Chinese egg fried rice is an easy stir fry that anyone can make. But to make it light, fluffy and tasty, you need to follow some traditional tips and tricks.
Not until I started living abroad did I realise egg fried rice is an essential dish on typical Chinese restaurant menus outside China. But I understand why it’s so popular. For those who aren’t keen to eat plain rice as a staple, egg fried rice is much more appealing since the stir-frying process and seasonings make rice much more flavourful.
How to make it top-notch
As a homemade dish, it’s so simple to cook. What you need is just a handful of common ingredients and a few minutes of quick stir-frying. But this humble dish sometimes also appears at Chinese banquets. When it’s made with great attention and skill, you’d appreciate it as a delicacy rather than an everyday dish.
Why is top-notch egg fried rice special? Here are its two key features:
- Fluffy. Rice grains are well separated instead of being clung to one another. The texture is on the “al dente” side. It tastes neither too dry nor soggy.
- Light. The use of simple seasonings gives it a subtle and balanced taste. Also, it doesn’t leave a greasy taste in your mouth. This is particularly important when it’s served with other heavily seasoned savoury dishes.
The good news is that it’s totally feasible to make it at home to a restaurant standard. Read on to learn all the tips and tricks to help you achieve the goal.
Here are what you need:
- White rice, cooked and chilled
- Eggs, lightly beaten
- Scallions & garlic, finely chopped
- Light soy sauce
- Sesame oil
- Salt & white pepper
- Neutral cooking oil (olive oil isn’t suitable)
You may have seen egg fried rice recipes that call for a complicated set of ingredients to make a sauce. It isn’t really necessary. As I explained earlier, the traditional version has a rather light taste. Salt and pepper provide a base flavour. Soy sauce offers umami taste and a dash of sesame oil for extra aroma.
🛎 Note: To make this dish gluten-free, you may replace light soy sauce with gluten-free soy sauce or tamari.
Use the “right” rice
Needless to say, the most important element of this dish is the rice. If you get it right, you’re 90% guaranteed to produce the best possible fluffiness (the other 10% depends on the frying technique which I’ll explain in later sections).
What type of rice to use
You could use either long grain or short grain rice, but for me, jasmine rice is the best choice (Most restaurants use it for fried rice). It creates a fluffier texture than the short-grain variety which is more starchy (it’s great for making congee though). I also enjoy its subtle aroma. Although not used in Chinese cuisine, basmati rice would work too for this dish.
It has to be cooked rice
That’s why Chinese home cooks, like my parents, would only make egg fried rice whenever they happened to have some day-old leftover rice. Raw rice wouldn’t work for Chinese style fried rice (make rice pilaf instead if you don’t have cooked rice at hand).
It shouldn’t be overly sticky
When it comes to plain steamed rice, I prefer it to be soft and a little sticky. However, if I cook rice intending to fry it the next day, I’d make it on the dry side. This way, rice grains won’t form a sticky mess that’s difficult to separate.
It works best when chilled
After the cooked rice is completely cooled, store it in the fridge until you’re ready to fry. Refrigeration helps to dehydrate and firm up the grains. You’ll have less of a chance to make the fried rice clumpy or soggy. Remember to loosen the grains as much as possible with a spoon or fork right before you start stir-frying.
🛎PRO TIPS: If you’d like to go the extra mile and make the fluffiest fried rice every time without fail, check out my post on Three Ways to Cook Rice On the Stove. It introduces a steaming method, using a steamer basket or a strainer, that produces the perfect rice for making fried rice (You don’t even need to chill it in the fridge).
The stir-frying Procedure
Since this is a very quick stir fry, it’s important that you have all the ingredients ready (washed, chopped and measured) before you turn on the burner to cook.
Step 1: Scramble the eggs
Lightly beat the eggs until the white and yolk are well incorporated. Heat up an empty wok until it smokes. Pour in oil then add the beaten egg. You’ll see it quickly bubble up from the edge. Push it around to cook thoroughly then break the scrambled egg into small pieces. Dish out and set aside.
🛎 Note: If you’re using a modern wok with non-stick coating, do not heat it up empty. Instead, add oil then turn on the heat.
Step 2: Fry the rice
Put the wok back on the burner to reheat. Add a little oil and fry minced garlic until it browns a little. Stir in the rice. Flip and toss constantly to heat the rice evenly. If there are still some clumps, press with a spatula to separate the rice grains.
Step 3: Combine and season
Once the rice becomes piping hot, put in the scrambled egg and scallions. Add soy sauce, sesame oil, salt and white pepper. Give everything a good stir to evenly distribute the seasonings. Before dishing out, taste some to see if you need more salt.
🛎 Pro tips: Frying rice in a traditional wok (carbon steel or cast iron) can be very messy and challenging if the rice (or the egg) starts to stick to the surface. But it’s totally avoidable. Here are a few tips to prevent sticking.
- Before you add anything, make sure the wok is heated to a very high temperature (you’d see smoke rise).
- Swirl the oil around to coat the sidewall of the wok.
- Keep the heat high throughout the process and keep the stir-frying process as short as possible.
If you don’t have a wok
It’s perfectly fine to use a skillet/frying pan (preferably one with a high side). Follow the same instructions to cook the dish. Like I’ve mentioned above, if your cookware has a non-stick coating, make sure not to heat it up empty.
Serve the dish
Egg fried rice makes a great breakfast or lunch on its own. If you fancy spicy food like me, add a dash of homemade chili oil for an extra kick, or other types of hot sauce, e.g. Laoganma, Sriracha, etc.
If you plan to serve it at a multi-dish meal, here are a few dishes, for example, that you could pair it with: Hot and Sour Soup, Steamed Chicken and Shiitake, Red Braised Pork Belly, Steamed Whole Fish, Garlic Sauce Eggplant, etc.
Customise with other ingredients
Now you’ve learned how to make perfect egg fried rice. Please feel free to go one step further and improvise with other ingredients. Like Egg Fried Rice Noodles, Chinese fried rice is also a great dish to cook in a “use-whatever-available” situation. Here are some choices:
- Raw protein: pork, beef, bacon, chicken, turkey, shrimp, crab, Lap Cheong (Chinese sausage), etc.
- Cooked protein: Char Siu pork, leftover roast chicken, ham, etc.
- Vegetables: onion, carrot, bell pepper, celery, mushroom, snow peas, baby corn, etc. Mixed, ready-chopped frozen vegetables are super handy.
- Vegan option: Use smoked or five-spice tofu to replace the egg.
Mix and match these ingredients to create your own version of fried rice. To ensure all the elements are evenly cooked to their best texture, please follow these general rules:
- All the ingredients are cut into similar sizes.
- Cook raw proteins first then add to the rice at the end.
- Fry vegetables with the rice.
- If using veggies that have a high water content, e.g. fresh mushrooms, leafy greens, don’t put them in too early as their moisture could make the rice soggy.
Egg Fried Rice (蛋炒饭), A Traditional Recipe
- 3 cups cold cooked white rice (see footnote 1), about 400g/14oz
- 2 eggs
- 1½ tablespoon neutral cooking oil, divided
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 stalk scallions, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon light soy sauce, or gluten-free soy sauce, tamari
- ½ teaspoon sesame oil
- ¼ teaspoon salt, or to taste
- 1 pinch ground white pepper
- Loosen the rice grains as much as possible with chopsticks or a spoon. Lightly beat the eggs until the whites and yolks are fully incorporated.
- Heat up an empty, well-seasoned wok over high heat until it becomes very hot (smoke rises). Pour in 1 tablespoon of oil then swirl it around to coat the side of the wok. N.B. See footnote 2 if using a cookware with non-stick coating.
- Pour in the egg. Once it begins to set at the bottom, stir to help the running part flow. Use a spatula to scramble quickly so that it turns into small pieces. Transfer out and set aside.
- Place the wok back on the burner. Add the remaining ½ tablespoon of oil. Fry garlic until fragrant then add the rice. Stir and toss continuously until the rice is piping hot. Use the spatula to break any clumps.
- Return the egg to the wok, along with scallions. Continue frying until everything is heated thoroughly.
- Season with light soy sauce, sesame oil, salt and white pepper. Give everything a good stir. Dish out and serve immediately.