major things:

  1. Use enough oil - If you don't use enough, you don't really get a proper frying action, and rather just heat it. So make sure you use enough. The downside, is that too much can make it disgustingly greasy. So be careful, but don't skimp.
  2. Let it sit - When you put the rice in, don't stir it too much. Let it sit for long enough that the rice in contact with the pan starts to crisp up. This will give you that restaurant flavor and texture and is part of what's giving that color you want.
  3. Hot, hot, hot - You want a big wok, screaming hot.
  4. Soy sauce - I know you said that's not what you wanted, but in my experience, it's an integral part of the color of fried rice. If you're not getting the right color and you're not using soy sauce, that's part of the issue.

Mostly, I think 1 & 2 are what I see being the most over looked parts of restaurant style friend rice, but 3 & 4 are just as important.

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2  
Living in China for six years I know that the best way to ruin your rice is to put oil in. Really you need hardly any oil at all. Also you do not want you wok to be hot hot hot. That's for stir frying vegetables. It will just burn your rice. Chinese use a wok, hot plate or griddle for fried rice. The temp should be similar to what you use for cooking pancakes. This will let the rice warm through without burning. –  Rincewind42 Mar 6 '12 at 0:56

protected by rumtscho Dec 12 '12 at 19:20

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