100 Techniques

Technique #52: Make Fried Rice without Starting a Day Ahead

Fried rice is an essential ingredient for crowd-pleasing leftovers: so why wait 24 hours?

Published Sept. 10, 2023.

This is Technique #52 from our 100 Techniques Every Home Cook Can Master.

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While we frequently have odds and ends of leftover vegetables and proteins in our refrigerator, we seldom have a batch of leftover white rice.

And planning in advance to make it a day ahead turns fried rice into a dish requiring more forethought than we’re willing to invest.

Using freshly cooked rice, though, makes for a disastrously soggy mess.

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Why Do I Need Day-Old Rice, Anyway?

Chilled, dried rice is critical for making great fried rice. Unlike freshly cooked rice, which forms soft, mushy clumps when stir-fried, chilled leftover 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. 

How To Dry Out Fresh Rice

To hasten this crucial step, we set out to mimic overnight refrigeration without having to do it. We tried the freezer, but the rice cooked up mushy. It turns out that once rice freezes, retrogradation halts, since freezing prevents the starch from crystallizing.

We couldn’t figure out a way to speed up retrogradation, so we focused on cooking drier rice to begin with. Rinsing the raw white rice to remove excess starch and then briefly sautéing it in oil forms a greasy barrier around each grain before adding the water.

The standard 3:2 ratio of water to rice saturates the grains too much, but 1⁄3 cup less liquid in the mix results in ideal texture. 

After briefly resting the pot on the counter with a dish towel under the lid (to absorb excess moisture), spread the rice on a baking sheet to help it cool more rapidly to room temperature, and pop the sheet in the fridge for just 20 minutes.

The resulting fried rice will be ideally dry and the clumps of rice minimal. 

Clumps of cooked rice drying on a baking sheet
Cooked rice drying on a baking sheet

Modify the Method for Brown Rice

For brown rice, you can skip this step. Because of its outer bran layer, it holds up when cooked aggressively in plenty of boiling water, pasta-style, until soft. The bran layer prevents freshly cooked brown rice grains from releasing their starch and clumping together, so you can use freshly cooked brown rice in fried rice.


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Step-by-Step: How to Fast-Track Day-Old Rice

To get that perfect day-old rice without waiting 24 hours, the process is actually fairly simple. Just rinse and drain fresh, raw rice and sauté in oil. Add a little less water than you normally would to the pan, and bring to the boil before covering and simmering. Off heat, add a folded dish towel under the lid of the pan and let the rice stand. Finally, spread the rice on a baking sheet and let it cool.

Follow our step-by-step guide below.

1. Rinse 

Rinse rice under cold water until water runs clear. Place strainer over bowl and let drain.

2. Sauté

Heat oil in large saucepan, add rice, and stir to coat grains with oil. Add water (less than you normally would) and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until all liquid is absorbed.

3. Add Dish Towel

Off heat, remove lid and place dish towel folded in half over saucepan; replace lid. Let stand until rice is just tender.

4. Cool 

Spread cooked rice onto rimmed baking sheet and let cool on wire rack for 10 minutes. Transfer sheet to refrigerator and let rice chill for 20 minutes.

5. Stir Fry

Break up any large clumps before adding rice to skillet. Continue to break up smaller clumps as you stir-fry.

Recipes That Use This Technique

You can use this technique for the dishes below, and enjoy top-quality fried rice as soon as you're craving it—not a whole day later.


Faux Leftover Rice

This recipe replicates the texture of leftover rice to make fried rice recipes easier than ever.
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Thai-Style Curried Chicken Fried Rice

For fried rice that is light and flavorful rather than sodden and greasy, cook the ingredients in batches and forget about your fear of frying.
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Fried Brown Rice with Pork and Shrimp

We figured out a single substitution that both eliminates the need for leftover rice and makes the dish less greasy.
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