38

Everytime I try to make chicken fried rice like I get at the take out place it never tastes like it does when they make it. We all know the basic ingredients

Rice (1 day old), Chicken, Green Onions, Sprouts, Eggs, Soy Sauce, MSG (optional)

I have a wok and I cook it just like them, I've heard all sorts of things as to what the "missing" or "secret" ingredient is. Some say it's a different type of soy sauce (not the standard La Choy) that they use.

I've been searching for definitive answers for this for a long time. It seems no one knows or anyone who's worked in a chinese place doesn't wish to share the knowledge. I went as far as adding MSG thinking that was what made the take-out place's Fried Rice taste different. MSG helps (sold as Accent Flavor Enhancer in your spice aisle) but that's not it.

  • 2
    Related question: cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/9716/… – talon8 Dec 16 '14 at 21:29
  • 2
    It might be the heat level. Most chinese restaurant burners are VERY VERY hot. – Journeyman Geek Dec 17 '14 at 0:38
  • 1
    Are you using the same kind of rice as they do? I started using Japanese rice lately, they are more sticky and the grain are larger. I like it much better now. But it could be because I been eating chinese rice all my life and I got sick of it. – Huangism Dec 17 '14 at 16:37
  • 2
    Do Chinese use fish sauce? I know the Vietnamese restaurants in my area put that in pretty much everything, including fried rice. – coburne Dec 18 '14 at 14:41
  • 1
    @coburne Wanna hear something crazy? A Chinese word for fish sauce is "ketchup", which is where the English word comes from. slate.com/articles/life/food/2012/05/… – Jolenealaska Dec 19 '14 at 2:43

11 Answers 11

42

For me it isn't fried rice without toasted sesame oil, and the fried rice I have had in restaurants always tastes to me as if it contains toasted sesame oil. Peas are pretty required too. BTW, La Choy is synthetic soy sauce, it was at the very bottom of the America's Test Kitchen taste testing of soy sauce (sorry, paywalled), the only soy sauce to get a "not recommended" rating. Use anything but that. From that taste test: "In summary, could this be any worse?"

I actually fry the rice in toasted sesame oil, but I have reason to believe that some toasted sesame oils will burn at that temperature. To experiment with that is on my list of things to do. So I can only say that this sesame oil has a high enough smoke point to fry rice.

For whatever reason, the label does not say that this sesame oil is toasted. It is, and it's a very high quality oil.

Amazon Link

1

EDIT: In other answers, Pepi mentions ginger, and Teresa mentions oyster sauce. I second both of those. I always use ginger and garlic and either oyster sauce or hoisin sauce. Also, Cindy mentions salt, the eggs do need salt. I actually use all of these in my rice (which looks like this when it is done, this is mine):

23

I'm assuming already cooked meat, peas sitting in a colander defrosting, water run over them enough to rinse off any clinging ice, and day-old rice.

I start by making slightly underdone scrambled eggs, seasoned just like I season eggs that I'm eating for breakfast. I set the eggs aside on a plate and wipe out the skillet (or flat bottomed wok) with a paper towel, and let it get pretty hot. I don't attempt to use extreme heat, the same level of heat I'd use to sear chicken works fine for me.

I add a good pour of the sesame oil, perhaps 1.5 tablespoons for two big servings (like the amount of fried rice in the picture above), let it heat for 30 seconds or so, then add ginger and garlic and stir. Then I add whatever veggies I'm using in the order of how long I want them to cook (all veggies except peas). When the veggies are just about fully cooked to to the level I want them in the rice, I add the rice, breaking it up and stirring in the veggies. I lightly press everything into the bottom of the pan, then I don"t touch it for a few minutes. I want the rice to get a bit of a brown crust along the bottom and to get mostly heated through before stirring again. This adds color and flavor, and helps keep the rice from sticking. This step seems to bridge the flavor gap between the the rice made with the super-high-heat that Asian restaurants can achieve, and the more moderate heat of a typical home stove.

In the meantime I mix my sauce. The proportions are up to taste, I usually go about half and half soy sauce and hoisin or oyster sauce. Less soy if is is dark, more if it is light or reduced sodium. I'll usually make just shy of a cup of sauce, knowing I won't use it all.

When the rice has formed a crust, I stir in the meat. Then the sauce, a bit at a time, tasting as I go. Finally I stir in the peas and eggs. I garnish with some chopped cilantro on the plate. Voila.

You mention Five Spice. That would be interesting, and possibly very good, but it is not a flavor that I associate with fried rice.

  • 3
    That taste test seems a bit unhelpful for picking good ones; for example, they tasted the light version from one brand and mentioned that things like "lacking depth" and "not rich", but didn't test the dark version from the same brand (which I think I have a bottle of, and which definitely does not lack depth). – Cascabel Dec 17 '14 at 0:20
  • 1
    @Jefromi I agree it's not a great test for choosing the best, especially in light of the fact (as sometimes happens) Chris hated the winner. What is clear though, is that La Choy is really bad. – Jolenealaska Dec 17 '14 at 0:28
  • 1
    I actually tried cooking in sesame oil and that wasn't the difference, I did find out though that the soy sauce might not be the best for rice. So far I have these ingredients to buy and try 5 Spice Powder Prem Dark Soy Sacue Bead Molasses – Sam Dec 17 '14 at 2:18
  • 1
    @JourneymanGeek Non-toasted sesame seed oil is a thing, and it has a very high smoke point. In the US, it's usually referred to as Refined or Unrefined Sesame Oil – Jolenealaska Dec 17 '14 at 15:30
  • 2
    @Huangism You can strike egg off the list, I've had some great American-Chinese style fried rice without it. Really, I think the only two ingredients requires for fried rice are rice and oil. – Chuu Dec 18 '14 at 15:58
15

I might suggest that one thing that most home cooks are missing in comparison to a restaurant is heat. You aren't going to get the same results as a restaurant without the blazing wok that a restaurant uses. You can get closer by letting your wok get blazing hot before adding oil and quickly cooking small quantities of food at a time.

Alternatively, if you have a wok that's entirely heat proof (as in no plastic or wooden handles) pre-heat the wok in an oven. Never tried this, but I saw it on one of Ming Tsai's shows. Beyond, that this question isn't all that different from the other one...

Edit: Adding a little more information as @Jasmine pointed something out in the comments. You may get your pan hot "enough" but without a powerful enough stove, you won't be able to maintain that heat when wok frying something.

That all said, there are a number of ways you can improve your fried rice, or get good results. A number of suggestions here and in the related question I linked to are a great starting point.

  • 1
    I've heard this before, but it's not the heat that is causing the difference in flavor in my opinion, it's like some ingredient is missing. I've tried bead molasses and MSG and sugar along with sesame oil but still can't match the taste, one thing I haven't tried is Chinese 5 Spice powder – Sam Dec 17 '14 at 2:15
  • How hot are you getting your wok? – talon8 Dec 17 '14 at 15:09
  • I thought of this as well but at the same time I can't imagine the heat level making much of a difference at all when it comes to taste. Slight variations in condiment proportions are far more likely to have a significant impact than time spent cooking. – user25798 Dec 17 '14 at 16:34
  • 7
    This is THE answer. As a former chef with kids, I tried many times to emulate my restaurant cooking at home, and even when we took the ingredients from our restaurant kitchen and cooked them at home, it was not the same. I went so far as to take my pans and knives from the restaurant to my home, and it still wasn't the same. It's not about the heat level, or temperature itself, it's about the amount of POWER behind the heat, and even with a good gas stove, you can't get that at home. This changes the way sugars caramelize in a very subtle way. – Jasmine Dec 17 '14 at 20:07
  • Yes, it's all about the heat. Without a commercial range, you're not getting the "wok hei" that you get at the restaurants(see guide.michelin.com/hk/en/hong-kong-macau/dining-out/…) I'd suggest stir frying on a charcoal grill, you'll get much more heat. – cad Nov 26 '18 at 17:59
5

I was in the same situation when I first started cooking egg foo young back years ago. I just couldn't figure out what was missing and I tried dozens of suggestions with no success.

Guess what it turned out to be? SALT! It seasons the eggs properly and leaves a clean, not overpowering, flavor.

Make sure that each of your ingredients has a good flavor before you start. Bland eggs, chicken, and vegetables won't get more flavorful as you go. Any time you quick cook you won't get out more than you put in. Flavor-wise, that is.

I saw that you sometimes use MSG and that is fine, but it does have a different flavor than salt. I'm betting that salt will solve your problem.

3

Oyster sauce. Just a small amount will do wonders.

  • I've tried this and it's not it, perhaps 5 spice powder or different soy sauce, I'm going to try some other things and report back here. – Sam Dec 17 '14 at 2:16
  • Oyster sauce is decent but tends to make the fried rice a tad saltier as opposed to frying the rice in sesame oil. – yuritsuki Dec 17 '14 at 2:51
  • Based on a tip on a Reddit post, I mix equal parts of oyster sauce, soy sauce, and fish sauce -- maybe 0.5-1 teaspoon of each. I add this at the end after everything has been fried up. There seems to be some synergy between the three. – Dolan Antenucci Dec 24 '14 at 13:12
3

Maybe it's just a Hubei/Sichuan/Yunnan thing, but almost nothing goes in our wok without a few chunks of ginger

3

It is hard to answer, unfortunately as OP description is a little vague, a picture of both "take out" and "homemade" versions would be helpful.

Are you missing a certain fragrance, taste, texture, appearance, or all/some of the above?

We'll start by going through the ingredients you listed, or possibly missed out.

  1. Day old Rice

What kind of rice is used, and how was it cooked. Yes, this may sound crazy to some of you. However the difference in long grain rices will vary the taste and texture, not to mention moisture content of the dish.
I would suggest either a standard long grain rice of a jasmine rice (thai 'fragrant' jasmine rice is popular).

We will leave out the washing, and cooling of the cooked rice.

Two common ways of cooking is the 'unlimited water' (open boiling, like pasta) or 'limited water' (absorption).

I suggest the absorption method to maximise the flavour and reduce the moisture content.

  1. Chicken

It's not clear whether this is cooked or raw chicken or which cut it was. I would suggest using a roast chicken and shredding the thigh (and the drumstick if required). This will give you a stronger chicken flavour with a better texture.

  1. Green Onions

Presuming this is cut into thin discs or thin slivers on the bias, and added to the rice seconds before serving.

  1. Sprouts

Not my usual choice of ingredient in fried rice, but assuming these are:

  • fresh and white
  • soaked/washed in water a few times
  • pre-cooked (lightly stir fried) and drained

    1. Eggs

Not much to say on eggs, presumably well beaten and stir fried/scrambled in a hot wok first.

  1. Soy Sauce

No clue if the fried rice is coloured and if so, how much. Light and/or Dark soy sauce may have been used.

  1. MSG

As you say this is optional, there are other ways to add flavour (glutamates/umami) swiss bouillon powder for example, but this is unlikely to be used.

  1. Other Ingredients?

Suprisingly salt and oil have been omitted.
A fine salt would be the main seasoning ingredient in the dish apart from the chicken and spring onion.
A low tasting cooking oil with high smoking point would be best used. An optional light drizzle of a pure seasame oil (white sesame is cheaper compared to the stronger tasting black sesame).

  1. Cooking Method

Hypothetically based on a common industry standard mild steel wok using natural gas.

The wok is heated until smoking and cooking oil is added enough to scramble the eggs and prevent it from sticking. Chicken is added and heated before the rice is added. The rice will be left to fry until the heat sears one side slightly and then tossed before it sticks. Any clumps of Rice can be loosened before salt is added. Repeat searing and tossing, a few drops of water can be sprinkled if your rice is getting too dry and is not getting much heat transfer from the wok. Add your beansprouts, mix and heat them as you go. Take a taste and check for temperature (75 degrees celsius if your in a customer serving environment) and seasoning (if you plan on adding light soy sauce, take this into consideration). Once you are happy, you can add your dark soy sauce in stages as you toss your rice to the colour you desire. Add your green onions for a minute or so. The heat will release their flavour as they start to wilt. You can also add sesame oil before your final tossing and serving.

Hopefully this brings you closer to the secret of your take out mystery.

2

You didn't mention oil, are you frying your dish in a couple of tablespoons of cooking oil. Toasting the rice adds flavour. We add pepper to the rice, and usually use a lighter soy sauce (Kikkoman). We finish with a small amount of sesame oil or a bit of melted butter. For variation, add cooked bacon, and cooked onion.

1

Yes I have had the same experience. I have consulted various Cook Books from well know chefs and some specific to oriental cookery. All were disappointing which makes me believe that the real methods used were being obscured. I decided to try myself and have found a method that I believe most resembles the end product that you get in the takeaways.

The main thing to change is the cooking method. Rice absorbs liquid as it cooks so it makes sense to add all your flavouring to the liquid used to cook the rice. Most methods I have seen use plain, unflavoured cooked rice. I believe this is misleading. Once rice is cooked in a liquid it will not absorb additional flavour you will merely be coating the rice in soya sauce flavourings. I believe this method to be incorrect. Cook the rice in chicken stock with additions of Soya Sauce (Light) and Fish Sauce. It will now be absorbing all the key flavourings. Let cool down to cold and then make up your dish after that.

Full details of my recipe are on my website.

0

After I watched the display cooks at hibachis I started trying some of their steps. I fry the rice in a oil with no taste. I make sure my rice is refrigerator cold, make sure my meat and eggs have salt and pepper. I also make sure I add salt and pepper to the rice as I cook it. I use oyster sauce (a tsp or so to taste), sesame oil (its strong as well) and soy sauce (to taste). I also add butter at the end. It has made a huge difference in how good my rice at home taste now.

0

I go with the salt... Ginger, Garlic, large amount of garlic is Korean stile. After you get your chicken ready. Boil the head,neck, feet,wing tips, other scrap in water. Cook your rice in that & set aside. This will improve flavor of rice fried. When cooked. Stain first before adding rice. This may be the great secret as to cook. Cafes have fires going 24/7 No need to let the heat go to waste. So can hold broths to the back. In America I think they add a flavor pack. Strange flavor.

-3

You are missing the sugar! For 1 serving add 1 tsp. sugar to wok before you add the rice, also 1 tsp. sugar to the wok after you add rice and soy sauce, continue cooking 1 minute on high heat then you will have authentic Chinese fried rice!

  • 2
    This might well be a good answer, but the way you originally phrased it wasn't. Be nice. – Cascabel May 12 '15 at 23:11

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.