Fridge-foraged fried rice topped with an egg
When our two sons first started cooking for themselves, they’d often text or call me for advice. I came up with two basic recipe methods that were inexpensive, flexible and quick. One was a Mexican-style rice and bean casserole, and the other a boilerplate for Asian stir-fry or fried rice.
The bonus is that both meals can swallow up all manner of bits and bobs that tend to get lost in the back of the fridge. Cutting food waste is always a good idea. These days it’s an even better one.
This fried rice was inspired by writer and chef Tamar Adler’s recipe for Thai fried rice in her book An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace (Scribner, 2011). I love the funk of fish sauce, but soy sauce works fine if you're not a fan (like my boys) or don’t have it on hand.
Once you’ve got everything chopped, the fried rice is super quick to pull together — so quick, in fact, you’ll want the ingredients laid out ready to go before you turn on the stove.
The only thing that you need to plan ahead is having cold cooked rice, the kind you might have left over from Asian takeout. Or, if you’re making rice for another meal, cook extra. You can store it in the fridge for a few days, or even freeze and then thaw it.
Do not even think about making this dish with freshly cooked rice. It will be a dismal failure. As Adler writes, “Thank heavens for the occasional, calculable superiority of old things.”
The vegetables can be pretty much anything you have on hand. I especially like to use stems or leaves that might normally get tossed. Thinly slice kale stems or broccoli stems, or the inner stalks and leaves of celery; ribbon up radish or beet greens. (If those greens are a little limp, soak them in cool water for an hour or so and you'll be amazed by how they come back to life.)
Ingredients ready for fried rice
I’ve made this with finely diced ham, chicken, smoked tofu — even leftover fried calamari. You can scramble a couple eggs into the rice after it’s crisped up, but my favorite way to finish it off is with a runny-yolked fried egg, a shower of chopped green herbs and something crunchy. Roasted peanuts are perfect, but crushed potato chips are also a surprisingly great option.
Adler does not include potato chips in her recipe, but I think she might agree that using up those bits stuck at the bottom of the bag is the epitome of cooking with economy and grace.
Fridge-Foraged Fried Rice
Makes 2 servings (can be multiplied, but fry rice in batches so it gets crispy)
- 2 to 3 bacon strips, thinly sliced, optional
- About 3 tablespoons peanut oil, divided (sub: any vegetable oil)
- 2 cups sliced vegetables
- 1 medium shallot, thinly sliced (sub: 1/4 cup sliced onion or scallions)
- 3 cloves garlic, sliced lengthwise
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, plus more to taste
- 2 to 3 teaspoons Thai fish sauce, divided (sub: soy sauce or Asian stir-fry sauce)
- 2 cups cold cooked rice
- 1 lime (sub: bottled lime juice or rice vinegar to taste)
- 3/4 teaspoon sugar
- Salt, to taste
- Egg per person, optional (or any leftover cooked meats, seafood, tofu or seitan, diced small)
- 1/2 chopped cilantro (sub: fresh green herb such as mint, basil, parsley)
- Chopped roasted peanuts, optional (sub: toasted sesame seeds, packaged fried onion rings or even crumbled potato chips)
- Prepare and measure out all ingredients. Turn on your kitchen fan.
- If using bacon, cook it over medium heat in a large flat-bottomed sauté pan or wok just until crisp. Remove bacon to a plate lined with paper towel. Add enough oil to pan to measure about 1 tablespoon total fat, including bacon fat if you cooked bacon.
- Increase heat to medium high. When a drop of water sizzles in the oil, add the sturdiest vegetables (I started with kale stems and cabbage) and cook 3 to 4 minutes, stirring. Add remaining vegetables (for me, this was sliced radishes and mushrooms) along with shallots, garlic and crushed red pepper. Cook, stirring a few times, another 4 to 5 minutes until vegetables are cooked to your liking. Splash in about 1 teaspoon of the fish sauce and cook 1 more minute. Remove vegetables to a plate.
- Set pan back over medium-high heat and add remaining 2 tablespoons oil. When a drop of water sizzles in the oil, add rice, spreading it out to cover the pan. Let it cook without stirring for 2 to 3 minutes, then add 1 teaspoon fish sauce and turn rice over to crisp up as much of it as possible. Cook another 2 to 3 minutes.
- If using eggs, while rice is cooking, set a frying pan over medium heat with a little oil and fry eggs.
- When rice is crispy, if using other meats or proteins, toss those in and warm through. Then return vegetables and bacon, if used, to the pan. Sprinkle in sugar and a good squeeze of lime juice and toss to combine. Taste and add more fish sauce, lime juice or a little salt if desired.
- Serve fried rice topped with eggs, if using. Shower with chopped herbs, peanuts, another sprinkle of crushed red pepper flakes, and serve with lime wedges.
Got cooking questions? Feel free to email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.