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Chinese Restaurant Rice: Leftovers Live Again


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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Rice Rules at Pearl Paella Party



Waldy Malouf’s Paella is artfully arranged with seafood and vegetables on top.

It was a beautiful day for a cook-off Sunday and the Pearl Brewery, in front of the Culinary Institute of America, offered a perfect setting for the first ever Cocina de las Americas. The big event was a Paella Cook-Off.


Rene Fernandez of Azuca stirs rice into a paella that he made out of competition during Sunday’s paella cook-off.

When the flames under the huge paella pans were extinguished in the afternoon, judges chose their winners. First place went to chef and restaurateur Ben Ford, of Ford’s Filling Station in Culver City, CA. Peter Holt and crew from Lupe Tortilla Mexican Restaurant in Houston,  took second place and San Antonio chef, Jeffrey Balfour of Citrus, at the Valencia Hotel, took third.

There were as many imaginative takes on paella as there were teams — 16 in all. These included celebrity chefs Waldy Malouf of New York (Beacon and Waldy’s restaurants in New York City) and Ford. Each team drew long lines, as attendees waited patiently for tastes of the famous, saffron-laced Spanish rice dish.

SavorSA was there, too. The writers of this article admit they had a few minutes of high excitement when the chef we’d been assigned to help ran late. Michael Gilleto, chef of a private club in New Jersey, flew in Sunday and arrived in the nick of time, but not before his two nervous assistants had dashed off to the huge food pantry in the middle of the grounds to snatch up ingredients. If Gilleto didn’t make it, we figured we’d pinch hit and make our own paella.


Chef Michael Giletto plates his paella for judging.

Gilleto showed up, though, and we were off — slicing, dicing, killing lobsters, cutting up whole chickens, cleaning shrimp and dashing around looking for a few ingredients we’d missed during the first mad rush.

Gilleto liked a classic-style paella, one traditionally more about rice and olive oil than about masses of seafood, chicken, chorizo and more ingredients piled high. We were with him on that.

Along with the usual ingredients in the pantry we noticed bags of chopped pineapple, hoja santa plants (sometimes called the root beer plant), ancho chiles and more. We said “yes” to the ancho chiles, which Gilleto wanted to flavor the stock, but we all tacitly agreed “no” on the pineapple.

One crew decorated their paella with julienned carrots. Another crew had help from one of their member’s grandmother, who hailed from the northern principality of Asturias, Spain.


bout 1,000 people, including families, turned out to the first paella cook-off.

Shelley Grieshaber, culinary director at the Pearl Brewery and CIA graduate, made her way from table to table doing the “color” interviews for the day. Johnny Hernandez, chef and owner of Pearl’s upcoming La Gloria restaurant, and driving force behind the cook-off, alternated roles between host and trouble shooter.

“We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day,” said Grieshaber, who was excited at the success of the event.

San Antonio Food Bank culinary students were on hand to assist. Chef Rene Fernandez of Azuca made a huge paella prior to the contest to serve to the hungry masses. Other San Antonio chefs in the competition included Jason Dady, Dave Souter and Brian West, as well as a crew from the R.K. Group and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.


Ben Ford, right, shakes hands with a fellow chef after winning the paella cook-off.

Proceeds from ticket sales will be going toward scholarship opportunities at the CIA San Antonio to benefit local chefs.  A portion of proceeds will also go to the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Office of the Honorary Council to Spain for educational initiatives benefiting San Antonio students. H-E-B/Central Market were presenting sponsors of the community event, in partnership with the Culinary Institute of America.

It was a fun competition, and one we hope to see again next year.

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