Arts & Culture

Make Cheap, Easy, Fried Rice

Fried rice made with red onion, baby corn, and the last peppers of summer. Photo by Liliana Palmer for the Beacon.

Fried rice is mostly associated with takeout food, but in its basic form it’s a very solid and adaptable meal that is basically wholesome and probably won’t kill you. Fried rice is very straightforward to cook but it punishes bad timing, so if you want the best results it’s a good idea to pay attention to your prep and how long things are cooking. You can wing it, but it’s definitely worth the extra effort. Once you’ve gotten in the habit of making it, you can easily prepare it and serve it in 20 minutes (if you cooked the rice beforehand, which you should). As a rough estimate, making it should be about 6 times cheaper than commercial fried rice minimum, even more if you use ingredients you already have and leftovers, which is the whole point!

A lot of the quality of fried rice comes from the finesse of the preparation rather than fancy ingredients, so you can either pick out the best fresh vegetables or throw in a bag of frozen ones, and it really still works either way. It depends on your taste, time, and budget. 

If you want meat in your fried rice, this is a good way to deal with leftovers. Ideally use something chewy but not too tough, usually ham, bacon, and chicken are favored for that reason. Marinating the meat is a good idea as cooked meat will struggle to take on much flavor in the fried rice otherwise, and chicken stands out as bland this way. If you want to use tofu, make sure to press the juices out first so it can take on different flavors – marinating the tofu is also a good idea. Note that it stands perfectly well on it’s own with just eggs or tofu, so meat is entirely optional. I’d go so far as to say it’s not worth bothering with unless you have leftovers or if you’re trying to replicate restaurant food.

This recipe is written with an electric skillet in mind. You can make almost 8 servings at once with one. Highly recommended.

Ingredients (you can approximate vegetables and rice):

  • 1 ½ tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 chopped yellow onion
  • 4 cloves crushed garlic
  • 3 cups vegetables / half pound frozen vegetable mix
  • 3 cups cooked rice
  • 4 eggs
  • ½ tsp sesame oil
  • 3 tbsp soy sauce

Suggested vegetables:

  • Fresh carrots, thinly sliced
  • Edame (large, chewy soybeans), or peas
  • Baby corn (great stuff, some stir fry mixes have it)
  • Kale
  • Broccoli (make sure to break it into small pieces)
  • Hot peppers (cayenne is nice)
  1. You need cooked rice for fried rice. Your best bet is to wash and cook a bunch of rice the day before and refrigerate it. Depending on how much skillet space you have, you might need quite a bit of rice.
  1. Prepare and set out all ingredients. Chop yellow onion, crush garlic, set both aside in a bowl. If using fresh vegetables, chop and set aside. If using frozen vegetables, put it out to thaw a bit (the ice will melt in the skillet, but you don’t want to flood it either) and smash it to break up the chunks. Keep eggs handy.
  1. Mix the sauce together. The proportions are very important as both sesame oil and soy sauce are extremely strong. 
  1. Add 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil to the skillet and turn to medium heat. When it glistens a bit and the air above it is warm when you wave your hand over it, add the onions and garlic, and note the time. Push them around in the skillet – garlic burns easily and the onions will start to after 2-3 minutes. 
  1. As soon as the onions look done, throw in the vegetables. You’ll want the carrot slices to cook well so they are slightly chewy, and although the vegetables are much less likely to burn, you should make sure it’s cooking evenly and the onions aren’t stuck at the bottom.
  1. Add the rice right on top of the vegetables, and mix it in before patting it flat. It should steam aggressively, but that’s fine. Turn up the heat a bit. Every once in a while, turn the rice with a spatula so it all gets cooked. Important: fried rice doesn’t turn as brown as you’re used to from takeout when cooked, instead it yellows a bit like onions and becomes a bit fluffier. Keep that in mind.
  1. If you’re using meat or tofu, this is probably a good time to add it, right before adding the sauce and stirring everything together.
  1. Thoroughly stir the rice and vegetables together, and throw on the sauce mixture. It should steam, which is a good sign – keep mixing it all together and the rice should start looking brown like takeout rice. Yup, it’s from soy sauce. You might not think it matters when the sauce is added, but this really is the right way to do it: adding it at other points simply doesn’t work very well, it has to steam a bit to flavor the whole dish.
  1. If you’re using eggs, now you can take a moment to leave the rice patted down and steaming to crack them into a bowl. When you’re done, shovel the rice to the sides, add half a tablespoon of oil to the empty space if it looks dry, and pour the eggs in there. If you have green onions, this is a good time to add them. Eggs work well with fried rice because when they cook in the rice they give it a slightly rich, savory taste and they have a nice texture. 
  1. Once the eggs have fried, break them up with the spatula and mix them thoroughly with the rice. And you’re done. Turn off the heat (it’ll stay warm while serving) and serve. Fresh cilantro is a nice touch if you have some, and so is basil if you don’t overdo it. You should easily be able to serve 4 people and have a serving or two leftover. The flavors meld well when refrigerated, so no worries there. 


  • Mix sauce base with dash of molasses, drop of liquid smoke, and sriracha.

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