For the best fried rice, the trick is in the frying
I cooked a lot of fried rice before I learned to take the frying seriously.
When I used to stir-fry it, I focused on the stirring part of the equation. I’d move the rice across a hot oiled pan with vegetables and the occasional pork product, seasoning it with soy sauce and sesame oil. It tasted great, but the texture was soft. Really, I was making zipped up, sautéed rice, without any of the deeply crisp edges I didn’t know I could achieve.
Then I witnessed a friend fry rice, and saw the error of my ways.
He cooked the vegetables and aromatics first until they softened and browned, just as I always did. But instead of tossing the rice around in the pan, he spread it out in an even layer on the bottom and up its sides. Then, he let it sit without touching it.
I grew antsy watching it, and had to resist the urge to jump in with a spatula. But just as I was about to offer a gentle reminder about the stir in stir-fry, the nutty scent of caramelization wafted across the room. The rice hissed, then crackled and sputtered.
When he finally tossed the ingredients, the rice was golden and crisp. The prolonged contact with the hot oil made the grains supremely, wonderfully crunchy.
Since that day, I’ve never looked back, and my fried rice has been all the crunchier for it, especially when I plan ahead and use leftover rice as the base. Leftover rice has less moisture than the fresh stuff, which encourages browning.
This said, I do have a trick for using just-made rice. I cook it, then spread it out on a sheet pan and let it dry out for an hour or so. Stirring it as it cools helps the cause, releasing the steam. You could even stick the pan in a low oven for a few minutes, which I’ve done when I’m in a big hurry. It’s not quite as good as the leftovers from your 3-day-old takeout. But it will do when a fried rice craving hits.
This fried rice variation has bacon for brawniness, lots of wilted cabbage for sweetness, plus kimchi for a spicy tang. You can use the technique as a template, substituting other vegetables and meats, or nixing the meat altogether.
Just remember that with fried rice, less is more: less stirring, more crunch.
This easy weeknight meal of crispy fried rice served with bacon and cabbage gets a lot of its brawny richness from the bacon, and its sweetness from the soft, wilted cabbage.