Leftover Makeover: Got Extra Stir-Fry? Make Fried Rice

Leftover stir-fried dishes in my house usually don’t last long enough to be turned into anything else. Usually they go home with people–Morganna takes some back to her dorm room for lunch the next day, or I send some home with Dan or Amy for meals the next day. Or, if it is a chicken dish that Kat particularly likes, I leave some to go with rice for her lunch the next day or for dinner, or what have you.

But sometimes, I seriously mess up and make too much of something or another.

And then it is time to make Leftover Fried Rice.

Which is just what it sounds like it is–it is a vehicle to use not only leftover rice–which is what the Chinese invented the stuff to do–you make too much rice, which is the staff of life and is thus not to be wasted, so you let it get cold and dried out a bit and you fry it the next day with some aromatics, some vegetables and bits of tofu or meat or seafood and eggs and wham! You have a quick lunch or snack, and your rice goes to a far better place than the compost pile or the slop bucket for the pigs.

At my house, when I have too much stir-fry leftovers to use up within a few days, I plan on making fried rice. I save up rice in the fridge, and in the past, I have saved up tidbits from two and sometimes three different stir-fries. I always have eggs around, and there are always a sad handful of carrots, some dried or fresh mushrooms, maybe a half a bunch of broccoli or asparagus or a tiny handful of snow peas and one or two scallions, and these get cut up to go into the fried rice as well.

In the case of this batch of Leftover Fried Rice, henceforth to be known as LFR, I had about 2/3 of a quart container of Chicken with Bacon and Bok Choy, as well as the handful of carrots, some chopped cilantro that didn’t get used to garnish tacos earlier this week and some sliced scallion tops that didn’t make it into the quesadillas from Monday. I also had some frozen peas thawed out for Kat to eat and she didn’t eat many of them, so I used those, and a half a bunch of asparagus that didn’t get stir-fried on Saturday. With the four fresh shiitakes leftover from a pasta dish on Sunday and the last couple of eggs in the fridge, I had plenty of goodness to go into the fried rice.

Making LFR is ridiculously simple.

All you need to do is to cut up some aromatics–scallions or onions, some fresh ginger and garlic and maybe add some fermented black beans, and have them ready. Then, whatever vegetables you have, cut them up in about the same size and shape as the ones in the stir-fry that you are using up in the LFR. This keeps it all pretty.

Then, you gather the condiments you are going to use in your fried rice.

If you want your rice to be brown, you need to use either thick soy sauce or dark soy sauce mixed with a little bit of ground bean sauce. I am beginning to prefer doing the latter because it has more flavor–the thick soy sauce that comes in a jar is really sweet because of the molasses in it. The combination of dark soy sauce and ground bean sauce is much more tasty, I think, in large part because of the natural glutamates in both condiments, which gives that savory umami taste that everyone likes so well.

You can add some chili garlic sauce or paste or some sesame oil if you want for extra flavor.

Once everything is cut up, you need to put everything into the order it is going into the wok in your workspace. Aromatics go first, with onions or scallions first, then fermented black beans if you use them or ginger and garlic. Then, if you have any raw meats, they go in next, or mushrooms can go in here, or tofu. Then, your cold leftover stir fries go in, with uncooked vegetables next, going in the order of which one takes longer to cook. Carrots always win this contest, with green beans next, then broccoli, and so on. Then, the rice goes in, and the condiments, then the eggs and the garnishes and that is it.

There are a few tricks to it.

One–always start with cold, fairly dry rice, and always break it out of its clumps before you cook it. If you start with it hot, you will end up with mushy rice that sticks to your wok, and no one likes that, least of all your wok. If you don’t break up the clumps before it goes in the wok, you have to do it after it goes in the wok and that can get messy, what with rice flying out of the wok in all directions as you chop at it madly with your wok shovel. So, take my advice and just lightly oil your hands and squish up any clumps you have by hand, getting as many grains of rice separated as possible from each other.

Two–beat your eggs well. You want them to be a nice uniform yellow in color and lightly thickened.

Three–you have to use more oil in the cooking of fried rice than you do in any of my regular stir-fry recipes, but you don’t have to use as much as they do in restaurants–I usually use no more than a third of a cup of oil and usually, I can get by with four tablespoons. Use as little as you can at first, and later, when the rice goes into the wok, if it sticks, you can add a bit more.

Four–if you can, bring your leftover stir fried bits to room temperature before cooking them. It keeps you from over cooking them the second time around and it keeps you from cooking down the wok overmuch. Bring your rice to room temperature, too, if you can.

That is about it.

Oh, and you can use any kind of stir-fried stuff in here you want. I’ve used leftover stir-fried Thai dry curries before in LFR, and I have also used leftover Ma Po Tofu which isn’t even stir-fried–it is braised. I have also used leftover Red-Cooked Beef–which is also braised, and leftover Dry-Fried String Beans and Steamed Chinese Sausages–and they all went fine in :LFR.

And the truth is–I have sneaked leftover andouille sausage and ham and bits of vegetables from non-Asian dishes in LFR, and it all turned out pretty darned tasty.

So, go for it–be wild, be free, and use up the little bits of this and that you have in your fridge. Food is too precious and expensive to waste.

Oh–and one more thing. LFR is great cold, but you can also use it to stuff in vegetables before roasting them. If you do that, just be sure and roast the stuffing veggies halfway before you stuff them, and then drizzle the stuffing after it is inside the veggies with some broth to keep it moist. Cover them tightly with foil so there is no drying out and then serve when the vegetables are tender and steamy.

Very tasty way to serve larger zucchini, for example.

Leftover Fried Rice–A General Guideline
Ingredients–Everything Except the Rice, the Leftovers, Some Aromatics and the Eggs is Optional:

4 tablespoons to 1/3 cup canola or peanut oil
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced onions or 2 bunches of scallions, white and light green parts sliced thinly on the diagonal
2 tablespoons fermented black beans, optional
1/4 cup minced fresh ginger
5-8 cloves garlic, minced
2-4 cups leftover stir-fried stuff–or braised meats or tofu or whatever you think will taste good together with the rice and other stuff you have gleaned from your fridge
1-2 cups fresh, uncooked vegetables cut up so they are in pieces similar to your leftover stir fry bits, optional
4-6 cups cooked cold long-grain rice–clumps broken up
1 1/2 tablespoons thick soy sauce or 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce and 1 1/2 tablespoons ground bean sauce
2 eggs very well beaten
1 cup thinly sliced scallion tops, and/or chopped cilantro leaves, and/or thawed frozen peas–all are optional
1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil–you guessed it–optional
salt to taste–yes, this is optional, too–I bet you are surprised


First, clean out your refrigerator of anything that is edible and that will taste good in your LFR. Use your judgment here, but don’t be afraid to experiment. Leftover grilled corn on the cob, so long as you remove it from the cob before it goes into the wok -will- taste great in this–even if it isn’t anywhere near traditional. Remember, the point if this dish is not authenticity to any preconceived notion of what you think of as fried rice–the point is to use up leftovers in a tasty, non-wasteful fashion. So clean out your fridge, and cut and prep all of your ingredients. Lay them out in the order in which they will go into the wok, as outlined in the post above and in the ingredient list.

Heat your wok on high heat until a thin ribbon of smoke drifts up from it. Add the oil–add a smaller amount first–you can add the rest later. Heat one minute, until it shimmers and moves with convection currents in the wok.

Add the onions or scallions. Cook, stirring until they brown lightly and soften–this takes longer with the onions. If you are using fermented black beans, add them when the onions or scallions are halfway cooked.

Add the ginger and garlic and cook one more minute.

Add the leftover stir fry or cooked whatevers. Stir and cook for about a minute before you start adding raw vegetables, remembering to add the ones that take longer to cook, such as carrots or mushrooms, first. Use your common sense here. Big broccoli stalks will take longer to cook than skinny green beans or asparagus, though big stalks of asparagus will take longer, unless you cut them in thin diagonal slices or blanch them first. So, after the leftover bits cook for a minute to warm up, start adding the raw vegetables.

Cook until the raw veggies are just starting to look sort of done.

Add the rice. Stir, chop, stir, scrape, stir, chop, stir, scrape. Make sure you don’t need more oil. If you do, clear a spot in the center of the wok and add it there. Stir, scrape, chop. Add the thick soy sauce or the dark soy sauce and ground bean sauce. Stir, scrape, stir, toss–this requires strong forearms. Cook and stir until everything is mixed nicely together, everything smells nice, everything is brownish and there are no clumps of rice stuck together.

Scrape a bare spot in the center of the wok and pour in the egg. Stir until the egg is as done as you like it–I do mine until they are half way done, but most people cook them all the way, then scrape them into eggy bits and stir them in then. I do mine until they are half-cooked and then stir them in and let the heat of the rice finish cooking them–this way they dissolve into the rice and make it lightly sticky so that it is easier to eat with chopsticks and it gives it a rich, delicious flavor. The more traditional way of cooking them all the way and then stirring them in is good, too.

Remove wok from heat. Stir in whatever garnishes you have, if you have any.

Add sesame oil if you want, and stir well.

Serve it forth, eat heartily and happily and be of glad heart for your refrigerator is clean and you have wasted no food this day.


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  1. Hi, I am Tennen-Perman,E-mail from Japan.
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    thank you!

    Comment by tennen-parman — April 9, 2009 #

  2. I probably eat fried rice for breakfast four days a week. I make it in a kind of Thai way with garlic, chilis and fish sauce, and whatever vegies I have around. Plus maybe egg and maybe whatever protein leftovers I have around. Garnishes with cilantro and a squeeze of lime. This is inevitably because, as someone who lives alone, I almost always have leftover rice in the fridge from dinner the night before.

    I’ve always preferred savory to sweet breakfasts, and warm to cold breakfasts, so when I discovered fried rice, it was like coming home. I love fried rice. Mmmmmmmmm….

    Comment by Diane — April 10, 2009 #

  3. I love fried rice, and this is a very good walkthrough of how to make it!

    One question: I thought 4 tablespoons was equal to 1/4 cup? Can you start with less than 4T?

    Comment by Libby — April 10, 2009 #

  4. Awesome! I’ve made fried rice with leftovers for years, but you gave me some new ideas. Thanks!

    Comment by Adam Ziegler — April 10, 2009 #

  5. Doesn’t four tablespoons equal a quarter cup?

    But, as usual, another enlightening post. I’m so making fried rice with leftovers next week.

    Comment by Jan — April 10, 2009 #

  6. I love fried rice, but since you mentioned it and I’ve been on the quest for *the* best ma po tofu, and you’ve never let me down (char sui! singapore noodles! all delicious.)…I ask, nay beg that you post your recipe soon.

    My versions come out good, but lacking somehow…maybe I need a better source of sichuan pepper? Thanks in advance!

    Comment by Christine — April 10, 2009 #

  7. Four tablespoons is a quarter cup. Duh. I should have written a third of a cup, but I was writing half asleep. I feel goofy now. I’ll go fix it now!

    Thank you all for noticing.

    I love fried rice for breakfast, too, and I have to admit to absolutely adoring Thai fried rice. The fierier the better!

    Comment by Barbara — April 10, 2009 #

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