Recipe Spotlight

How to Make the Best Fried Rice (When You Don’t Have Leftover Rice)

Fried rice is best made with old rice. Got none? We’ll show you our genius method to replicate leftover rice.

Published May 22, 2023.

There are few dishes that are made better with leftover ingredients, but fried rice is one of them. Not only is it a great way to use up the odds and ends of leftover vegetables and proteins, it’s actually better to use day-old white rice. In fact, it’s critical.

Unlike freshly cooked rice, which forms soft, mushy clumps when stir-fried, chilled leftover white rice undergoes a process called retrogradation, in which the starch molecules form crystalline structures that make the grains firm enough to withstand the second round of cooking. (It’s the same process that firms up leftover pasta.) That process gives white rice a dry, firm texture that would be disappointing in other rice dishes but is perfect for fried rice.

So what do you do when you want great fried rice but don’t have leftover rice?

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There’s no reliable way to speed up the process of retrogradation (believe us, we tried everything), but the Cook's Illustrated test cooks found a workaround while developing a recipe for Nasi Goreng: making Faux Leftover Rice by cooking it in a way that results in the texture of day-old white rice but doesn’t require overnight refrigeration.

Here are the steps we took to do it, so you can make fried rice with fresh rice.

How to Use Fresh Rice In Fried Rice

1. Rinse rice: Rinsing the rice under cold water until the water runs clear removes excess starch from the grains.

2. Sauté in oil: Heat some oil in a large saucepan and then add rice and stir to coat the grains with oil. This forms a greasy barrier around each grain.

3. Add less water than normal: The standard 3:2 ratio of water to rice saturates the grains too much, but ⅓ cup less liquid in the mix results in ideal texture.

pouring water into ricepouring water into ricecovering cooked rice with a dish towel and pot lid

4. Cook pilaf-style: Bring the water to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until all the liquid is absorbed. 

5. Let rest: Off heat, remove the lid and place a dish towel folded in half over the saucepan; replace the lid and let stand until the rice is just tender. Adding a dish towel under the lid will help absorb any excess moisture.

6. Let cool: Spread cooked rice onto a rimmed baking sheet and let it cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. (Spreading the rice on a baking sheet helps it cool more rapidly to room temperature.) Transfer the sheet to the refrigerator and let the rice chill for 20 minutes.

spreading rice out on a sheet panstirring fried rice

At this point, the rice is ready to be turned into fried rice. It should be dry with minimal clumps. If there are any large clumps, break them up before adding the rice to the skillet and continue to break up smaller clumps as you stir-fry.

It may seem like an extra step, but we promise it's worth it. Using leftover white rice—or this Faux Leftover Rice—is truly the key to superlative fried rice.

(And if you’re wondering about brown rice, you can go ahead and use freshly cooked in fried rice. The bran layer prevents freshly cooked brown rice grains from releasing their starch and clumping together.)

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