Fried Rice: Breakfast of Champions

I’ve found over the years that Americans have an incredibly limited palate for breakfast foods. They tend to be sweet, heavy, and carb-forward. While there is nothing wrong with those things (I’m not here to yuck your yum!), I spent a lot of the earlier parts of my life skipping The Most Important Meal of the Day™ because none of those things interested me.

In the past decade, I’ve started researching more about what folks eat for breakfast around the world, and the idea of what could be considered a “breakfast food item” exploded for me. Soup for breakfast? Oh yeah! Congee? A staple! Kimchi? You better believe it!

In regards to what makes something a breakfast food, my basic belief is that if a meal has an egg in it, it can be served for breakfast. (I’ve discussed my love of pesto and rice with a fried egg before.) So about a year ago, fried rice started becoming a breakfast staple in my home. Not only is it delicious, it’s a great way to use up the leftovers and tiny bits of items you have hanging around in your fridge.

The Ingredients

The main things that you will need are:

  • Rice
  • Egg
  • Green onions
  • Oil

For the rice, it MUST BE AT LEAST A DAY OLD. This I cannot overstate this. In order for the rice grains to properly separate for fried rice, the rice must have begun to dry out a little in the refrigerator. Two-day old rice is ideal.

The egg will help to bind the rice as well as give the dish a more savory, unctuous flavor.

Green onions can be replaced with chives, green garlic, or garlic scapes. Don’t try to use white or red onions for this part of the process.

For the oil, I prefer vegetable oil, however, many folks will sub in sesame oil at this point in the process. Because this is a high-temperature dish, I tend to be wary of this because sesame oil has a lower smoke point.

You can also add any other items to this as well. (The above picture includes baby bok choy, Thai chiles, cilantro, green garlic stem, king oyster mushroom, and leftover fried tofu.)

The Process

The process for this comes from this video, which utterly changed how I made fried rice. Gao’s process for when and what to season are fundamental for the most flavorful dish.

You’ll start by prepping your ingredients because this dish moves very quickly once it’s started. You’ll want to:

  • Whisk your egg(s)
  • Chop any vegetables
  • Get out your chilled rice
  • Have a plate ready to move cooked egg on to
  • Heat your wok (or pan) to High-Medium

Once you’re done with your mise en place, add oil to your wok. Heat until it is just about to start smoking then add your egg and a pinch of salt. Heat until it’s about 2/3 of the cooked. You can move it around a little, but the egg should be partially runny uncooked. This uncooked part will help the rice stick together.

Remove the egg onto the plate. Add more oil to the wok.

Here you will add your scallions and whatever other items you’re planning on including. To this, you’ll want to add your salt. Since your rice is likely unsalted, this is the moment where you’re going to make the flavor in your dish pop. Add just a little more than you think you need depending on how many servings you are making.

I also add a sprinkle of MSG at this point too, because MSG is my secret ingredient in everything.

Saute all of the items until warmed through. Then add the rice, and break apart so that all of the rice is back into individual grains. (Note the picture above is when I’ve just first added the rice.

Now add the egg back to your dish so that it finishes cooking through. Keep working it with a spatula to keep the rice grains from sticking together too much.

When warmed through, remove the fried rice from the heat.

The Toppings

There are so many things that you can top your fried rice with, it’s hard to know where to begin. You’ll want to think about flavor and texture and, obviously, what you have in the house. But here are a few suggestions:

Herbal

  • Green onion tops
  • Cilantro
  • Thai basil

Saucy

  • Soy sauce
  • Sesame oil (or similarly perilla oil or hot sesame oil)
  • Fish sauce
  • Chile crisp
  • Vinegar (esp. white cane vinegar)

Crunchy

  • Fried shallots
  • Fried garlic
  • Roasted seaweed
  • Fried SPAM

Add as much or as little as you like for your palate. Try out new combos. Use it as an excuse to break out of your breakfast comfort zone and embrace the umami.

Now that you know more about the process, cozy up tonight to Season 1, Episode 7 of David Chang’s Ugly Delicious on Netflix. This is one of the best episodes of food television out there, debunking a lot racist myths that go along with Chinese food in America. (Bonus: They go to one of my favorite Knoxville restaurants, Asia Kitchen!)

Also check out some excellent fried rice recipes from Maangchi, Peachy Adarne, and Ming Tsai!

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