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The One Weeknight Dish to Master: Fried Rice

We tackle the ultimate weeknight pantry supper, fried rice. Learn it, know it, love it.


If I had to name the number one food question I'm asked by readers and fans, it's probably "What's a quick and easy meal to make after a busy day." And while there are literally dozens of ways to go from zero to dinner in less than 30 minutes, on days when the cupboard is virtually bare, a big bowl of fried rice is a nifty way to transform a lonely container of take-out rice into something hot, fresh tasting, and truly satisfying. It's also easy to scale up or down, depending on how many are at your table.
Of course, the true beauty of fried rice is that it can be a vehicle for just about anything you have in the fridge. You can toss in any kind of cooked meat, fish, or vegetable, or even cubes of tofu, cooked squash, or salad greens. Just make sure they are cut small enough to heat through quickly and, in the case of tender greens, will wilt from the heat of the hot rice.
For this classic version you won't even have to stop off at the store if you have a bag of frozen peas in the freezer and an egg or two kicking around the fridge. We've used brown rice for a somewhat heartier, more nutritious dish, but you can certainly substitute white rice or even another cooked grain if you have some lurking behind the pickles and ketchup. The only non-negotiable here is that the rice must be day-old; freshly cooked rice will be too soft and sticky, and the grains will become gummy, not separate, when you fry them. Leftovers from last night's (or even last week's) Chinese- food delivery will work perfectly, but you can also cook up rice when you have some extra time and stash it in 2-cup portions in the freezer. (Trader Joe's sells packets of brown rice in their frozen aisle that are great to keep on hand.)
Like all stir-fries, this one comes together quickly, so be sure to have all of your ingredients measured and ready to add to the wok or skillet once you start cooking. Keep everything moving as the rice cooks so that the sauce coats every grain and you develop some crunchy bits on the bottom. Serve it up in a deep bowl, chopsticks optional, and in less than 15 minutes you've got a great hot meal worth staying in for.

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