KitchenTigress: How to Make GOOD Fried Rice

How to Make GOOD Fried Rice

The most common tip for making fried rice: use day-old rice. Why? Because it's fluffy and no longer sticky. Unfortunately, fluffy rice alone doesn't make good fried rice. The chewiness of the rice is equally important, and that doesn't change much once the rice is cooked.

How to cook rice that's chewy? By steaming, so that the rice doesn't directly sit in boiling water.

When rice is cooked in boiling water, the cell walls break down, allowing the starch inside to leak out, absorb too much water and turn soft. The change in texture is irreversible, so the rice isn't chewy even if you let it rest overnight.

Rice cooked by boiling, in a rice cooker or on the stove, is destined to make fried rice that's at best mediocre even if it's day-old rice.

In contrast, rice that's steamed has no direct contact with boiling water. Cooked at a lower temperature, the cell walls don't break down much, so very little starch escapes. Hence, all the grains are chewy and they don't stick together. The overnight rest, a must for boiled rice, isn't necessary for steamed rice. This fried rice, made with 15-minute-old steamed rice, is as fluffy as can be.

Temperature isn't the only important factor. The amount of water absorbed by the rice is equally crucial. Too much water would make the rice loses its chewiness even if it's steamed. How much is too much? It depends on the type of starch found in the rice.

There're two types of rice starch: amylopectin and amylose. The latter makes rice fluffy and not sticky because it's insoluble. Basmati rice, for instance, is very fluffy because it has a high percentage of amylose. Amylopectin, on the other hand, makes rice chewy by absorbing water to form a gel. Glutinous rice is extremely chewy because it contains mostly amylopectin.

Is aged, old rice necessary for making good fried rice because it has more amylose than newly harvested rice?

Rice that's too old has too much amylose and not enough amylopectin to make it chewy. It's fluffy alright but it's not chewy, and the texture gets worse when the rice cools down because amylose hardens when it's cold. New rice, on the other hand, runs a risk of turning mushy because it has a lot of amylopectin, which becomes soft if it absorbs too much water.

The best rice – that's easy to work with, fluffy, chewy, and doesn't harden when it's cold – should have a good balance of the two types of starch. I'd call it middle-aged. (Click here to learn more about old vs new rice from Harold McGee.)

So, the rice is steamed till perfectly fluffy and chewy. Half the battle is won. Ready to stir and fry?

To win the second half of the battle without wok hei – the smoky, charred aroma created with a professional-grade stove – ingredients are the home cook's only weaponry. Forget about mincing a few cloves of garlic. You need a heap of ingredients or the rice would be bland. But not too much either or the rice would be overwhelmed.

The mix of ingredients must be chosen carefully so that the rice is infused with both fragrance and umaminess. Shallots, dried prawns and salted fish make a great combination.

The Chinese would mince fried rice ingredients finely but I think the Nyonya method is far superior. Pounding with a mortar and pestle achieves a very fine grind which a knife can't possibly create. Imagine each and every grain of rice coated with countless specks of shallots, dried prawns and salted fish which have been fried till brown and fragrant. The aroma and umaminess pop in your mouth even before you start chewing.

Adding chunks of meat or seafood to fried rice would be to miss the point completely. It's fried rice, not stir-fried chicken or whatever. A modest amount, cut pea-sized or flaked if it's crab, adds variety but doesn't overwhelm. Each little piece is eaten with some rice in one mouthful, which wouldn't be possible if it's cut too big.

Eggs are great in fried rice, but raw eggs would make rice soggy. Make a thin omelette, and chop it into small pieces. These go in the wok along with rice. Don't forget that eggs would absorb some aroma and umaminess, so there must be sufficient dried prawns, salted fish and shallots – or whatever you fancy – to flavour not just the rice but also the eggs.

Lastly, add salt and ground white pepper to taste, and spring onions or maybe iceberg lettuce, and the job's done. Easy peasy.

You don't need overnight rice to make great fried rice. Freshly cooked rice is just as good if it's steamed, not boiled. Compared to rice boiled in a rice cooker, steamed rice is more chewy and less sticky.

Fried Rice
  • 360 g long-grain Jasmine white rice
  • 50 g dried prawns
  • 50 g salted ikan kurau (threadfin), bones and scales removed if any
  • 100 g shallots, peel

  • 4½ tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs (use 1 tsp to marinate chicken) – beat with 2 tbsp milk, big dash of ground white pepper, and 1 tsp each of light soya sauce, white sesame oil and Shaoxing wine
  • 200 g deboned chicken thigh or drumstick – wash; drain; dice 1½ cm; marinate with dash of ground white pepper, and 1 tsp each of light soya sauce, Shaoxing wine, 1 tsp egg and white sesame oil for at least 15 minutes
  • salt to taste, about ¼ tsp
  • ground white pepper to taste, about ½ tsp
  • 60 g spring onions – trim, wash, dice

  1. Wash rice till water runs clear. Drain thoroughly. Place in a bowl. Add 320 ml water (weight of rice plus water is 720 g). Let rice soak 10 minutes.

  2. Steam rice over rapidly boiling water for 15 minutes. Check if rice is done. If surface layer is soft but chewy, remove rice from steamer. If surface layer is hard, sprinkle with 1 tbsp water and steam for another 5 minutes.

  3. Fluff cooked rice and set aside for about 20 minutes to cool down. Cover if not frying immediately.

  4. Whilst rice is cooking, rinse dried prawns, salted fish and shallots. Cut into small pieces, then blitz in mini chopper or pound till very fine. If pounding, start with salted fish, then dried prawns and finally shallots.

  5. In a well-seasoned wok, make a thin omelette with eggs using ½ tbsp vegetable oil. When omelette is almost done, chop into small pieces with spatula. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

  6. In the same wok, heat remaining 4 tbsp vegetable oil till almost smoking. Add salted fish, dried prawns and shallots. Fry over medium heat till brown and fragrant. Increase heat to high. Add chicken and stir through. Add rice and eggs. Stir-fry till chicken is just cooked. Taste and add salt if necessary. Stir through. Turn off heat. Sprinkle with ground white pepper and spring onions. Stir through. Plate and serve.