The secret to a good Chinese-style fried rice is to start by creating a flavor base. The vegetables are stir fried, the cooked meat is added followed by the rice and, finally, the eggs. Season every step of the way.
Know, however, that although the origin of fried rice is attributed to China, there are so many fried rice recipes beyond the Chinese borders. Some, like the ones found in Southeast Asia, may have have been influenced by Chinese traders and immigrants but, in the adaptation, variations multiplied.
This is about Chinese-style fried rice. It’s a post about the procedure rather than a specific recipe. The vegetables used here may be changed, the Chinese sausage may be substituted with some other meat or even seafood and so on, and so forth.
About the eggs
There are two popular methods for the integration of eggs in Chinese-style fried rice. The first method is to cook the fried rice first, make a well in the center of the wok, pour in beaten eggs and slowly mix them into the rice by stirring in circles that go wider and wider to include more rice with every stroke.
I do that when I’m too lazy to cook the eggs separately. My issue with this method is that the rice tastes too egg-y and that becomes the predominant flavor.
The more proper procedure is to cook the eggs separately. Heat a tablespoonful of oil, pour in beaten eggs seasoned lightly with salt and pepper, and stir the eggs around with a spatula to create volume and layers. Move the cooked eggs to a chopping board and cut up into uniformly sized pieces. Add the eggs to the fried rice toward the end of cooking time.
How much cooking oil do you need?
That depends on how much vegetables, meat / seafood and rice you’re cooking.
Let me tell you, however, that you don’t need much. For the three cups of rice, a cup of vegetables, half a cup of meat and two eggs that I used for the fried rice in this post, I used two tablespoons of cooking oil. The first tablespoon was to cook the eggs; the second, for sauteeing the shallots and garlic.
Creating a flavor base before adding the vegetables
For a truly good Chinese-style fried rice, you need to flavor the oil that will coat every grain of rice by the end of cooking time. How to do that? By sauteeing.
The most basic spices are garlic and shallots. Over medium heat, cook them with a sprinkle of salt and pepper until you can smell something good floating over the wok.
Turn up the heat, add whatever chopped vegetables you’re using, sprinkle in more salt and pepper, and start stir-frying. The process goes fast from this point.
As a rule of thumb, the vegetables that take longer to cook should go into the wok first. Whatever vegetables take a shorter time to cook go in after a minute or so of stir frying. In this example, the carrot and bell pepper went ahead of the sweet peas.
Any cooked meat that you’re using goes into the pan after the vegetables. Why? Because the meat is already cooked and you’re really just heating it through.
The procedure would be different if, let’s say, you’re using raw shrimps. To avoid cooking them to death until they’re shriveled and rubbery, cook them separately as with the eggs. Scoop out, set aside and add toward the end of cooking time.
Season the rice
One serious mistake in cooking Chinese-style fried rice is over-seasoning the vegetables then adding the rice thinking that it will absorb the excess saltiness and everything will just balance out in the end. Hell, no.
Apart from the initial steps of cooking the eggs and sauteeing aromatics for a flavor base, Chinese-style fried rice is stir fried. High heat. Short cooking time. So short that over-salted vegetables will still taste over-salted while the rice will be bland. This is not a stew where over-salted meat can be cured by throwing in potatoes to soak up the salt.
So, season the vegetables sufficiently but never overdo it. When you add the rice, season it too. I like oyster sauce for seasoning the rice. You may choose soy sauce, fish sauce or even plain salt. It’s up to you. Then continue stir frying until the rice is heated through.
The finishing touch: sesame seed oil
When the rice is heated through, it’s time to add the eggs that you had cooked and cut up earlier. Just throw them in and toss to distribute the lovely yellow pieces evenly.
Turn off the heat, drizzle in about half teaspoonful of sesame seed oil and toss to blend.
Taste the fried rice. If it needs more seasoning, now is the time to make adjustments.
When Chinese-style fried rice is cooked with a generous amount of vegetables and meat or seafood, it can be a complete meal by itself. There used to be a joke in my family that when I make Chinese-style fried rice, you have to look really hard to find the rice among the vegetables and meat. Well, why not?
If, however, you’re serving the fried rice as a side dish, it is a better idea not to overcrowd it with too many things that may overpower the flavors of the main dish that you’re serving it with.
And that is the basic procedure for cooking Chinese-style fried rice. Like I mentioned earlier, there will be variations in the procedure depending on the ingredients you’re using. But if you understand the rationale behind every step, you’ll know when a slightly different procedure is called for and when to stick to the basics.
See the archive of fried rice recipes.