Chinese take-out recipe
November 3, 2006 4:18 PM   Subscribe

How do you make the fried rice served in Chinese take-out restaurants?

I have tried frying white rice with soy sauce and other spices but it doesn't taste or look like what they have at the take-out restaurants. The rice is an orange-brown color that they use in beef and shrimp fried rice.
posted by stuffedcrust to Food & Drink (28 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
first of all, you need rice that is a day or two old... fresh rice is too wet. be sure you have a nonstick surface and fairly high heat (higher than you think you need). in addition to the soy sauce, you want to add oyster sauce (to taste, but 1 part oyster sauce to 2 parts soy sauce is a decent guideline). Some places will also add a bit of chinese cooking wine (you could substitute cooking sherry in a pinch). Plus whatever meat, veggies, scrambled egg, etc. you want to add.

fried rice can be made a million different ways, but what you're probably missing is the oyster sauce, and high enough heat.
posted by somanyamys at 4:53 PM on November 3, 2006

A killer recipe for pretty good looking (and tasting) fried rice involves:

White Rice cooked the day before (so it is cold when you actually fry it)
Soy Sauce
Sesame Oil - this is something that most people don't think about but it makes all the difference.
Whatever combination of bacon/scrambled egg/onion/shallots/anything that you feel like.

Basically, cook all the ingredients that need prior preparation, like the bacon and egss and remove them from your frypan/wok, leave the grease tfrom cooking them in the pan. Add the rice and then re-add all the additions on high heat. Add a generous splash of soy sauce, enough to give it the colour you're looking for, and then add some sesame oil, this really depends on taste, but general about one-quarter to one-third of the amount of soy sauce you put in.

Let it warm through (cook a little more if you prefer that 'crunchy' style fried rice) and voila.
posted by cholly at 5:00 PM on November 3, 2006

+1 on the high heat. My new (old) stove doesn't get hot enough for me to make decent fried rice (it just gets all clumpy) and it's terribly annoying.

For a good variation on "standard" fried rice (although, as above, there's lots of types), try topping it with kimchi.
posted by modernnomad at 5:26 PM on November 3, 2006

The above are good suggestions, especially the high heat and old rice. Traditional fried rice shouldn't have any 'flavour enhancer' (e.g. MSG) in it, but when pressed all of the regular chinese takeaway restaurants I asked admitted they did use some.

When add your liquid (i.e. the soy sauce ± oyster sauce. Don't go nuts with these, by the way), add it a little at a time, drying out the rice before you add more. If not your rice will get waterlogged and gummy -- effectively undoing the benefits of using day-old rice.

Also, usually there are places in town that sell chinese cooked meats. These are the shops with cooked whole ducks hanging from hooks in their windows. Buy some BBQ pork from them (if you want to make it at home, look for Cha siu recipes) and chop that up. Personal preference may vary, but I love the stuff in my fried rice.
posted by teem at 5:33 PM on November 3, 2006

Just for refrence, the fried rice you get in Beijing is like what you make rather than what you get from American Chinese restaurants.

I too never mastered the art of getting that restaurant flavor, though I think cholly has the keys: oyster sauce, sesame oil and heat.

Also the rice will have to be washed before it is cooked so that it is not sticky when you go to fy it.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:42 PM on November 3, 2006

Also, as to MSG, I don't know what teem means by traditional, maybe from before MSG was invented? Anyway, China is crazy for MSG which is seen as an essential ingredient and one of the essential spices in Chinese cusine. They think we are absolutely nuts when we try to avoid it because of my pregnant wife. They look at us like we're asking them not to put sugar in the sugar cookies.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:48 PM on November 3, 2006

Also, as to MSG, I don't know what teem means by traditional, maybe from before MSG was invented?

Yeah 'historically' would've been a better term. I say this based on the ranting of a chef I met who claimed that MSG was sacrilege and not the way Chinese food was made throughout history. I don't know when MSG was invented or how true this is, but the food he made was damn good (he'd used to work in a fancy Chinese restaurant that prided itself in making traditional Chinese food). Of course traditions change, and these days you'd be hard pressed to perfectly recreate restaurant flavour without MSG.

The closest I've ever had cooked at home was from a friend's dad who built his own ridiculously powerful gas burner in his backyard for this very purpose. He didn't use MSG but used oyster sauce which has plenty of MSG in it anyway.
posted by teem at 6:19 PM on November 3, 2006

If you're a visual learner, I learned how to make fried rice by going to Japanese cook-at your-table restaurants. Benihana would work.
posted by Skwirl at 6:24 PM on November 3, 2006

I'll be glad to send her over to barf on your furniture paulsc. Anything, and I mean anything that we can do to help her keep food down is a blessing.

Got any numbers for China? I've seen cooks litterally adding MSG by the fistful here.
posted by Pollomacho at 6:50 PM on November 3, 2006

- overnight rice (cook, let cool, leave in fridge overnight)
- high heat, some oil
- beat a raw egg, you can add white pepper and salt to taste
- add rice to hot wok
- break the rice up with a wooden spatula
- when rice gets warm enough (pretty fast), dribble the egg onto the rice while stirring constantly. Turn the rice over constantly.

Ideally, you'll coat each individual grain of rice with an ultra-thin layer of seasoned egg.

Soy sauce will darken the colour of the fried rice. Salt to the egg should be sufficient. Chopped green onion can be added immediately after the egg treatment for colour. If you see chunks of egg, the skill of the rice fryer was insufficient. If you want to add egg to the rice, scramble it first before adding to the rice.

For flavour, some people add "cooked oil." It's basically oil that has been used to fry something (usually meat of some kind) previously. This can do wonders for "that subtle flavour." I've added a little bacon grease before.

For the meat/other stuff you want to add to the fried rice, cook/brown those separately/previously. Add to the rice after the green onion.

Monosodium glutamate is to glutamic acid (an amino acid) as crack cocaine is to cocain. It's just got a hydroxyl group 'cracked' off.

MSG by itself is pretty innocuous - I suspect that people who are "allergic" to either have psychosomatic response OR, the high heat degrades the MSG into a product that is harmful.

When you use MSG, add it just prior to serving. Never overheat MSG.
posted by porpoise at 6:52 PM on November 3, 2006 [1 favorite]

Monosodium glutamate is to glutamic acid (an amino acid) as crack cocaine is to cocain.

A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Not only have you inverted which is a free acid/base and which is a salt, but jeez, as if this retarded metaphor were an at all responsible way of analyzing the safety of a given compound...
posted by rxrfrx at 7:30 PM on November 3, 2006

Yeah, I'm here to emphasize cold day-old white rice. My aunt, who's a great cook, adds a teaspoon of sugar! And a bit of white pepper. My favorite is to use cold old white rice, egg, green onion, cha siu (bought from a Chinese butcher), and the sauce that pools on the bottom of the tin that the cha siu comes from. That stuff is delicious.
posted by hooray at 7:52 PM on November 3, 2006

I stand corrected, thanks rxrfrx. MSG is indeed a salt of hydrolyzed glutamic acid. It was silly of me to repeat what other people have said to me without fact checking it myself.

However, I do stand by that MSG is not bad for you, or cause symptoms commonly attributed to MSG "allergy." I in no way stated that MSG is not safe.

If people don't get headaches from eating Doritos (which contains a tremendous amount of hydrolyzed yeast extract [which has a lot of MSG in it]), the headaches and flushes &c some people claim to get from eating at some Chinese restaurants.
posted by porpoise at 7:55 PM on November 3, 2006

MSG by itself is pretty innocuous - I suspect that people who are "allergic" to either have psychosomatic response OR, the high heat degrades the MSG into a product that is harmful.

Peanuts by themselves are pretty innocuous, too.

Now that we have that out of the way, as far as I've seen MSG and day-old rice are both pretty important. A lot of times the MSG mix used has that orangish brown color you mention.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 9:21 PM on November 3, 2006

Wow, I don't know what y'all are eating but you do *NOT* add soy sauce to fried rice. Use salt.
posted by mphuie at 9:51 PM on November 3, 2006

Wow, I don't know what y'all are eating but you do *NOT* add soy sauce to fried rice. Use salt.

You can say that again!
Although, as a cretinous guai lo who loves Soya sauce.. Well, you would still add it at your plate..

Also, I suspect the day old rice thing is not just about water content. Foods undergo chemical changes over time, with temperature changes, etc.. For example, the glycemic index of potato from potato salad is much lower than the same potato freshly boiled (random googled ref):
In summary, the study found that precooking and reheating potatoes or consuming cold cooked potatoes (such as potato salad) results in a reduced glycemic response. The highest glycemic index values for potatoes were found in potatoes that were freshly cooked and instant mashed potatoes.
posted by Chuckles at 11:57 PM on November 3, 2006

You may also want to buy a rice cooker. They aren't expensive, and they get your rice to a perfect fluffy state with little intervention.
posted by tomble at 2:36 AM on November 4, 2006

I'll reinforce the day-old, cold rice and very high heat, and add one more thing. You need to use oil that will take that heat. Fry the rice in something like peanut oil, not one of those healthy kinds. Heat the oil to almost smoking before adding any food.

If you are using a gas stove, the highest setting may be hot enough. Any lower setting will not be. If you are trying to use any other kind of stove, just give up now.

Why hasn't anybody mentioned the necessity for frying real garlic as the second step, just after cooking and removing the egg? It won't taste right without garlic flavoring the oil.
posted by rhiamom at 3:14 AM on November 4, 2006

Oh, I agree that MSG is likely not at all bad for you. I figured that by trotting out the crack story you meant that it was bad.
posted by rxrfrx at 3:52 AM on November 4, 2006

Wow, I don't know what y'all are eating but you do *NOT* add soy sauce to fried rice. Use salt."

Wow, this thread is amazing...

ly bad. Unless this salted rice for fried rice thing is a North American invention?

Also, agreed with rhiamom, where's the garlic? Also -- WHERE'S THE GINGER? What kind of sad ass fried rice are you people eating?
posted by Big Fat Tycoon at 7:37 AM on November 4, 2006

For whatever reason, I can never replicate the Chinese restaurant flavor either with my fried rice. I should try the day-old rice, since I've only been using 12 hour rice (set the cooker before school, fry it at dinner).

For whatever reason, however, I do much better at Thai fried rice. It is certainly a different animal than the Chinese variety, and you need to go and sample it in several restaurants before you attempt to make it. It may not suit your pallet, although I actually prefer it to Chinese fried rice these days. But, I find it's easier to replicate at home.

The linked recipe is a pretty good complete recipe. I generally don't use those particular ingredients, truth be told. I never include sugar, but use canned pineapple juice instead. Likewise, the seafood and fruit I vary with my whim. I usually eat only vegetables, and I love crab, so I generally add lots of weird veggies and use crab instead of shrimp.

The trick I've found in this sort of fried rice is not to use too much of any one ingredient--just a taste of each. The soy-saucing should be light, and the rice should be golden and not dark.
posted by Netzapper at 8:53 AM on November 4, 2006

I don't know when MSG was invented

Details about its discovery in Japan a hundred years ago in an article in the Guardian,
If MSG is so bad for you, why doesn't everyone in Asia have a headache?

posted by Rash at 9:03 AM on November 4, 2006

Unless this salted rice for fried rice thing is a North American invention?

I think it might require a very tiny bit of salt.

Maybe not, it might be MSG flavour that I'm thinking of, but certainly no Oyster sauce or Soy sauce.
posted by Chuckles at 9:28 AM on November 4, 2006

No, using soy sauce is an American thing. It is *NOT* the correct way to make fried rice.

If you really want, its okay to use a little soy sauce paste (?) (jiang you gao). It's thicker, a bit sweet and more fragrant.

2nd on the garlic and ginger. Also on the animal fat, I'd recommend chinese sausage.
posted by mphuie at 11:00 AM on November 4, 2006

I have written an article about how to make good fried rice. Perhaps it will be of some help to you.
posted by madman at 11:24 AM on November 4, 2006 [1 favorite]

mphuie -- using soy sauce is an American thing.

Sorry, and obviously you and I are both from an East Asian background, but I learned my fried rice at the knees of my Chinese parents who learned it from their parents etc. There are certainly many forms of fried rice, not American, that use soy sauce (and perhaps salt -- not sure if haam yu gai laap chao faan would have that, since now that I think about it, it might not use soy sauce if at all). Soy sauce, as my mom says, is the salt of China.
posted by Big Fat Tycoon at 2:57 PM on November 4, 2006

Ooh, ooh - I totally know this, coz a Chinese restaurant chef taught me! A least, a Chinese Australian restaurant chef taught me. I didn't eat fried rice in the US, so I have no idea if this is anything like what you have. Anyway...

Buy steamed white rice - a couple of large plastic takeaway tubs should be enough. You can wait til it's cold, or not - I've never noticed any difference. Don't use your own rice if you want that restaurant flavour.

Heat a wok til it's smoking, then add your oil (peanut or canola). Throw in your aromatics - garlic, green onions, a little ginger, pork if you're using it. Now add the rice and toss til it's really hot. Add liberal amounts of white pepper.

Now, stir in four to six beaten eggs. Keep the heat on high, and keep stirring. It'll look wet, and you'll think oh god, there's too much liquid, and it'll never, ever go away. Keep tossing the rice and eggs in the hot wok, stirring, stirring. It's still wet, you cry! Hav faith, grasshopper - keep on stirring.

Eventually, the egg will have disappeared. There isn't any fried or scrambled egg in the wok - it's like the rice has absorbed it all. Add soy and oyster sauce to taste (not a lot - a couple of shakes of soy and one of oyster), and keep stirring. The rice will go from white, to pale yellow, to dark yellow/brown, to golden brown. Stop.

Each grain will be completely golden, and completely separate, and it will taste just like restaurant fried rice. The secret ingredients are egg, white pepper and faith that the wet eggy rice will be transformed if you persevere.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:41 AM on November 7, 2006 [4 favorites]

Just a follow-up thank you to all the good suggestions in this thread -- I already knew about the sesame oil, but now that I've tried making it with day-old takeout rice and a really hot pan, I found the magic. Thanks again!
posted by rkent at 10:56 AM on November 21, 2006

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