Fried rice has long been a template for making a tasty, crowd-pleasing meal from leftovers: Stir-fry cold, leftover white rice with whatever meat, vegetables, and aromatics are lingering in the fridge, and toss it with a sauce that moistens the grains and coats everything else.
However, though we frequently have odds and ends of leftover vegetables and proteins in our refrigerator, we seldom have a batch of leftover white rice—and planning in advance to make it a day ahead turns fried rice into a dish requiring more forethought than we’re willing to invest. Using freshly cooked rice, though, makes for a disastrously soggy mess.
Chilled, dried rice is critical for making great fried rice. Unlike freshly cooked rice, which forms soft, mushy clumps when stir-fried, chilled leftover rice undergoes a process called retrogradation, in which the starch molecules form crystalline structures that make the grains firm enough to withstand the second round of cooking. To hasten this crucial step, we set out to mimic overnight refrigeration without having to do it. We tried the freezer, but the rice cooked up mushy. It turns out that once rice freezes, retrogradation halts, since freezing prevents the starch from crystallizing.
We couldn’t figure out a way to speed up retrogradation, so we focused on cooking drier rice to begin with. Rinsing the raw white rice to remove excess starch and then briefly sautéing it in oil forms a greasy barrier around each grain before adding the water. The standard 3:2 ratio of water to rice saturates the grains too much, but ⅓ cup less liquid in the mix results in ideal texture. After briefly resting the pot on the counter with a dish towel under the lid (to absorb excess moisture), spread the rice on a baking sheet to help it cool more rapidly to room temperature, and pop the sheet in the fridge for just 20 minutes. The resulting fried rice will be ideally dry and the clumps of rice minimal.
For brown rice, you can skip this step. Because of its outer bran layer, it holds up when cooked aggressively in plenty of boiling water, pasta-style, until soft. The bran layer prevents freshly cooked brown rice grains from releasing their starch and clumping together, so you can use freshly cooked brown rice in fried rice.
1 Rinse rice under cold water until water runs clear. Place strainer over bowl and let drain.
2 Heat oil in large saucepan, add rice, and stir to coat grains with oil. Add water (less than you normally would) and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until all liquid is absorbed.
3 Off heat, remove lid and place dish towel folded in half over saucepan; replace lid. Let stand until rice is just tender.
4 Spread cooked rice onto rimmed baking sheet and let cool on wire rack for 10 minutes. Transfer sheet to refrigerator and let rice chill for 20 minutes.
5 Break up any large clumps befor eadding rice to skillet. Continue to break up smaller clumps as you stir-fry.
Faux Leftover Rice
Makes 6 cups
WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS This rice is your ticket to making fried rice at (nearly) a moment’s notice. Don’t use parboiled or converted rice, as these processed rices will be too soggy and will disintegrate when stir-fried. This recipe was developed for use in fried rice recipes only.
2 cups jasmine or other long-grain white rice
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2⅔ cups water
1 Rinse rice in fine-mesh strainer or colander under cold running water until water runs clear. Place strainer over bowl and set aside.
2 Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add rice and stir to coat grains with oil, about 30 seconds. Add water, increase heat to high, and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until all liquid is absorbed, about 18 minutes. Off heat, remove lid and place dish towel folded in half over saucepan; replace lid. Let stand until rice is just tender, about 8 minutes. Spread cooked rice onto rimmed baking sheet and let cool on wire rack for 10 minutes. Transfer sheet to refrigerator and let rice chill for 20 minutes.