Ken's Fried Rice
November 16, 2023
Ken’s Fried Rice (RICE IS LIFE Cookbook pgs. 68-71)
Ken Lee and Caryl Levine are the Co-Founders of Lotus Foods, beginning their mission in 1995 as a way to celebrate good food while also making a difference in the world. Their first cookbook, Rice is Life, complete with 65 recipes, showcases rice in easy-to-cook meals from around the world. The book shows how rice plays a part in uplifting people across the globe.
Growing up, Ken’s father and his four brothers owned a Chinese restaurant in Providence, Rhode Island, and throughout most of his life, he enjoyed his family’s delicious food. When Ken was about to move to Houston for a job, he realized he didn’t know how to cook any of the dishes his father made so he asked his dad to teach him how to cook fried rice.
"I suspect that for Chinese immigrants or those living abroad, making fried rice is a way to feel comforted and connected by creating something from nothing but leftovers or whatever is available at the time. It's the perfect thing to cook using leftover rice along with whatever else is sitting in your refrigerator to put together a simple meal or side dish."
"It dawned on me that I had no idea how to cook the food that I enjoyed throughout my life...It was the first thing that my dad taught me about cooking in a wok."
Ken's father showed him how to prepare each ingredient with respect for its individuality so it would cook properly and contribute to a harmonious whole. “I realized later that he was teaching me about life, about the importance of blending in with people, of accommodating different kinds of conversations that are inclusive,” says Ken.
“I realized later that he was teaching me about life, about the importance of blending in with people, of accommodating different kinds of conversations that are inclusive.”
Tips for Fried Rice
Use day-old rice if it’s white: Fried rice should be fluffy, dry, and a little bit crispy. The best way to achieve that texture with white rice is to use day-old rice that’s been refrigerated. If you’d like to cool down rice quickly to use for fried rice, spread it out on a baking sheet and let stand at room temperature for up to 1 hour. Whole-grain rice, including brown, red, and black, works well in fried rice, even when it’s freshly cooked, as long as it’s not wet.
Prep all your ingredients ahead: Cooking fried rice moves lightning fast. Have ingredients prepped and sauces mixed before you heat the oil.
Add ingredients in the right order: Ken starts with the aromatic vegetables, like onions, garlic, and ginger. He then follows up with firmer vegetables, such as carrots or celery. He finishes with quick-cooking vegetables, like frozen peas or tender leafy greens.
Cook eggs so they form large curds: You do not want the eggs to coat every ingredient but rather form their own curds that get mixed into the rice. Some people achieve this by cooking the eggs first, then removing them from the pan and adding them back in. Ken prefers to scramble the eggs as he cooks the fried rice, and he creates a well in the center of the pan so they can cook without coating the other ingredients.
Use a wok or large cast-iron skillet: A wok or cast-iron skillet will help you achieve the heat level needed for fried rice.
Use high heat: Ken is always seeking wok hey, a Cantonese term that literally means “breath of a wok” and figuratively refers to an ineffable flavor that comes from high-heat wok cooking. While it’s challenging to achieve wok hey on a home stove, you can get closer by using high heat.
"It's the perfect thing to cook using leftover rice along with whatever else is sitting in your refrigerator."
Ken said, "What's not in the book, a part of my dad's fried rice that my sister remembers, is a bit of white pepper and a touch of molasses (sugar or even maple syrup) to balance out the mix of flavors."
Ken now uses his father’s method but not the same ingredients. Instead, he makes fried rice with what he has on hand, including vegetables his wife, Caryl, grows in the garden.
In spring, he reaches for asparagus, chives, and leafy greens. He adds the asparagus toward the beginning of cooking so it’s cooked through. If you like a more al dente asparagus, add it just before adding the eggs.
"At the time of the creating this recipe, it was springtime here in the Adirondacks of northern NY and Caryl was harvesting asparagus, and of course we had leftover rice and some onion, eggs, and soy sauce on hand."
For more fried rice recipes, always available on the Lotus Foods website, you can also try: