Is Leftover Rice Really the Key to Great Fried Rice?

published Feb 3, 2016
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(Image credit: Kelli Foster)

How much of a difference does using leftover rice really make when cooking fried rice? How much does it affect the cooking process, and more importantly, is there really a noticeable difference in taste? I decided to find out by cooking two batches of fried rice side by side — one made with day-old white rice and one with freshly cooked white rice.

The Original Tip

Really good fried rice is characterized by having distinct, chewy grains, and the best way to achieve this texture is by using cold leftover rice.

This widely talked-about tip suggests cooking the rice at least one day ahead of time and refrigerating (or even freezing) until you’re ready to cook the fried rice. This extra step helps to dry the grains out to give your fried rice a good texture.

(Image credit: Kelli Foster)

The Testing Method

In testing this tip, I wanted to compare how using leftover versus freshly cooked rice affected the cooking process, as well as the taste and texture of the cooked fried rice.

While you can use a variety of different types of rice to make fried rice, I stuck with long-grain white rice. I cooked one batch of rice, and then stored it in the refrigerator for the next day.

The following day, I cooked a second batch of white rice, using the same cooking method. I planned to follow The Kitchn’s recipe for fried rice, and prepared enough ingredients for two batches.

I cooked the first batch of fried rice using the cold leftover rice that was cooked the previous day. Immediately following that, I cooked a second batch of fried rice using the freshly cooked white rice.

(Image credit: Kelli Foster)

The Results

I’ve cooked fried rice using day-old rice (when I had the foresight to plan ahead) and other times using freshly cooked rice, but never both at the same time in a head-to-head test, so it was really interesting to see and taste each batch side by side. While it was slight, there was a noticeable difference between the fried rice cooked with leftover rice and the one made with freshly cooked rice.

The leftover rice already has an advantage at the start of cooking: It’s drier and less starchy, with a more firm texture compared to the freshly cooked rice. Even in the few minutes it cooked in the wok, the freshly cooked rice seemed to get gummier and more sticky than the batch cooked with the leftover rice, which kept its firm texture. This also carried through in the final plates of fried rice. The batch cooked with leftover rice was slightly more firm and had a better bite than the one made with freshly cooked rice, which turned out a little softer and more clumped together.

Final Notes

Even though the difference between using leftover and freshly cooked rice to make fried rice was slight, it was definitely noticeable. If you want to ensure you’re prepared when your craving for fried rice hits, your best bet is to make a pot of rice and then freeze it for later.