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Oct 28, 2004 12:02 PM

what makes Chinese fried rice brown?

  • m

This may seem like a naive question, but I'm not a cook. When I order fried rice from various Chinese restaurants, the rice sometimes comes white, sometimes brown. Is it just soy sauce?

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  1. s
    science chick


    1. There are (at least) two kinds of Chinese soy sauce-- light and dark. The light stuff is what most people are used to. You can find dark soy sauce at an Asian market-- it's a little thicker, sweeter and less salty. It's commonly used to add color without over-salting a dish. Also, some people add some oyster sauce to the fried rice which also adds a little color.

      1. I'd like to ask a follow up: Since I've seen it made both ways by restaurants, which is favored by the Chinese themselves, fried rice that is brown or white? Or is it equally favored?

        15 Replies
        1. re: Matthew S.

          Having worked in a few Chinese restaurants, I can say that the majority of cooks and owners of those restaurants do not eat fried rice. They eat white rice with their food.

          Having seen that the restaurants recycle uneaten white rice into roast pork fried rice, I have taken to ordering what many do and order beef or chicken fried rice, as it has to be made from scratch, and, if you are lucky or ask nicely, they will use fresh steamed rice. Take out places obviously may not fall under the recycle rule, but that also begs the question of "authenticity".

          The light soy sauce dark soy sauce is true, as is the oyster sauce, but most make it with chicken broth and any cheap soy sauce they have, not necessarily the good stuff used in the dishes. Yes, there are two vats of many things for different things. It keeps costs down.

          1. re: Spiro

            Would using fresh steamed rice to make fried rice result in a gummy mess? Fried rice is basically a Chinese invention to reheat leftover rice so that is not wasted. Another way to use leftover rice, by the way, is to make congee.

            1. re: elmomonster

              True, using leftovers is a good thing. At home is a good place to use leftovers.

              As to using fresh steamed rice, well, it depends on how mushy the rice is to begin with. If it is soft, but not mushy, there should be no gummy problem. At least as I have seen in Chinese restaurants that I've worked.

              1. re: Spiro

                If you're using rice that just comes out of the pot, then chances are you will get gummy rice, since most of the surface water has yet to evaporate and the surface of the rice will be damp, no matter how dry you made your rice (in which case you'll probably undercook it).

                As for rice colour, I prefer most varieties of fried rice to take on a yellowish golden colour, caused by mixing the egg into the rice during cooking (or even before). There should not be so much egg that it becomes scrambled eggs with rice in it and there should be a minimum of soy sauce.

                1. re: Curtis

                  You can almost entirely avoid gummy rice if you boil it for about 7 minutes and then transfer the rice to a colander or strainer, cover it, and steam the rice until it's fully cooked. It comes out very dry.

                  1. re: Curtis

                    "fresh steamed rice" as opposed to "recycled rice", I meant, not directly out of the rice cooker but as HungryGrayCat says below, colander draining, throughout the dinner service hours, makes the rice, for fried rice, in some restaurants, more dry and less gummy. And you are correct, a good cook will color with egg as well, but that is a dying art form it seems as the egg is so overcooked right off the bat that it only adds bits of browned dry scrambled egg in the fried rice.

                2. re: elmomonster

                  The Chinese method for cooking rice is to add just enough water so that it all boils off by the end of the cooking; there should be no need to drain off water at any time during the cooking. A trick for measuring the water is to put spread the rice in the pot so the surface is even, put your index finger down vertically with tip touching rice surface, and add enough water to go up to the first knuckle. It doesn't make much difference how much rice you are cooking.

                  To get the right texture for fried rice, use day-old rice. There was a thread or two on how to make good fried rice a while ago.

                3. re: Spiro

                  Pardon my ignorance, but why would chicken/beef FR have to be made from scratch, as opposed to pork FR? What about seafood or veggie FR??

                  1. re: ecm

                    chicken/beef FR was an example, and my preference. seafood and veggie would also, in theory, be the same. roast pork FR is usually, but not always, made in large batches long ahead of time and kept on a steam table for quick ladling into takeout orders, etc.

                    Every place is different, if your local neighborhood take out joint makes what you like, then it don't matter what nobody says. At least that is my take on it.

                  2. re: Spiro
                    culinary nerd

                    Actually, fried rice is always supposed to be made using cold, leftover rice. The dish was developed to use leftover rice. Fresh steamed rice clumps together and gets mushy when you put it in a wok with hot oil.

                    I have worked in Chinese restaurants as well, and I teach Chinese cookery and I have -never- seen cooks use freshly steamed, hot rice in a wok. Ever. When I was learning to cook Chinese food on my own, before I worked in a restaurant, I would try to steam rice then fry it without chilling it first. It always stuck to the wok, got squishy and nasty.

                    As for what makes it brown--a product called thick soy sauce. Not dark soy, not light or thin soy, but thick--it has some molasses in it. If you use regular liquid soy sauce in it, you can never get it as brown as in restaurants, because it isn't the soy that colors it. It is the caramel coloring and molasses in the thick soy sauce that does the job.

                    And you use a very small amount of it, too. A jar of the stuff lasts me a year or so in the fridge.

                    1. re: culinary nerd
                      ChowFun (derek)

                      Do you have a favored brand of thick soy sauce?

                      1. re: ChowFun (derek)
                        culinary nerd

                        I had to go look in the fridge, but the brand I have been using is from the Koon Chung Sauce Factory in Hong Kong--the label is blue, yellow, red and white. I also use that company's hoisin sauce and shrimp paste with very good results. I have always found them in any local Chinese market I have been around, all over the US.

                        Remember to use just a tiny bit of the stuff--I won't give an exact measurement because I have no idea how much fried rice you are making! (When I teach fried rice dishes I teach people to improvise--it is what I do with leftovers myself.) But add it at the end of cooking, drizzling it in with a teaspoon, then mixing it over heat. If it doesn't turn as brown as you like, add a tiny bit more, keeping in mind you can always add, but never subtract!

                        It doesn't have as much salt as regular soy sauce, so I always keep it in the refrigerator after it is opened. A jar lasts me a year or so, and doesn't go off or grow anything weird in it.

                        Good luck!

                        1. re: culinary nerd
                          ChowFun (derek)

                          Thanks for the lead, I'll definitely give it a try!

                  3. re: Matthew S.

                    The Chinese themselves, if I may speak for 1.2 billion people, favor different kinds of fried rice, depending on the region. Off hand I can think of the most popular one being Yangchow fried rice. But there is also Fujian fried rice (more sauce, not as dry) that are served often at banquets.

                    1. re: Matthew S.

                      Members of my family, which is from Fuzhou province in China, don't put soysauce in their fried rice. I lived with my grandparents in Taiwan for a year and only saw the white variation in that country. We occasionally had fried rice as breakfast.