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Chinese Restaurant Rice: Leftovers Live Again

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Love Chinese food but hate to see those mounds of white rice leftover at the end of a restaurant meal?

White rice leftover from dinner at a Chinese restaurant can be the foundation of another meal.

I do too.  Usually, I take the rice home. Then, sometimes I use it with the leftover Chinese food, or I let it sit in the refrigerator until it is nice and dry, then I throw it out.

If this sounds familiar, here are some ideas on what to do with that rice (and no cans of mushroom soup or tuna are involved).  If anyone else has favorite leftover rice recipes, we’d love to hear about them.

First, rice freezes. Pack it into a freezer bag, push out air and freeze the rice. To rehabilitate it for another meal, add a little water to it, then steam it on the stove or put it in the microwave for a minute or slightly longer.  You can also pack it this way and keep it in the refrigerator for several days which is far better than storing it in that Styrofoam to-go box.

You can reheat the rice and serve it plain, but there are also some other ways to go.  Attached to this article is a recipe for Basic Fried Rice, the classic way to make use of leftover rice. The frying, the egg, the vegetables and/or meat, the dash of soy sauce and chopped green onions – all of these make the dish as tasty as it is popular. Restaurants often use a thicker soy sauce to flavor and color their rice. I like to add sautéed fresh garlic, as well as diced carrots and peas (and I will use frozen).

Spanish or Mexican Rice is usually made from scratch. The rice is fried lightly before it is cooked the rest of the way in a tomato-y broth.  I also like the little peas and sometimes carrots that come in the occasional Tex-Mex restaurant version.

You can get an approximate taste by sautéing onion and garlic, adding tiny peas, if you wish, and a pinch of Mexican oregano. Then, add the rice. Drain most of the liquid from a can of Ro*Tel and add it to the rice. Or, use another salsa. If it’s a particularly liquid salsa, add just enough to moisten and flavor the rice, not enough to make it soupy. Steam on top of the stove until the rice softens and absorbs the little bit of liquid. Top with a mixture of minced green onion and cilantro. To this rice you might also add bits of cooked chicken, shrimp or even carne asada.

I like Lemon Rice as a side to pan-fried or broiled fish, or baked chicken.  The bland rice will tend to hide the lemon’s acidity, while lemon zest will really bring in the lemony flavor. Add two teaspoons of lemon juice, a teaspoon of cooking oil and a teaspoon of lemon zest per cup of cooked rice. Steam until it is soft and well heated. Stir in chopped fresh parsley or fresh dill, add salt as needed.

Other variations:

Arancini: Cooked rice is mixed with lots of Parmigiano Reggiano and eggs, then seasoned with saffron and salt. Make rice balls the size of a small orange, bread them (by rolling in flour, dipping in beaten egg and rolling in breadcrumbs) and deep frying them. Simple.

An alternative: take a look at this more complex recipe for Arancini di Riso, that sounds delicious.

Curried Rice: Use curry powder or garam masala sparingly mixed into the rice, tasting as you go. Mix in a couple of tablespoonfuls of cream or half-and-half and steam the rice until it softens. Add mix-ins that appeal to you: salty minced peanuts, diced avocado, lightly toasted coconut, chopped parsley, chopped hard-cooked egg, cooked shrimp or chicken, sliced green onion, etc. Serve hot. (I wouldn’t claim this to be an authentic Indian dish, but it will taste good.)

Related SavorSA article:

How to make rice, Chinese style

Photos by Bonnie Walker

Bonnie Walker, SavorSA co-founder and editor, began cooking in restaurants in her teens, working her way up to sous chef in her twenties. After obtaining a B.S. degree in consumer food services, as well as a B.A. in journalism, she began her newspaper career on a police and courts beat at a daily newspaper in Northern Arizona . For more than 14 years she wrote food, wine and restaurant articles as a staffer for a San Antonio daily newspaper. She now is a freelance editor, culinary writer and pursues culinary travel as often as she can afford it.

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2 Responses to “Chinese Restaurant Rice: Leftovers Live Again”

  1. Pingo says:

    VAGHARELO BHAAT (authentic Indian fried rice)

    2 cups leftover white rice
    1 medium onion diced
    1 green chili cleaned and cut in thin rings
    1 large potato peeled and diced – optional
    1/2 cup frozen green peas – optional
    pinch of red crushed pepper or 1/2 teasp. red chili powder
    1/4 teasp. turmeric powder
    1/2 teasp. cumin seeds
    1/2 stick cinnamon
    2 Tbs. butter (3 Tbs. if using potato)

    Melt the butter. Add the spices and fry for a minute or so, until fragrant.
    Add onion and potato (if used) and fry on low until done (8 – 10 minutes).
    Add the green chili and fry for a few more minutes.
    Now add the rice and green peas (if used) and mix everything well until nice and hot. If you feel the rice are too dry, a few Tbs. water can be added at the end.
    Since the rice is already cooked and salted, no need to add more salt.

    This is an old family recipe carried down – often eaten as breakfast. Other families may have different versions.
    The amount of the spices can be adjusted to your taste. I usually add more.

    • Hi Pingo, and thank you so much! This (I know) is authentic and looks wonderful. I will add it to SavorSa’s recipe files soon. Sincerely, BW