Perfect Fried Rice

Why so many food posts lately?! I have no idea. Deal with it. Today: Fried rice, but you know, minus the gut bomb and growing regret part afterwards, and with way more veggies than the few wrinkly peas you see sometimes.

Fried rice always feels like a.) kind of a cop-out to order takeout and b.) the unhealthiest thing ever to eat, and attempts to make it at home (at least for me) always seem to end in…. a greasy disgusting mess of overly-salty rice mush.  Gross.

HOWEVER. This is not always how it has to be! You are totally allowed to mess with concepts, like “what fried rice is.” Forget your notions of $3 greasy takeout and failed attempts to re-create it! Fried rice can totally be a meal in and of itself.

Like that huge coconut lentil stew I posted last week, wok-fried rice with plenty of tofu and veggies is another great, cheap way to feed a shit-ton of hungry people or just yourself for a week straight. And honestly, it’s surprisingly healthy, especially if you add a ton of veggies, use brown/wild rice, and keep the oil and sugary/salty sauces to a minimum. (Garlic and ginger go a long way for flavor, seriously.)  And once you’ve stocked up on the seasonings (most people might not always have soy sauce and sesame oil and cilantro on hand, but, uh, I do) it’s super cheap and easy.  It’s also really easy to adapt to vegan or gluten-free diets, or you can replace the tofu with shrimp, chicken, pork, or steak for your meat-eating friends.

The secret is all in the prep, which is also super easy and fast once you get the hang of it.  As usual, sharp knives (and a perverse enjoyment of, say, “julienning peppers”) help a ton, and a really awesome nonstick/well-seasoned wok is absolutely necessary.

You’re gonna need:

  • Rice (preferably leftover/a lil stale - mine was fresh, hence the sorta sticky appearance in above photo, but I kinda like it that way too.)  Long grain white is probably what you’re expecting, but I find wild rice/brown rice blends work really nicely here, or even brown basmati. Different rice will yield different texture — sushi rice, for example, will likely become a nightmare risotto-esque mess, but firmer varieties will get all nice and firm and crispy.
  • Firm or Extra Firm Tofu
  • Eggs (if you eat them)
  • Veggies of your choice that require cooking (mushrooms, onions, zucchini/squash, eggplant, asparagus, broccoli)
  • Veggies of your choice that are tastier almost-raw (bell peppers, carrots, bok choy, sugar snap peas, soybeans)
  • Pineapple, if you want. Canned and chopped or fresh and chopped is fine.
  • Nuts, if you like them (cashews, peanuts, or almonds are nice)
  • Enough garlic to kill an army of vampires
  • Green onions
  • Cilantro, if you are, like me, of the “no such thing as too much cilantro” school of cooking
  • Sesame oil
  • Hot sauce (SRIRACHA 4LYFE)
  • Some sort of marinade (either pre-made teriyaki type sauce, or just use the recipe below.)

Ready? OK, cool. Let’s go.


1. DRY-FRY YOUR TOFU.

Why recipes don’t tell you to do this more often I have no idea, because it makes tofu PERFECT and also eliminates the hours of draining/pressing and also gets that awesome crispy-outside soft-inside texture.  It also gets all the moisture out of the tofu, which leads to maximum marinade-absorbing qualities. Mmmm. You should do this first, before everything else. 

Drain the tofu for a few minutes and then cut it into cubes, wedges, slices, whatever.  Get a SUPER AWESOMELY NONSTICK PAN — either very well seasoned cast iron, carbon steel, or Telfon if you’re into bird cancer/death/etc.  Get this pan REALLY REALLY HOT. (Another reason why iron/carbon steel is preferable to Teflon.) Toss your tofu in there. (No oil necessary!) Turn it or shake it around periodically. Press down on it a little to get the water and steam out.  It’s going to hiss and sputter a lot and take a little while, but soon it’ll start getting nice and golden-brown on the outside.  I don’t mind getting it a teeny bit charred, but you can basically stop once it looks, you know, cooked. You’ll be able to tell.

Let it cool, toss it in your marinade, and throw it in the fridge while you do all the rest of the things. Which is gonna be a lot of chopping, probably. BREAK OUT THE KNIVES, KIDS.


2.) WAIT, MARINADE?

You can use a pre-made teriyaki type marinade if you want, but it’s really easy (and healthier) to make on your own.  I usually do a mix of:

  • soy sauce
  • some kind of citrus (orange juice, juice of 2 limes, juice from the pineapple can, whatever)
  • a little bit of rice vinegar/mirin
  • a little bit of sesame oil
  • some honey or brown sugar
  • a lot of sriracha/other hot sauce
  • sesame seeds
  • a ton of grated ginger
  • a ton of finely chopped garlic
  • chopped chives/green onions
  • chopped cilantro

Whisk this all together — if you’re missing some stuff, whatever, I mean even garlic and ginger and soy sauce and some orange juice tastes great — and drop the tofu in it.  Since tofu doesn’t contaminate it like raw meat would, you can also use this later as a dipping sauce/topping/condiment whatever.  I often save it for another day or two and use it in another dish later in the week, it keeps pretty well for a few days.  

Once the tofu is dry-fried and in the marinade, it should look like this:

While that’s marinating, chop up your veggies.  I like to set them into two huge bowls of “stuff that needs to cook” and “stuff I want mostly raw/tender-crisp.”  Chop up another giant pile of green onions and cilantro to stir in later.  Stick that in the fridge too.  If you want pineapple in there, chop and drain that, and set it aside too.

3.) FRY THE RICE.

A few day old slightly-stale rice is best, but fresher rice just means it’ll be a little sticky (like mine here) which I don’t think is really a bad thing.  I had some day-old brown/wild rice mix that I threw into a super hot wok with a little bit of sesame oil. It’s gonna sizzle, a lot. Keep stirring (wooden spoon please!) and tossing for a while — I like for a bit of the rice to burn just a little bit because the texture/nutty flavor is great.  Scoop the rice into a big bowl/pot nearby to keep handy for later. 1.5 cups dry = a little more than 3 c cooked, which will make a HUGE WOK and feed a TON OF PEOPLE or give you leftovers for a week.

If your rice is already a little stale/firm, like say three day old leftover takeout container, you can skip this and just toss the rice in at the end and sauté it then, since it’s probably pretty solid already. 

4.) EGG, IF YOU’RE INTO FRIED CHICKEN EMBRYOS.

Scrambled egg is totally weird if you think about it too much, but it’s my favorite part of fried rice.  Chop up a ton of garlic and throw it in the super-hot wok you’ve been using, with a lil’ bit of sesame oil and some hot sauce, if you’re into hot sauce. Crack two eggs in there, scramble scramble scramble till it’s pretty dry and in a lot of teeny pieces, then scrape it on top of the rice you just set aside.

If you hate eggs or don’t eat animal products, don’t do this.

5.) COOK THE VEGETABLES THAT NEED TO BE COOKED.

Things that need to cook a little longer: mushrooms, onions, zucchini/squash, eggplant, asparagus, broccoli, anything that’s sort of tough or chewy when it’s raw and not especially crispy.  I like to save my crispy vegetables till the very end because I want them to be mostly raw and because mushy peppers and sugar snap peas are GROSS.

I like my onions charred so I throw them in first, with no oil other than what’s in the pan from the rice and egg, and cook until they start to blacken around the edges.  Then I toss in a little bit of oil, more garlic, and the rest of my chopped veggies. Use whatever you like. I pour a little bit of the marinade off the tofu here and stir stir stir.  Broccoli gets especially awesome here as it just like drinks up the marinade and becomes REALLY DELICIOUS. Mushrooms too. 

Cover with a lid or another pan, stir, and cook them ‘til they’re mostly cooked, which should not take long at all.  Pour off or cook off some of the liquid, you don’t want things to get too soupy.  Ideally the veggies absorb some of the flavor of the marinade and you want a little bit of that in there, but you don’t want the rice to keep cooking in the liquid or anything.

6.) ADD THE TOFU AND THE VEGGIES THAT WOULD GET MUSHY.

Veggies that you should stir in now:  julienned peppers, julienned carrots (if you cut them thicker, throw those in earlier, but grated or julienned ones are fine later), bok choy (SO DELICIOUS), green beans, any greens like spinach or kale, sugar snap peas, frozen peas, soybeans, etc.  Stir in, cover with a pan for like, a minute, until the greens wilt and things are tender-crisp. Do the same thing where you pour off some of the liquid if need be.


^^ Some of this liquid needs to be poured off, unless you want it all to be really soupy.

TRY NOT TO OVERCOOK THE VEGETABLES, I still tend to overcook them a little bit. Remember that as long as that pan stays hot, they’re going to be steaming a little bit and absorbing all that liquid, so erring on the side of undercooking is best — especially since you’re going to have a ton of leftovers to re-heat tomorrow.

7.) ADD THE RICE AND EGG YOU SET ASIDE.

Stir stir stir.  Keep stirring until the rice absorbs the lil’ bit of marinade in the pan still. Add more if it looks dry (if you’re using especially stale rice this might be the case) or if you want it more sticky/soupy. Turn off the heat.

8.) ADD THE REST OF THE GOODIES.

Remember that huge pile of chopped cilantro and green onions? Go for it. Same with the pineapple or nuts if you were planning on those too. I throw my peppers in right at the very end too, since I want them super crispy.

Voila!  Serve with a sprinkle of sesame seeds and chopped green onions/cilantro, if you”e feeling fancy.  If not, just eat it with a huge spoon standing right over the wok, not that I do that or anything.