In Dallas, we are gifted with quite a few great Thai restaurants! My personal favorites are Legends Thai in Plano and Thai’s Thumbz in Richardson. What I really like about them is the Thai fried rice.
Thai fried rice is very different from its Chinese and Japanese counterparts. Imagine living in a tropical island that’s hot and humid for months at a time. You are surrounded by warm sea breeze, exotic insects, endless rain, and you try everything you can to stay cool and dry. Eating is perhaps the last thing on your mind. The best way to have appetite in this kind of environment is to make the food taste a little more piquant and spicy, with a good dose of sourness. That is exactly what makes Thai fried rice unique.
What Makes Thai Fried Rice So Tasty in Restaurants?
When I ate Thai fried rice in the restaurant, there was always this tremendous satisfaction that kept me going back for more. The rice had a rich taste, mixed with many complex flavors, to the point where I even doubted it was Jasmine rice. I thought they used some kind of special cultivar just for fried rice. Yeah, that was a ridiculous thought, I know. So I have been trying to recreate this taste at home, but every time I tried, it was just so bland and boring.
Online research and recipes didn’t help much. I used the same ingredients in similar quantities, but it just didn’t have the soul like in the restaurant. Of course, for one, I can’t duplicate the “wok hei” at home, but I’m OK with that. I was mainly looking for the right richness and texture.
One day, it dawned on me: the recipes online are just too “healthy” for the purpose of recreating the restaurant taste at home! That’s right, we can’t be shy with fat if we want a yummy fried rice. I discovered a few key techniques to make your Thai fried rice taste like restaurant:
- Start with adequate oil
- Make the rice moist with a sauce
- Lots and lots of garlic
Other than these, you can be creative with other ingredients like pineapple, Thai basil, green pepper etc. for varied flavor profiles. There’s no fixed formula, as long as the end-product has these three key flavors: spicy, garlicky, and sour. Texture-wise, the rice should be pretty moist, but not mushy. Let’s get cooking!
How to Cook Basic Thai Fried Rice
Like all fried rice, the only way for it to turn out properly is to stir fry one serving at a time. You’ll need these ingredients per serving:
- 2 cups of cooked and fluffed Thai jasmine rice, refrigerated for at least 4-5 hours or overnight
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 Roma tomato, sliced into large cubes
- 1 egg
- 1 small handful of sliced onion
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
- 1 tsp of finely chopped scallion
Then, for the seasoning sauce:
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 2 tbsp fish sauce
- 2 tbsp water
- Juice of 1 lime
- 1 clove of garlic, finely minced
- Salt to taste (different brands of soy sauce and fish sauce will have different amount of salt added, so we must give it a taste to rectify)
Finally, our choice of protein for the day: top sirloin steak. Top sirloin is one of my favorite beef cuts because it’s lean and relatively tender, and it doesn’t contain much connective tissue (I’m looking at you, New York Strip!). One lb of steak is enough for 3-4 servings.
- 1 lb top sirloin steak, thinly sliced against the grain
- 1 tbsp corn starch
- 1 tbsp water
- A pinch of salt
Some Attention to Details
To marinate the steak, combine the meat, corn starch, water and salt and mix thoroughly together with your hand to avoid tearing the slices. The corn starch and water mixture helps insulating the heat and prevents the steak from being overcooked.
Do not substitute Thai jasmine rice with regular long grain rice. Thai jasmine rice has the unique aroma and better ability to absorb sauces. There has been some Chinese restaurants serving a type of “jasmine rice” without any aroma. For best results, buy those imported from Thailand, often sold in large packages in Asian supermarkets. Right after the rice is steamed, the starch structure within each grain is wide-open, and if you try to stir fry it right there and then, the rice will turn into a sticky mush. So the key to good texture is to let the rice set in the fridge over night or for at least 4-5 hours. After removing from the fridge, use a spatula to fluff the rice and separate the grains, which will save you some hard work during the cooking process.
Now on to the cooking vessel. If you don’t own a properly seasoned and maintained carbon steel Wok, a high-BTU gas burner and a high-powered ventilation system, the best alternative is to use a large, heavy bottomed, non-stick sauté pan. Though it won’t give you the “wok-hei” (a complex smoky flavor developed from cooking with excessively high heat), it’s much more convenient, clean and better for the lung, and it gets the job done.
After all preparations are completed, put all ingredients where you can easily reach, since the cooking will happen very quickly!
The Cooking Process
Step 1 – First, heat up the pan properly over medium-high heat. When it’s hot enough, you can splash a few drops of water in it and they will evaporate in a second. Add oil, wait for a few seconds for it to heat up, and then sauté the onion and garlic.
Step 2 – Add the sliced steak, separate and flatten the slices. Cook for about 10 seconds on each side. Push the ingredients to one side of the pan to save room for the egg. Place the rice on top of the onion and steak, and it’ll be warmed up while we work on the egg.
Step 3 – Crack the egg into the pan, away from the rice. Don’t break the yoke just yet! Use the spatula to stir the egg white until it’s mostly congealed. Then break and stir the yoke, and break the egg into tiny pieces with the spatula. This technique adds a new level of texture variation for the eggs!
Step 4 – Now stir everything together while breaking the smaller lumps of rice, and try to make sure all the rice grains are coated with oil. To break the rice lumps, don’t try to cut them with the spatula like a knife – just gently press and they’ll fall apart. Add the tomato, stir until the skin is wilted, and then add a few teaspoons of the sauce. Mix evenly. Finally, turn off the heat, mix in the chopped scallion. One serving is done! Serve it in a bowl or plate with garnishes like lime wedges and cucumber. Enjoy the praises from the family, and move on to cook the next serving!
These are the basic steps to make Thai fried rice. If you ask me what’s the main difference from Chinese or Japanese fried rice, I would say: lots of garlic, more oil, and fish sauce.
If you want to make it spicy, you can either add the minced Thai chili peppers in Step 1 or as part of the sauce if you prefer milder taste. The steak can be substituted with chicken, pork, or fried tofu. For pineapple fried rice, just add large chunks of pineapple in Step 4. For basil fried rice, add the whole Thai basil leaves in Step 1 along with the garlic. The options are endless, just remember the three key flavors: spicy, garlicky and sour.
Which Equipment Did I Use?
By the way, the cooking vessel you see in the pictures is the Le Creuset Toughened NonStick Shallow Casserole. The non-stick layer is hardened and can withstand the scraping of metal cookware. I have been using and abusing it for over seven months now, and it’s still perfectly non-stick. I have used it for high-heat cooking like sauteing and stir-frying, for pasta sauce, Thai curry, or even stick-sensitive dishes like Banh Xeo (Vietnamese rice crepe). It’s a versatile piece of equipment. It also looks decent enough to serve food on the dinner table directly. The lack of long handle does it make it harder to remove from the oven, and the ear handles can get really hot.
For the purpose of Thai fried rice, this pan works very well, though if you have a well-seasoned wok and a gas range, it would be even better.