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How to Cook Rice in a Wok

The video below shows you that anyone can cook rice in a wok!

Fried rice is simple to make using a wok if you follow a few simple rules. It is a great way to use up leftovers. Couple that with the rules on making fried rice, and you get a delicious meal.

There are many styles of fried rice. In China, seasoning is achieved with a little salt, soy sauce (or other sauce), along with small quantities of aromatics and protein. 

Great fried rice will have individual grains that barely clump together when lifted up with a spoon or chopsticks.

Below we set out 12 simple rules to ensure you make the best-fried rice using a wok.

Rule #1: Use the Correct Rice

The perfect fried rice dish is all about texture. Recipes typically recommend Chinese-style medium-grain rice. However, Thai-style versions opt for fragrant jasmine rice. Japanese-style fried rice can use short-grain sushi rice.

When we did our testing, it is important to note that we did not use any wild, brown, or black rice.

All the rice used made great fried rice. However, we did find that longer-grained varieties were quite troublesome.

They fell apart when we stir-fried them and lacked the fullness that leads to its chewy-tender texture. So basically, any medium-grain type works.

Here are some basic tips for frying the rice:

Sushi Rice

This is a very short grain that tends to be stickier and starchier than medium-grain rice. The nature of the grain makes it a little difficult to stir-fry without getting clumps. That said, the resulting texture is very chewy, which some people like.

White Rice, Medium-grain 

This is what you are most likely to find in Chinese restaurants. These grains were the easiest to work with. Also, as they are unscented, they are more versatile.

Jasmine Rice

This is a medium-grain Thai rice that has just the right balance of stickiness and individual grains. The stickiness aids ease of eating and the individual grains means a superior texture. Jasmine rice adds a unique aroma, so you should only use this for light stir-fries recipes where its flavor can be enjoyed.

Rule #2: Plan in Advance

These are some recommendations for rice treatment before you fry it:

Fanned rice

Cook the rice and then spread it over a plate. Place the plate of rice under a fan for an hour, but not so close that the rice blows away. The rice will be dry and not stale, which is precisely what you need.

Fresh-cooked rice

You can spread the rice out onto a plate when it is still hot. Leave it there for a few minutes, which allows some of the surface moisture to evaporate. This makes an excellent fried rice dish.

Day-old rice

Day-old rice has a tendency to clump. Break it up by hand before you stir-fry it. Being internally drier than fresh rice, you have to stir-fry it faster to ensure it doesn’t get too hard. But after all, is said and done, if you have day-old rice, it will make great fried rice.

Rule #3: Rinse the Rice

The excess starch causes the rice to clump, which is a no-no in fried rice terms. If you cook rice from raw grain to make fried rice, make sure you rinse off any excess starch beforehand. 

While agitating the rice, place the rice under a cold tap for 30 seconds and rinse it thoroughly.

Rule #4: Break Up the Rice

If you use rice that has been able to clump, break it up prior to putting it in the wok. This will ensure that your rice separates back into individual grains, and it does so without breaking the rice or crushing it.

We wondered whether or not oiling rice when it was cold before using it would work well. It doesn’t. Cold oil didn’t spread as well as hot. So if you do this, you will end up using a lot more oil than you really need. We found that it was best to break the rice up by hand and only use the oil in the wok.

When you have broken up the rice, you’re ready to get cooking. Fried rice dishes are difficult to overcook; therefore, they are easier to cook than a traditional stir fry. That said, the process is still fast-moving, so make sure that you have the other ingredients on hand before you turn your stove on.

Rule #5: Using a Wok

Woks were not originally designed for use on a Western-style gas, but using their rings makes them far superior pans for any stir-frying than the saucepan or skillet. 

A wok offers alternative heating zones, which allow you to move ingredients away from the hot center to add new ones. It also makes flipping and tossing a snap. This is critical if you want that smoky flavor from the combustion and vaporization of oil.

We use a flat-bottomed wok, so we never worry about tipping it off the burner accidentally. Ours was not expensive and is made of carbon steel. Carbon steel will darken to a shiny, slick, nonstick black finish over time.

Here is the flat-bottomed wok I would recommend. This wok has been hammered 36,000 times and is the best of the best in my opinion.

What we have found though is that woks work best on gas stoves, where the flame will rise to heat the sides of the wok and not just the base. 

If your stovetop has a heating coil or is an induction one, we recommend a flat base wok, a cast-iron skillet or even a heavy nonstick one. The rice will not have that smoky flavor, but will still taste great.

Rule #6: Hot, Hot, Hot.

This is where a lot of people fall down. The pan must be hot enough, and you shouldn’t cook too much rice at once. You will end up scraping out a clump of mushy rice from the center of the wok.

Cooking fried rice is a similar process to searing beef chunks for a stew. First, you need to make sure that your pan is piping hot before adding the rice. The exterior should get a chance to brown and also get some texture. 

This needs to happen before the rice emits too much internal moisture. If it releases moisture during cooking, this creates steam which steams your food rather than frying it.

Chinese restaurants tend to use jet-engine wok burners making this process pretty simple. Even larger batches of rice sear well. A Western burner typically has 10% of the heat output of a wok burner. To compensate for this deficit, you can use one of two strategies.

  1. Heat: Add Avocado oil to your wok. Heat up the wok with the oil in before adding any of the rice. Don’t forget, get it hot, hot, hot!
  2. Batches: Add no more than a cup of rice at one time to your wok. Stir it and toss it immediately and do not stop. It needs to be nicely coated in oil. The rice needs to take on a golden-brown color a little like toast so that there is a tight skin covering each grain. This will take a little longer than you think, so be patient and continue to stir and toss. Once the first batch is cooked, transfer it to a plate or bowl and leave it there. When you have prepared all the batches of rice, put them all back into the wok.

Rule #7: Light Add-Ins

Think about a pasta dish. It is really about the pasta and not the sauces or garnishes. The same goes for rice; it is all about the rice. The add-ins should just be flavor enhancers and not the star attraction of your dish. So keep your add-ins simple. 

We tend to use some diced onion, a little carrot, and minced garlic. When we add meat, we like to use pre-cooked meats like shredded chicken or diced ham. 

When we have no pre-cooked meat, we sear the raw meat in the center of the wok prior to adding the other add-ins. Once they have cooked a little, toss them together with the rice.

Rule #8: A little Sauce

There are fried rice recipes that require large quantities of hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, or soy sauce

The danger here is that you can add back to much moisture. We used a teaspoon of soy sauce and one teaspoon of sesame oil in our recipes. 

This is enough to make your dish fragrant, but not enough to overpower the flavor of your meal. You can use any Asian sauce – it doesn’t have to be soy. The only requirement is that it needs to suit your palette.

Rule #9: Season With Some Salt

One teaspoon of soy sauce will add salt to your dish. This will not be enough to season the entire contents of your wok. Instead of adding more soy, add salt, and this will not add excess moisture. 

It also will not distract from other, more subtle flavors in your dish.

Rule #10: Adding an Egg

You can skip this rule if you don’t want to add an egg. But if you do want to add an egg, read on.

This is the simplest way we add eggs to fried rice. Move the rice to the sides of the wok. Add a splash of oil to the base of your wok. Crack the egg straight into the base of the pan. Scramble it, avoiding the rice. 

You can use the top of a spatula to break down the egg into smaller pieces. Once done, toss the pieces in with the rice, ensuring even distribution.

Rule #11: Adding Fresh Greens

Again, if you are not using fresh greens, you can skip this rule. But if you want to add greens, please read on. Fresh greens can be anything from sliced scallions to chopped cilantro, mint, basil, or chives, or green peas. 

We like using frozen peas. Just pop those peas in and cook them through, distributing them evenly into your mix.

Rule #12: Tossing

This last step is basically about giving everything a few more good tosses and flips. Your end result should be that every grain of rice is separate from the others, and anyone spoonful should have an even distribution of all of your add-ins.

These rules will help you make a fried rice dish that is very tasty. It will taste like rice and not just something lumpy that carries sauce into your mouth. Make fried rice the way it should be made.

For more information on woks go to my YouTube Channel

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