Leftovers seldom get the credit they deserve. Some meals, of course, really do improve over time, but perhaps the best way to forever change the perception of meals past is to repurpose them. A lone baked chicken breast or an uneaten carton of takeout rice can lay the groundwork for an entirely new and pleasing meal—and save money and time in the process.
This flexible, flavorful recipe is healthier than the typical take-out version and is a convenient way to use the odds and ends that may be hiding in your refrigerator or freezer. One or two pieces of leftover chicken are not enough to feed most families, but this recipe will stretch them into a complete meal. And if you, like us, have marveled at how many containers of rice sit unopened after a favorite Asian takeout meal, consider them a windfall. You’re now halfway done with this tasty dish!
The use of frozen vegetables in this fried rice dish makes for quick work, as they need not be pre-cooked. What’s more, because they are flash frozen at the peak of ripeness, frozen veggies are as healthy as they are handy.
When really pinched for time, simply stop by a Chinese takeout restaurant on your way home and buy just a carton of plain rice–brown or white. This might sound silly, but I’ve done it. Sometimes, cutting out one step–in this case preparing the rice–is worth the dollar or two. And in terms of your wallet and waistline, you’ll still come out on top. That said, the texture of the fried rice dish will be better when starting with cold rice. Day-old rice is ideal.
We most definitely eat our fair share of leftovers, reheated and served just as they were the night before. And some meals really do taste better over time. But when the building blocks of one dinner can be easily transformed into something fresh and new, there’s good reason to cook a little extra the first time around.
Yields 4 regular portions or 2 hearty portions.
- 1 1/2 teaspoons plus 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided use
- 2-3 eggs (see notes*)
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce (low-sodium and/or gluten-free, as needed)
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1-2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
- 1 1/2 cups mixed frozen vegetables, thawed (peas, corn, chopped broccoli, carrots, bell pepper, edamame, or an Asian blend)
- 2 green onions, sliced
- 2 cups (approximately 8-10 ounces) chopped cooked chicken (may use rotisserie or substitute shrimp, pork, or even steak)
- 2 cups cooked and cooled rice (brown or white; see notes**)
- Optional topping: toasted sesame seeds or chopped peanuts
Whisk the eggs in a small dish. In another small dish, stir together the soy sauce and the sesame oil; set aside. Heat 1 1/2 teaspoons of olive oil in a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. (If you need to cook chicken to use in this dish, you may cook it at this point, remove to a plate, wipe out the pan, and then add an extra 1 1/2 teaspoons of olive oil before proceeding.) Pour in the eggs, and scramble until cooked but still a little glossy. Remove to a plate and chop.
Increase the heat to high, and heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in the same pan. Add the garlic and ginger, and sauté for 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add the cooked and cooled rice, spreading it into an even layer and pressing it down with a spatula. Sear the rice for about 2 minutes or until lightly toasted. Flip, press the mixture into an even layer again, and sear for 1-2 minutes more.
Add the mixed vegetables and green onions. Top with the chopped chicken. Before stirring, pour the soy sauce mixture over the chicken. (This allows for more even distribution of the sauce before it hits the more absorbent rice.) Then stir to fully incorporate and cook for about 2 more minutes or until all the ingredients are heated through, stirring in the eggs during the final minute. Remove from the heat and garnish with sesame seeds or peanuts, if desired.
- *I used to make this recipe with two eggs, but everyone in my family wanted more egg. Now I use three. If you love the pieces of egg lurking amidst the rice in this perennial take-out favorite, I recommend using the higher number as well.
- **I prefer long grain rice in this dish, and day-old rice works best. If cooking the rice the same day as preparing this recipe, spread the cooked rice on a dinner plate and refrigerate for several hours. After several hours, cover until ready to make the fried rice. This will allow the rice to dry out and firm up a bit. Optionally, a pint container of leftover takeout rice is ideal for this recipe. When preparing at home, 2/3 cup of dry rice will yield 2 cups cooked.
- ***Feel free to be flexible with the vegetables according to preference and what you have on hand. If you have no green onions, omit them or sauté some chopped red or yellow onion before adding the garlic and ginger. When I have a fresh red pepper, I finely chop a quarter to a half-cup and stir that in along with the thawed veggies. The uncooked bell pepper adds to the color and texture of the dish. If you prefer, however, you could sauté this optional veggie before adding the garlic and ginger. The same applies if using other fresh vegetables instead of frozen and thawed.
You may also enjoy:
The three ingredient marinade you’ll return to again and again. Use it on chicken–then add the leftovers to the fried rice.
Cauliflower Fried Rice — You must try to believe… absolutely delicious!
Baked Cheddar Broccoli Rice Cups — a favorite of The Fountain Avenue Kitchen readers
Curried Chicken Rice Salad — a reader recipe that my family adores