Alright, we’ve come to the crux of the matter; the actual recipes and process for making Chinese menu items like you’ll get in most Chinese-American restaurants. If you haven’t read the other articles, you can check the Table of Contents (another link is at the bottom). Explanations for some of the parts of this dish are in the previous posts. This post is about how to produce beef fried rice that almost exactly matches what you get in cardboard cartons.
I’m not a chef, nor do I intend to be one. As such, I tried to make fried rice all together in a wok, following the videos and instructions I’ve read over the years. It made me nuts! There’s all this stuff going on at once, stuff burned or stuck to the wok, I felt like I was in a race, and so on and so forth. Screw it! You can cook this dish in several different pans, and the worst off you’ll be is that you’ll have a bit more dishes to wash. But you’ll enjoy the dinner better.
What you’ll need: Overnight Preparations
- Day old cooked rice, about 2 to 2-1/2 cups cooked rice, extra long-grain. Don’t worry about being exact, just have around 2 to 3 cups cooked. Cold, broken up without big clumps.
- You’ll use 2 or so typical, kitchen measuring cups worth of cooked, day-old rice. Don’t pack it real tight, and it can be a little over, with no problem.
- Just keep cooked rice, uncovered in the fridge for a day or two (stirring with your fingers periodically to break it apart).
- Approx 1 cup (about 6 oz.), loosely placed in the cup, of thin-sliced beef, marinaded for about 4 hours (1 hour absolute least time). For flank or chuck eye steak, 4 hours. For sirloin, 1-2 hours will do.
- Also not critical, just the amount of meat you’d like in your fried rice. (Or shrimp, chicken or pork.)
Note that when you cook the rice, let it sit in the cooker (with the lid on) after it’s done, until it cools. I’ve learned that although rice that sits about 30 minutes is great to eat right away, longer “sitting time” makes even better texture for leftover rice! Yes it takes some time (half an hour soaking, 15-30 minutes cooking, and an hour or so to cool off), but it’s totally worth it! Experiment, and you’ll see.
- The texture of the leftover cooked rice will fundamentally determine the texture of the final, fried rice dish. If at all possible, use an electric rice cooker.
- The cold rice will stick to your fingers a little, as you stir it around and break up clumps. But it should rinse off easily when you run your hands under water.
Prepare the Meat
I like to slice the meat the night before, put it in a small bowl without the marinade, and cover with plastic wrap. That way, the next afternoon I can just whip up the marinade, pour it on the meat, stir it around and put it back in the fridge until dinner.
Another option is to slice up the meat, and marinade it for an hour or four. Divide into 1-cup (3-4 oz.) portions and wrap in plastic wrap. Freeze the pouches in a bag. When you want to make fried rice, just thaw one of the portions of raw, marinaded meat and fry it up. Since I’ve been making this, I’ve learned that anything past 1 hour is fine. I’ve let the meat marinade for a couple of days, and it doesn’t break down. The soy sauce and wine (acid) are tenderizing it, and there aren’t any enzymes. So don’t worry about time, other than let it go at least one hour.
- About 3-4 oz. of flank steak or sirloin steak that starts out about 1-inch thick. Less is okay, it depends on how much you like meat in your fried rice. (We like “grill steaks,” a cut we found in Mexican supermarkets, but any tender beef will work.) You’re going to shave it thin, so the original thickness will become the “width” of the thin slices.
- Remove the fat – Fat isn’t useful in thin slices of meat. Flank steak doesn’t have much fat at all. Sirloin, remove the outer bits and any gristle.
- Slice into thin pieces, approximately 3-inches long and about 1/8″ to 1/4″ thick. (If the steak you find is thicker than about 1 inch, still make the slices, but cut them again length-wise. If it’s a little thin steak, then make the slices a bit thicker. You’ve had beef in fried rice, so just make it look that way.)
- Place sliced meat into small bowl and cover with all-purpose marinade. Include the sugar the first time, then see how you like it as you reduce out the sugar slowly in future versions.
- 1 TBsp cornstarch
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 TBsp Rice Cooking Wine
- 2 TBsp Soy Sauce (light, regular — like Kikkoman, but NOT sodium free!)
- Mix together in a small, separate bowl or cup:Pour over meat, then stir one or two times with your fingers, making sure each piece is nicely coated as it marinades in the fridge. Alternately, you can mix up the marinade in a small bowl, then add the meat to the marinade.
- Cover with plastic wrap or foil, and keep in the fridge until cooking time, 1-4 hours depending on the meat.
Note that when you’ve made this version, you can replace the beef with pieces of shrimp (won’t need marinade), or with pork. If you use shrimp, cook it first to get the water out. If it’s already cooked, thaw it out, then dry it nicely on paper towels. Cut the shrimp into pieces, or use small shrimp.
The key to many Chinese dishes is DRY! The liquids involved are soy sauce, or sweet-n-sour sauce, or oils. So get the water out of the shrimp before adding it to fried rice.
If you use pork, use shoulder roast or country ribs, remove the fat (as best you can) and slice the pork into thin strips like the beef. Cook it the same way, marinade it the same way. Try not to use pre-cooked leftover meat…it tastes the wrong way, too hard and too dry.
Fried Rice Ingredients:
- 1 Tablespoons vegetable oil for frying eggs, and for frying meat.
- 3 Tablespoons Sesame oil for frying rice, separately from meat and eggs
- 1 Large egg, scrambled (optional; depending on whether you like scrambled eggs in your fried rice)
- 1 handful (about 1 cup) of bean sprouts (fresh, preferably, or from a bag)
- 1 TBsp light (regular) Soy Sauce first.
- 1 teaspoon Dark Soy sauce (see “Ingredients“), about 2 teaspoons or so.
- A handful of chopped green onion tips (about 1/3 cup)
Note that you can buy fried rice with or without scrambled eggs. I usually see it with the eggs, but my lady friend doesn’t like eggs. So we use 1 egg, but she picks out the pieces and I eat them. If you don’t like eggs, you don’t have to use any. But stick with only 1, not more than that.
Note also that many restaurants will include a handful of sweet peas. You can buy a bag of frozen peas, and toss in a handful that have thawed to room temperature, at the end of the process, to heat them up. They’re mostly cooked already, then frozen, so they don’t need more right from the bag than just to be heated.
Finally, you can use peanut oil if you want, and that has a very nice flavor! But it’s expensive, compared to regular vegetable oil. That, and excepting with wontons or egg rolls, I don’t notice all that much difference in fried rice. Don’t use canola oil, as it breaks down when heated and makes for bad stuff you don’t want in your system. Besides, vegetable oil is cheap.
- The Sesame oil is critical, though! It’s not that expensive, and lasts a long time. Don’t get the “smokey” oil, get the clear, yellow-ish oil. This is for cooking, not salad dressing. Look in the Indian food section of the store, if you have one, and you might find less expensive sesame oil than in the regular oil section. (Brand name SWAD around here in Chicago.)
In a small bowl, snip off some tips of green onions with scissors. Not a lot, about 1/4 cup (2 TBsp). Set near stove and keep handy.
In a separate “pinch bowl” measure out 1 TBsp + 1 teaspoon regular soy sauce. Add 1 teaspoons dark soy sauce. You’ll be pouring it all in quickly at the end, and it’s annoying to have to measure at that point. Set near stove and keep handy.
- Scramble the egg – The way I do it, I use a 10-inch separate pan, but you can do this in the wok if you’re prepared to wipe out the wok when you’re done.Put about 1 TBsp of oil in the pan to heat on medium. Scramble 1 Large egg in a small bowl. Dump it into the hot oil, scramble it, then remove it back to the small bowl. Cut into small pieces, and set aside. (Takes about a minute.)
- Fry the Meat– In the pan you just used for the eggs, fry the meat. You can add a spritz of oil if you want. Your marinaded meat will have a small amount of cornstarch coating, which will make it a bit thick and sticky. Therefore, I fry the meat in a bit of oil on its own, over medium heat. If I’m in the mood, I’ll fry it in the wok, but it really does make a mess on the bottom. Just dump it all into a pan and fry it. It won’t get crispy brown, what with the marinade, so don’t worry about it “boiling” or “steaming.” It’s the texture that’ll matter. The Asians call this “velveting,” if they use baking soda, but we’re doing something similar with the cornstarch and no baking soda.
- The meat will take a few minutes, to go from pink to cooked. It’s beef, so you don’t need to worry if some of it’s a bit rare, but why bother? Just cook it and stir it around until it’s all brown.
- Steam the Bean Sprouts (with meat) – When the meat is basically cooked (about 2-3 minutes, not much pink visible), toss a handful of bean sprouts on top. This does two things: First, it pre-cooks and softens the bean sprouts. Secondly, the liquid from the sprouts helps to de-glaze the bottom of the pan. Stir it all around.
- Sprinkle some soy sauce on the meat and bean sprouts. Not a lot, but enough to give some saltiness to the sprouts. Just a spritz. Otherwise, you’ll want to add too much soy to the final mixture with the rice, or you’ll want to add salt at the table, and that won’t taste quite right.
- The sprouts are done when they’re just wilted, not stiff. They shouldn’t disappear in the fried rice, just be soft enough to notice them.
- Drain & Set aside Meat and Sprouts – You can just pour the whole combination into its own bowl, and whatever juices and water go along with them. Using a small bowl lets the juices fall to the bottom. The key is to let them drain so you won’t be adding any more liquid when you put the meat and sprouts in at the end. Set them aside.
Fry 2 Cups Cold, Day-Old Rice
You can keep the rice in the fridge until this point. Alternately, after you’ve dried it out, you can put 2 to 2-1/2 cups of dried, day-old rice in a freezer bag and freeze it for months. Same with the marinaded raw meat, they’ll both keep for months and can make it easy when cooking the fried rice “on demand.”
Here’s where a 14″ wok really comes in handy!
- Put into the wok TWO (2) TBsp of Sesame oil. Not more! Only 2 Tablespoons! Not more!
Use a high heat and let the oil heat up at the bottom of the wok until it just starts smoking. When you see a bit of smoke, it’s ready.
Swirl the oil around to coat the sides of the wok. You want only enough oil to barely cover each grain of rice. Only 2 TBsps!
- Dump in your 2 cups of cooked (cold) rice, from right out of the fridge into the wok.
- Use your wok stirring spatula to stir the rice around. At first, let it sit and sizzle, then start stirring. Stir and turn upside down, ALL the rice! You’ll get a feel for how long to let it sit, or stir, but you literally are frying the rice!
- Your purpose here is twofold: first to coat the rice with sesame oil; secondly, to get the rice heated up. You’ll see the oil starting to coat each grain.
- You’ll hear a bit of sizzling. DO NOT give in to the temptation to add more oil to get a loud sizzle going on! Just coat each grain, then make sure the rice is hot.
- Stir regularly, turning, scraping from the sides, lifting and turning to heat all the rice. About 3 minutes.
Reduce the heat to low-medium.
Add the meat & bean sprouts – Don’t include the juice that will have pooled at the bottom of the bowl. Only the meat and sprouts.
- Use some salt and pepper, sparingly. Stir it all around.
Add Soy Sauce – This is where the real coloring takes place. You’ll have the pre-measured soy mixture in a small bowl, so just drizzle it down the sides of the wok. Stir it around to color and coat the rice. You’ll color the rice tan or brownish, but you don’t want the eggs to be colored.
Turn off the heat
Add Scrambled Egg – The dish is pretty much done by this point, so just toss in the scrambled egg and stir it around.
Add Green Onions – Same thing here, just toss in the raw onions and stir them into the mixture. Notice that by adding the soy sauce earlier, the rice and meat will be nice and brown, but the eggs will remain yellow and the scallions will remain green. (You can toss in your handful of green peas if you like, at this point.)
Sprinkle 1 TBsp Sesame Oil over entire mixture and stir around.
Remove into a serving bowl. You’re done!
What Can Go Wrong
If you use fresh-cooked rice, it’ll get soggy. No doubt about it!
When you cool the rice in the fridge, it’ll feel hard in your mouth if you taste it. It’ll stick between your teeth, and generally not be all that great, particularly if it’s been in the fridge uncovered. But you need that slight amount of dryness so it’ll hold up while frying! It can sit anywhere from 1 – 4 days in the fridge. If you’re going more than a day, put some foil over the bowl.
The leftover rice should be firm and “bouncy,” when it goes into the fridge, but not stuck together grains of rice. After a day or two, it should feel a bit “hard” and only a little sticky. Note that when you open a cardboard container of fried rice from a restaurant, it’s compressed and smooshed together. When you take it out of the container and “fluff” it up, it doesn’t stick together. Dry is good!
Too many pieces of green onion will give too much onion flavor, over-powering the rest of the dish.
Too many bean sprouts, not cooked enough will add an “earthy” flavor to the rice. The sprouts will be too dominant. Don’t use as many next time, and cook them a bit longer with the meat.
Not enough soy sauce during the cooking process will tend to make the final product a bit bland. Too much, and it’ll taste very salty. Rather than measure by tablespooons, it’s better to drizzle in the correct mixture from a small pinch bowl.
- Regular soy sauce is salty.
- Dark soy sauce isn’t as salty, and has a bit of sweetness.
- Use regular (light) soy for seasoning, and dark for coloring.
The meat should melt in your mouth. If it doesn’t, then you didn’t marinade it. Go back and do it again, and this time marinade the meat! If you include too much of the meat marinade or juices when you add the cooked meat to the rice, that will tend to make the finished product look oily. It’s not…but it’ll look that way. Try to only add the meat and sprouts, no juice.
Frying the rice in sesame oil gives a unique flavor that you won’t get from peanut or vegetable oil. That being said, you can use vegetable oil if you really have to and it’ll be pretty good. My own goal is to exactly replicate what I get from a take-out restaurant, and that involves using some sesame oil. 16-17oz of clear sesame oil is around $7, around here in the Chicago area.
Leftovers end up oily when heated up in the microwave oven: You’ve used too much oil to cook the rice in the first place. Use ONLY 2 tablespoons of sesame oil to fry the rice, and 1 tablespoon of sesame oil to sprinkle over the finished product.
Again: If you’re a restaurant chef, you can juggle everything and toss it around like a pro, all in the same wok. That’s because you’re…a pro! But for the rest of us, I believe it’s just as easy, just as much fun, and creates just as much of a mess, to cook it in different pans. One pan for the scrambled eggs, meat and sprouts, and the wok for the rice and final assembly.
If you use a can of La Choy bean sprouts, they’re already pretty soft. So you can just dump them into the rice, along with the meat. But fresh sprouts really have a better flavor. (Add some soy sauce if you’re using canned bean sprouts.)
- To store fresh bean sprouts a few days, cover them in cold water in a bowl. Cover the bowl and keep in the fridge. They’ll easily last 3-4 days, and even longer if necessary, without getting slimy.
- To store green onions, put them in a glass jar, root side to the bottom, in about 1 inch of water. Cover and keep in the fridge. They’ll last for months.
The finished product should be nicely brown, but not very dark brown. It also shouldn’t need any extra salt added at the table. You can play around with adding table salt while you’re cooking the dish. If you like pepper, you can add some black or white pepper to your taste. They’re pretty much the same thing, you just don’t see white pepper as easily.