How to make great fried rice

Basil fried rice

One of the most common questions I get as a chef is about making good fried rice. This usually puzzles me because “fried rice” in Asian food is hardly haute cuisine. In fact, it’s the very opposite of it. Fried rice is not one single dish. It is more of a way of combining leftover rice with leftover anything else and turning it into a one-dish meal.

This “leftover” philosophy of fried rice also means that there are an infinite range of ingredients and flavours that can be combined to create new and interesting versions of fried rice. From the simple egg fried rice to the Indonesian Nasi Goreng (which translates to “fried rice”, incidentally) to the Thai Basil-flavoured Rice, you can make any number of tasty dishes that will fill your belly.

As I wrote earlier, fried rice is more of a formula than a single recipe. So rather than list actual ingredients and give you a recipe, I’ll explain a few basic things you need to get right to make sure your fried rice comes out great. (But don’t worry, a recipe too shall follow.)

Rice: This is obvious, of course. You need to start with boiled or steamed white rice. Ah, but you can’t make fried rice with freshly cooked rice. The best rice to use is leftover rice that’s been lying in the fridge for at least a day. This will turn the grains firm and get rid of the excess moisture. They will also be much easier to separate. If you cook with freshly-made rice, all you will get is “fried mush” instead of fried rice. If you can’t wait a day, at least let the rice cool for a few hours in an airy spot.

A hot wok: One of the reasons that restaurant-made fried rice has that smoky flavour is the high temperatures and the seasoned carbon steel woks that we use. Once you get stirring the rice around, keeping a low temperature won’t help much. The soy sauce (if you’re using any) will make the rice wet instead of caramelising and the rice too will not get heated all the way through. Moreover, as I wrote in my article Hot Wok, Cold Oil, a layer of oil on a hot surface will dance around merrily and form a non-stick coating. If the wok is not hot enough, your rice grains will start sticking everywhere. You don’t want that, do you?

Leftovers of some sort: Fried rice isn’t Hollandaise Sauce. It doesn’t need precise measurements and careful cooking. It tastes great with all kinds of leftover meats and veggies. Some grilled chicken from yesterday? A few scraps of ham or bacon from breakfast? Or perhaps some leftover peas and carrots in your fridge? All of them will work fine. The only criteria is that they should not be too “wet”. For instance, you probably shouldn’t combine that vegetable stir-fry with yellow bean sauce with your rice or your green curry chicken because then you will get a wet mush again. Combine leftovers and rice with some spirited seasonings like ginger, garlic, spring onions and salt and presto! your fried rice is only about 5 minutes away.

When I was writing this article, I wondered which of my fried rice recipes to share with you. There were just so many. So I decided to do a Thai fried rice with lots of flavour that works wonderfully as a single-dish meal too.

Thai Basil fried rice (Khao Pad Kaprao)

And here’s how to make it:

What you need

Cold, cooked long grain rice – 2 cups

Garlic – minced – 1-2 tbsp (I like to use more)

Fresh red chillies – finely chopped – 1-3 tsp (adjust to your taste, really)

Red, green, and yellow peppers mixed – 1/2 inch squares – 3/4 cup

Onion – 1/2 inch squares – 2 tbsp

Fish sauce or light soy sauce – 2 tbsp (adjust according to saltiness of sauce)

White sugar – 2 pinches

White pepper – 1 tsp (use 1/2 tsp black pepper if you don’t have this)

Fresh shrimp, shelled and deveined – 50 gm (optional)

Peanut oil – 2 tbsp

Holy basil (or sweet basil) leaves – torn by hand – 1 handful

(Feel free to add more veggies or different meats to this dish as you see fit. It’s very flexible.)

How to make it

Get all the ingredients ready. It shouldn’t take too long. I predict about 10 minutes.

Heat a wok till the surface is almost smoking. Then add the oil and spread it around till it coats the surface evenly.

Temporarily move the wok off the heat and the add the garlic and chillies, then stir for about 10 seconds. This is to prevent the garlic and chilli from burning. Then add the peppers, onion, and shrimp, move the wok back to the high heat, add two pinches each of salt and pepper and toss around for another 30 seconds. The shrimp should be a little undercooked because it will continue to cook after the rice has been added.

Now add the rice to the pan, crumbling any big sticky blocks with your hands to ensure they’re all separate.

Toss the rice and the veggies well and keep stirring for another minute or two so that the rice grains are properly coated with the oil. Then add the sugar, white pepper, and fish or light soy sauce. Stir the mixture around again for another minute. Then taste the rice to check saltiness. If it’s less, add some more fish sauce.

OK, we’re down to the final stage of the cooking, my friend. This is when you throw in the basil leaves into the rice and something magical happens. All of a sudden, the aroma of the basil comes floating out of the wok, turning simple ingredients into a delicious dish. Stir the rice and basil mixture in the wok for another minute, then take it off the heat and serve. That’s all there is to it.

Chef’s notes

You need a large wok or pan for this. Trust me, won’t you? You need to have lots of extra space in it. If you try to stir-fry the dish in a small wok, you will spread the rice everywhere. Everywhere, I tell you! It will go over the side, jump on to your clothes, and you will have to be so careful that it will not be worth the effort.

Remember what I told you about the cold rice? Well, just remember it, eh?

If your next question is how to make perfect steamed rice, rest assured that my next article will tackle just that.

If you’re wondering where the dark colour comes from in fried rice served at cheap-ass Chinese joints, it’s from dark soy sauce.

If you’re a wimp, reduce the chilli but please don’t cut it out completely.

If you add other veggies to the dish, make sure they get enough time to cook before adding the rice.

82 Comment

  1. Great stuff… valuable tips….. this will workout great for this weekend….. I know it will ’cause I tried your tofu recipes…they just rocked. Thanks a bunch

  2. Don’t forget the measly pulao. Being a maharashtrian, left over rice at home often ends up being “phodnicha bhat” (tempered rice) or “masale bhat”, or in a dish such as thalipeeth.
    I like the opening statement about fried rice and haute cuisine :)

  3. thank so much..just the thing I was looking for. Can I Sustitute light soy sauce with dark? Otherwise, i am all set to go today.

  4. Loved the recipe and the simplicity of it all.
    Thanks for sharing!

  5. Madhu (Ze Chef) says:

    Alpha, if dark soy sauce is all you have, go ahead and use it. But your fried rice will be dark brown in colour. Also make sure you check the saltiness in the dish at the end of cooking.
    (And be sure to post about how it turns out.)

  6. Thanks a lot for another lovely recipe Madhu. Everyone loved it
    http://www.livejournal.com/users/swatisani/50823.html

  7. Thanks for the recipe. I kept telling my dad that his fried rice didnt taste the way it did at restaurants.
    If Nasi Goreng means fried rice, Mee goreng means fried noodles?

  8. yo there.. that was what I had last time and it tasted awesome.. yes and your doctor’s orders was also a good drink !! thanks !! my cold seems to have gone…
    What about giving us a recipe for tom yum soup.. eh ??
    have a nice day !!!
    PS: I shall definitely try this out at home !

  9. Thanks for another great recipe!! Plan to have a small dinner get together over the long weekend and guess whats cooking? All your recipes which have veg alternatives! Now soup + dessert recipes would help :)

  10. MadMan,
    Master chef that you are, I thought you might be interested in my friend Jim Barnett’s Tried and Trusted Recipe for Homestyle Christmas/New Year Brownies (The Taste That’s Finger-Lickin’ Good) (We Think) (TM).
    A guaranteed hit with party guests. Trust me. You’re welcome to try it on me when I come to Shiok and take advantage of that 90% discount you have promised me. Here we go:
    Ingredients:
    1 cup cocoa, 1 cup walnuts, 2 eggs, 1 cup milk, 2 cups flour, rum to taste.
    Method:
    Mix cocoa and flour. Put milk and eggs back in the fridge. Throw away mix. Tell guests to go home. Throw walnuts at them if necessary. Drink rum.

  11. Sounds awesome. I shall definitely try it when I get an urge to cook (not happening lately :)… But till then I shall visit Shiok if I get a craving for fried rice!!

  12. The recipe sounds easy and should be great when made. Are the vegs added raw or cooked?
    I have a packet of fried noodles for chop suey, any tips to make it a real dish, the kind one gets in a good restaurant?

  13. Rajalakshmi Senthil Kumar says:

    Hi,
    Nice to hear about U from my husband. He is Ur friend. I read Ur fried rice recipie. recently i ate fried rice from a chinese restaurant in Chennai. I think, they kept the rice for a day or two in a refrigerator and then used for making fried rice. It became stale and my stomach got upset. If we cool it for long time will it not become somewhat spoiled. Better cook the rice and spread in a bowl and let to separate as it cools. In the mean time fry the vegetables or non veg item. and add to the rice. Then add golden fried onion, cashew etc and then mix it well. There will be heat in the vegetables and onion which will be enough when it mixes with the rice. Orelse after mixing, put it in a serving bowl and just keep heat in a microwave oven for one minute. Your fried rice will be fresh and new and hot.

  14. Madhu (Ze Chef) says:

    Hello.
    Cooked rice will keep nicely in the fridge for at least two days. I’ve done this for the last 15 years and I’ve never got spoilt rice. It’s possible your restaurant kept it out in the open for long and then put it in the fridge, and that’s why it went bad.
    As for the rest, you will probably get a vegetable pulao but it won’t be quite fried rice. ;)
    You’ll only mix the ingredients, but you haven’t done enough to give the rice any flavour.

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    Welcome, welcome. For the third installment of the Scientific Indian Melt. The Scian Melt, as it is known to select bunch of fanatics is an attempt to popularise and bring to mainstream blogging, Science. In particular, science and India. Starting off …

  16. Looks like SEA dishes are causing a storm there – have been following ur blog for sometime – haven’t tried any of the recepies though and have come to realise a lot of our dishes are given an indian twist there – planning any Malaysian dishes? Nasi Lemak would be a treat to your readers or even Hokkien mee (or prawn mee depends which part of Msia you’re ordering it from) :))

  17. Hi Madhu,
    As usual, your recipe, and the way you write about them simply rocks!!! I loved the tip of leftover rice and I know its true as I’ve tried it before…now, i’ll be trying your prawn and basil version of rice this weekend…
    Sonal

  18. I’m partial to cooking crushed peanuts through my fried rice. Would recommend that people give it a go for something a little different.

  19. what do you do if you dont have peanut oil? What kind of oil can i use instead?
    great recipe! thanks

  20. sumanjit kaur tripathy says:

    MADHU ,
    Made this preparation along with Orange – Lemon Chicken & It was just out of this world ! You were right………. the moment you throw in the Basil………something magical happens…..! ! It really transforms the taste . And using fish / oyster sauce instead of soy also gives it a different flavour . Both were a lovely combination and really enjoyed my dinner.
    THANKS

  21. Just found your site and am really enjoying it. I have all the ingredients for fried rice in my store cupboard. So guess what we’re having for tea tonight. I’ll let you know how I fare.

  22. Looks like SEA dishes are causing a storm there – have been following ur blog for sometime – haven’t tried any of the recepies though and have come to realise a lot of our dishes are given an indian twist there – planning any Malaysian dishes? Nasi Lemak would be a treat to your readers or even Hokkien mee (or prawn mee depends which part of Msia you’re ordering it from)

  23. i adore stir-fry rice, it’s a great dish for me because there’s always an abundance of leftover rice in our house..great tips!

  24. I think I enjoyed your receipt.
    Thanks. Am planning to make the fried rice as soon as a settle down.
    Pls. I need a tip on how to make a delicious Salad because I like eating it.

  25. Thanks for the tip on how to prepare Fried rice. I have been longing to learn now that I did am going to prepare it this weekend.
    One thing I still want to know is how to prepare Salad. So pls do me a favour and send me the tip and method.
    Thanks
    Comfort.

  26. Hi, Thanks for taking the mystery out of preparing fried rice I can’t wait to try it. Please tell of a substitute for peanut oil when making fried rice as my child is allergic to peanuts.
    Thanks a lot, Patrice

  27. Patrice, a mild-flavoured oil like sunflower or safflower oil can be substituted with equally good results.

  28. ARSHAD AZIZ says:

    very interesting . i like to know more about your new recipe

  29. Nice recipe and instructions, theres only one thing missing……the egg! wheres the egg, i would like to know the technique for putting the egg in the rice.

  30. Thanks! I just got the answer to my fried rice question! Thanks a bunch!

  31. I think that your site is amazing…I look forward to getting to know more about this site. Keep up the “Great” work…having traved to Thailand many times I find that your recipe for the Basil Fried Rice is “On Point”! Refeshing to see it “Done” right! Three Cheers!!

  32. Oyekanmi Oluwaseyi says:

    he is such a good chef and he really knows how to cook a god fried rice

  33. I adore fried rice… This is one of the more helpful sites on the tips of doing it right. Maybe its ‘pedestrian’food buty ou cant deny its good. Great web site very professional

  34. Your fried rice recipe is phenomenal. As someone who over the last 10 years has developed an infatuation with Chinese food, I can

  35. Hey,
    Thanks a ton. I love basil and i loved the basil fried rice i cooked using your reciepe.Thanks Chef you made me a rpoud cook. No one believed me when i told them we needed left over rice for fried rice….
    Arthi

  36. Dulsy Paul says:

    It’s really good one . I liked the way you present it with good tips(tips like smoking wok etc).I tried fried rice several times, but it wasn’t that much tasty as it is in the restaurants. This weekend I will try ur recipe .Thanks a lot .

  37. Gonzalo Aguilar says:

    nice tip

  38. Hi,
    Followed the recipe for fried rice …and also the recipe for making steamed rice and stored it fora day before making the fried rice.
    Turned out great.The best fried rice I have made so far. Thank you so much for the wonderful recipe.

  39. hey thanx a bunch. i really needed these for my moms birthday dinner. it helped me a lot.

  40. Your recipes are wonderful!! Not to mention that you make it so much fun to read your comments!! I wish you were cheffing here in Texas!!! Keep up the festive work you do! :)

  41. am happy cause am about getting married and am learning all these things. Thanks for that.

  42. Thank you so much. Absolutely wonderful recipe. Greatly appreciate if you could provide pointers where to get hold of Fish Sauce and White Soy Sauce in Bangalore. Couldn’t get them at Spencers/Foodworld/Nilgiris.

  43. Hey,
    I havent even tried your dish but i agree with most other people. Your explanation is astounding and i can already feel like i have become a better cook.
    Thanks a million

  44. I must protest about the leftover rice bit. Iron Chef Chen Kenichi never uses cold rice, and he usually wins.
    I do it the same way he does: heat some oil in a wok, break an egg into it and slosh it around a bit before throwing in the freshly-cooked and still hot rice. But they usually keep the rice and the other ingredients separated and only add them together later, which migh be the explanation.
    All I know is, everybody loves the delicate taste of the rice-egg mixture.
    The other thing I learned watching that show is to first stir fry fresh pork pieces by themselves in the wok, and then bake them further in an iron dish in the oven, while you’re stir-frying the vegetables.
    That way they come out incredibly tender, and they don’t get “stewed” with the vegetables. You can taste the pork, you can taste the rice, and you can taste the vegetables.

  45. egg is -an important factor to make a good fry rice to my experiance without egg the rice become a bit oily-thank

  46. I just want to say thank you!!!!

  47. I have cooked a lot of fried mush in my day! Thank you for letting me in on the simple but fantastic secret of using left over rice! I’m hopelessly inept in the kitchen but your blog looks like a great place to help me change that.

  48. Woo, Awesome recipe, up until I read this all I could make was fried muck. Thanks!

  49. Madhu,
    I had a similar question about the eggs: how/when would you suggest adding the beaten eggs?

  50. hi..
    i made fried rice last night but at the end the rice came up so firm ,it was hard to eat.(my rice was coocked and sitting in the friege for almost a week.)do you think it is the reason that i didnt get a good result?
    should i try making it again with a ONE DAY cooked rice?
    i love this dish but i dont want to be disappointed with the result one more time.
    thanks

  51. Just a note you must let rice get to room temp before storing in fidge,
    and when I cook my rice I let sit after cooking with lid on 30 min then fluf with a fork with butter. Try it bet you will like the results.
    Mark

  52. Great description here about what it means to be fried rice. The tone was just what I was looking for.
    We made some fried rice tonight with freshly cooked rice. But we spread it out on a cookie sheet and put it outside (it’s below freezing) for several minutes. It cooled off and some of the moisture evaporated. We probably should have stirred it a bit to release more of the moisture. To get good leftover rice the next time, I’ll probably let it cool on the cookie sheet before refrigerating.
    To include egg, we added beaten egg in a cleared center of the pan as a last step. We cooked the egg until it was mostly done and then mixed it in with everything.
    Both kids enjoyed it, so I’ll be experimenting with this as yet another quick meal. It will be especially quick if I have leftover rice.

  53. valliammal says:

    very nice

  54. mary house says:

    what can i subsitute the basil leaves with?

  55. I don’t know how to say this… but thank you… I have had this craving for thai basil fried rice ever since I got pregnant and my hubby was kind of getting bored of buying it all the time… now he makes it for me and thanks to your recipe, it is sooooooooo yuuuuummmmmmmmmmm!!!

  56. rachael eyitene says:

    thank you so much, now i know what i can do with my left over rice, that would give a most needed result.

  57. It seems perfectly normal to use rice bran oil when making fried rice because rice oil has such a high smoke point and it is healthier than veg or peanut oil.

  58. On the spoiled rice: it may be that the rice was not cooled properly. If you let the rice cool on a table, in a pot or bowl, and then put that vessel in the cooler, it may very well spoil. When you take it off the heat, you want to transfer it to a shallow pan that conducts heat well; preferably in a layer no thicker that 2 inches (5cm), and get it into the cooler as quick as possible. Metal pans are ideal. The idea is to cool the rice as quickly as possible, so that it spends as little time at the temperatures where bacteria grow best.

  59. Hey, the best oil for fried rice is rice bran oil-smoke point 490 and it is quite healthy as well!

  60. How would it taste if I put 1tbs of fish sauce and 1tbs of soy sauce?

  61. Recipe sounds great, no one has mentioned if they were able to reproduce that take out flavor? Any luck anyone?

  62. Brilliant! Your expertise is quite evident from your notes. We’ll be frequent visitors to your site.
    Gud luck!!

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  70. Thank YOU!! Wow. finnally I know why my rice was always mushy!

  71. SHawn (Ogre) Imlay says:

    Hey Thanks ! For covering the simple mechanics of this … got 4 cups of rice drying/ aging as we speak …Purchased and cured my own Carbon Steel Wok …its actually alot like doing a proper cure on good cast Iron which I love BTW I have some Bonless pork short rib’s I intend to dice small dust with half rice flour half cornstarch and some salt and pepper and fry up in seseme oil looking forward to the adventure!

  72. wow..thanx for the recipe!! I’m a great fan of Shiok .love the Thai basil fried rice with peanut chicken !! We keep coming there even after shifting to Whitefield !!

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  78. We wuz HUNGREE. Had leftover jasmine rice, grilled porkchops, carrots, and cabbage in the reefer. Used Cottonseed oil. Light soy sauce, pepper and Tobasco sauce. Cabbage strips, shaved the carrots, diced the pork. Point is, yous can make Fried Rice outta just about anything (as I do OFTEN). DAMN, eet vas GOOT!!!!!

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