This fried rice with leftovers is a nifty clean-out-the-fridge stir-fry that turns leftovers into a quick and easy weeknight dinner made from just leftover rice and meat, seafood, or vegetables along with soy sauce or fish sauce. Beware the optional but addictive jalapeño garlic vinegar.
Full disclosure: It will likely take you longer to read this recipe than it will to unload the leftovers languishing in your fridge and get this fried rice on the table. In fact, one of our testers boldly declared this the fastest dinner she’s ever prepared. Make it with meat or keep it vegetarian, include an egg or don’t, use soy sauce or reach for the Vietnamese counterpart, fish sauce. You can even skip the leftovers altogether and keep the focus on the perfect balance of savory and salty. How’s that for a weeknight winner?–Jenny Howard
*What Kind Of Rice To Use (And Other Tricks To Making Perfect Fried Rice)
This is one time when cold, crumbly, refrigerated rice (white or brown) is better than steaming rice straight from the stove or rice cooker. Rice that has been cooked, cooled, and refrigerated for up to 3 days is exactly what you want as the grains are dry so they don’t gum up or get gloppy when you cook them. Although you do want to let the cooked rice come almost to room temperature before proceeding with the recipe. Add-ins such as meat and vegetables should be cut into smallish pieces so they’ll distribute well among the grains. It’s tempting to add a lot of soy or fish sauce to the rice at once but restrain yourself. Otherwise the rice will not only get oversalty but overhydrated and soggy. Use a higher heat than you may be comfortable with and be ready for things to go quickly once you start cooking (you’ll want to first line up the ingredients near the stove so you can simply reach for and dump them in the pan when ready). And if you decide to double the recipe (because it’s THAT good), you’ll want to cook it in two batches or simultaneously in two skillets or woks.
Fried Rice With Leftovers
For the quick jalapeño garlic vinegar (optional)
- 1 jalapeño sliced, with seeds
- 1 small garlic clove smashed
- 2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
- 1/4 cup water
For the fried rice
- 3 cups cooked long-grain rice* at room temperature (see NOTE above)
- 2 tablespoons fat such as mild vegetable oil, peanut oil, coconut oil, rendered lard, bacon fat, or European-style butter
- 2 garlic cloves finely chopped
- 1 to 1 1/2 cups cooked leftovers such as meat, seafood, vegetables, tofu, tempeh, or a combination, cut or broken up into pea-sized pieces
- 1 to 3 tablespoons light or regular soy sauce or fish sauce plus more for serving, if desired
- 1 large egg beaten
- 1 scallion white and green parts, chopped
- Fine sea salt
Make the quick jalapeño garlic vinegar (optional)
- In a small jar, combine all the ingredients, screw on the lid, and shake to combine. Let it sit for 15 minutes. (You can keep the vinegar for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator.)
Make the fried rice
- In a medium bowl, stir the rice to break up any clumps. Set the bowl of rice and all remaining ingredients near the stovetop, as this recipe comes together quickly.
- In a large skillet or wok (you want something nonstick, carbon-steel, or cast-iron) over high heat, warm 1 tablespoon fat. When the fat just begins to shimmer, add the garlic and stir-fry until aromatic, 10 to 15 seconds.
- Add the leftovers and cook, stirring, until warmed through, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the rice and stir-fry until everything is completely combined and heated through, about 2 minutes more. Slowly dribble 1 tablespoon soy or fish sauce (or a combination) over the rice and toss quickly. Taste and, if desired, add more soy or fish sauce.
- Use your spoon to push the rice to the edge of the skillet or wok to create a well in the middle at least 4 inches (10 cm) wide. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon fat to the well and pour in the egg. Quickly stir-fry to scramble the egg and then gently stir to combine the rice with the egg. Add the scallion and stir-fry just until the scallion has softened, about 30 seconds more. Remove from the heat, taste, and, if desired, season with salt, although chances are the fried rice will be plenty salty from the soy or fish sauce.
- Transfer the fried rice to a serving plate or shallow bowl. Serve with small bowls of additional soy or fish sauce on the side along with the jalapeño garlic vinegar, if desired.
No Leftovers Fried Rice VariationThe author of this recipe refers to it as “Use-It-Up Fried Rice” in terms of its usefulness in putting leftovers on the table in a novel manner. But you don’t have to have leftovers to make it. Instead, when you warm the fat, first stir-fry any combination of raw meat, seafood, or fresh or frozen veggies until cooked through, adding a few drops of soy or fish sauce, if desired. Then add the garlic and stir-fry for 10 to 15 seconds. Add the rice and continue as directed.
Bacon Fried Rice VariationWhy not?!
Before making the fried rice, fry 2 or 3 slices of chopped bacon over medium-high heat until crisp. Proceed with the recipe, using the rendered fat in the skillet for the stir-fry instead of oil or butter. Keep the bacon in the skillet as you fry the rice or, if you prefer, remove it after it crisps and save it as a garnish.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
This versatile fried rice recipe is a weeknight winner! Extra points for using up extras languishing in the fridge that might otherwise have been wasted.
I used raw chicken breast, broccoli and shredded carrots. I added fish sauce while frying and served with soy sauce as optional. We ended up eating this as a main dish with some of us adding a fried egg on top along with some hot sauce.
As there are only 3 of us, there were leftovers that reheated beautifully in a skillet. I did a few variations adding fresh grated ginger (I keep it in the freezer so it’s almost powdery) one time and last night I started by heating a little water with a 1 1/2 teaspoons miso before adding the leftovers.
Here’s a quick and easy recipe that has plenty of flexibility and also serves as a nice reminder about a leftover option that reads like a planned meal. I used leftover brown rice, peanut oil, a leftover marinated tofu salad that contained shiitake mushrooms, fresh spinach, and soy sauce. I was happy at the author’s suggestion to omit the egg, since I was cooking for folks that included a non-egg eater. There was still plenty of richness due to the mushrooms. I let the garlic go the full 15 seconds, and stir fried the tofu and spinach a little longer than two minutes because the spinach was fresh and not leftover.
It seemed to make sense to me to add it here, rather than to pre-cook it as suggested in the section of notes about using raw ingredients. I let the rice cook for the full recommended 2 minutes. I felt the scallion needed to go more than 10 to 15 seconds, so I let it go till it seemed softened and appropriately textured to fit with the rest of the cooked ingredients. To my palate, no additional salt was needed, as the leftover tofu already was seasoned and I had used soy sauce.
This may be the fastest dinner I have ever made! What a great way to use up leftovers and turn them into a new dinner. Have everything ready to go—it literally comes together instantly.
The great thing about this dish is that you don’t have to be too fussy about measuring anything. Throw in whatever meat or vegetables you have in the fridge! My fried rice included leftover basmati rice, bacon, rotisserie chicken, and a mixture of frozen vegetables (chopped carrots, corn, peas) all cooked in bacon fat that I kept in the fridge from the weekend’s breakfast. I seasoned it with Bragg’s Liquid Aminos (I just kept drizzling until it was seasoned to my taste, 2 to 3 tablespoons) and I also gave it a light sprinkle of fish sauce (about 1 teaspoon). The mixture of the two seasonings were delicious!
I had two chances to make this and each fried rice dish had a unique and fresh flavor which the different additions shaped. My first version was vegan (right up until the addition of the fish sauce) and the second more of a carnivores special. Both worked. The jalapeño sauce is brilliant and a light hand with the fish sauce is just right. These seasonings kept the result clear and surprisingly lively, with the Vietnamese approach a bit different than my more frequent Chinese-inspired versions.
Using Gaba (sprouted) rice and a combination of celery and five-spice-braised firm tofu with a small red baby bell pepper as a colorful and slightly sweet accent. No egg. The tofu provided all the protein we needed. I used avocado oil formulated for high temperatures. Served alone as a light dinner.
Using Jasmine rice cooked with vegetable broth. By cooking a few ounces of bacon sliced into batons, I had enough fat in the pan to do most of the cooking. After the bacon crisped, I removed it and increased the heat, adding sliced asparagus and shiitake mushrooms. I added a teaspoon or two of avocado oil to the center when I added the egg, and tossed the bacon back in at the end. This was a supporting side for grilled chicken.
All of this comes together so quickly that it makes the planning of your mise en place especially rewarding and helps set up calm and quick cooking. I almost always cook extra rice knowing that fried rice will work into the dinner sometime soon.
I was totally surprised at how effective the jalapeño vinegar mixture worked, it help beautifully for 2 to 3 days and will be a regular condiment from now on. For our own nutritional needs, I reduced the amount of rice by half and found it worked perfectly with the full amount of vegetables and protein.
An effortless success on the cheap—what more could a home cook ask for on a weeknight? This fried rice is definitely a great “guideline recipe” to have on hand. The fried rice was tasty (flavored with soy sauce and my leftover veggies were sautéed mustard greens and roasted carrots) and the texture was light and fluffy. I loved hearing the soy sauce sizzle and the simple technique of cooking the egg in the center of the pan (I had always cooked the egg separately and added it back into the fried rice).
The timing for each step was spot on too—my companion served as the official timer as I cooked and we coasted right through the end in just over 10 minutes. The vinegar added a little zing but the fried rice was perfectly satisfying without it. I did add another tablespoon soy sauce at the end.
Fried rice is a dish that the whole family likes and everyone knows how to prepare. My son once tried to prepare the recipe with freshly cooked rice, and the result was disastrous—a very moist rice that tasted good but didn’t have the right consistency. Then he learned one of the secrets of preparing fried rice: always use cold, dry rice that had been cooked in advance.
I used cooked rice made a day in advance and cooked fresh ingredients: pork, cabbage, carrots, and red pepper. I used 2 tablespoons peanut oil and 1 teaspoon sesame oil and 1 tablespoon soy sauce and 1 teaspoon fish sauce. I served it with the quick vinegar.
Sometimes I also add, along with the soy sauce, some sweet and sour sauce. As a topping, I add nuts like almonds or cashews. I also served it with the quick chile garlic vinegar sauce as I love its strong acid taste.
Originally published February 01, 2021