Yangzhou Fried Rice. It checks all the boxes when it comes to using what you have in the pantry. Our ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ fried rice recipe may look overwhelming. But, with just a few key ingredients, it’s remarkably simple, easy and tasty to make at home. The resulting ’10 ingredient Fried Rice’ is a wonderful one-course family meal.
Americans love choices. Chinese immigrants who opened restaurants in America understood this which is why most American Chinese menus contain about 20 to 30 basic dishes, often with 5 variations of each. When you see noodles on the menu, you’ll likely notice variations like Beef Lo Mein, Chicken Lo Mein, Shrimp Lo Mein, Pork Lo Mein and Vegetable Lo Mein just to list a few.
Most Chinese menus also include a decision-free entry – Yangzhou Fried Rice with ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ automatically included. Yes. With a surprise in every bite, this Chinese rice dish allows diners to have their rice and eat it too.
While we’ve always been drawn to the house special or Yangzhou Fried Rice on local Chinese menus, we never realized that this rice dish, despite its various anglicizations like Young Chow Fried Rice, Yang Chow Fried Rice and 10 Ingredient Fried Rice, is actually quite famous in China. While the authentic Chinese Chaofan version is a little more recipe specific, it’s totally possible for a home cook to create a satisfying version of this pantry powerhouse in the kitchen.
What Is Yangzhou Fried Rice?
Yangzhou Fried Rice (Yángzhōu chǎofàn 扬州炒饭 in Mandarin) is named after the town of Yangzhou, near Nanjing in the Jiangsu province. Unlike simple egg fried rice, this dish contains an assortment of proteins like pork, shrimp and chicken. Some people describe Yangzhou Fried Rice as shrimp fried rice but that would be a misnomer since shrimp is just a supporting player in the rice melange.
The rules are so rigid in China that the strict version has a variety of balanced elements and includes Jinhua ham (Chinese: 金華火腿), a special dried ham produced in the neighboring Zhejiang province. China’s ‘by the book’ Chao Fan recipe also calls for sea cucumber and crab meat. Since some argue that the dish is incomplete without these two elements, we’ll incorporate those ingredients into an ultra-fancy version one day when we’re feeling particularly adventurous.
If you’re intrigued, check out this video from Chinese star Wang Gang for the ultra-complicated restaurant version of Yangzhou Fried Rice. Wang’s version is almost impossible to reproduce at home and is on Daryl’s bucket list for his next trip to China – it’s an understatement to call him obsessed with Chinese fried rice.
The popular YouTube channel, Chinese Cooking Demystified, makes a fairly simple home version that calls for expensive dried scallops as shown in this video. We love the dish even without this luxury ingredient.
Some cooks ramp up the umami by adding soaked, dried shiitake mushrooms; however, we find the difference too negligible to justify the expense. We prefer making and eating this glorious dish with a simple mix of locally sourced ingredients and simple Chinese condiments.
We always say “Your kitchen, your rules.” Nothing epitomizes this axiom more than a heaping bowl of Yangzhou Fried Rice made with ingredients that you already have and love.
Where Did Yangzhou Fried Rice Originate?
Yangzhou Fried Rice originated in Eastern China’s rich Yangtze river delta. The dish’s namesake city of Yangzhou (not to be confused with the picturesque Southern Chinese backpacker town of Yangshuo) is located a couple hours outside of Shanghai by train. If you’re like us, then you’re curious about the origin of fried rice in China.
The dish’s roots aren’t clear but apparently involve a local magistrate, boatmen and legendary chefs. More recently, travelers have issued dubious reports about the quality of fried rice in Yangzhou but that’s okay. Its library of ingredients has created a lifetime of Asian culinary satisfaction for many including us.
The town of Yangzhou attempted to break the rice record by cooking and serving 4 tons of the stuff. Unfortunately, due to the long cooking time, the rice, which had been sitting for four hours, was declared unsafe for consumption. After the rice was deemed inedible and was instead fed to farm animals, the record was never officially declared.
Yangzhou Fried Rice Ingredients
Despite its nickname of ’10 Ingredient Rice’, Yangzhou Fried Rice requires more than 10 ingredients. The following list includes EVERYTHING you’ll need to cook our Yangzhou Fried Rice recipe at home:
While this is our preferred list of ingredients for a simple home version of Yangzhou Fried Rice, it’s entirely possible to substitute any of these ingredients based on your preference and what’s in your pantry. You could even create a luxury version of the dish with lobster, duck and pata negra ham.
Most of the ingredients are self explanatory. Read on for a detailed explanation of a few of the key ingredients:
Not all rice is the same. We recommend standard long grain rice for this dish.
Although most fried rice recipes recommend using day-old cooked rice from the refrigerator, don’t worry if you don’t have any in your fridge. We cooked our rice over the stove but recommend using a rice cooker if you have one. You can cook your rice 1 to 2 hours ahead and cool it by spreading it on parchment paper over a sheet pan.
The rice must be cool when you toss it into the wok.
Our Yangzhou Fried Rice recipe calls for two whole eggs. However, you can use three or even four eggs depending on how much egg you like in your fried rice.
We typically break the eggs in a mixing bowl before pouring them into the wok. Sometimes, though, we crack them on the wok. Either way, we prefer to beat and scramble our eggs in the wok after allowing them to fry for about 20 seconds.
Some people recommend using chicken thigh to achieve a deeper flavor. In our recipe, we use chicken breast since that’s what we commonly have in our refrigerator or freezer. We use one chicken breast for the dish.
Before cooking the chicken, we like to marinate the breast for a few minutes in a tablespoon of soy sauce, a teaspoon of cornstarch, a quarter teaspoon of salt and a quarter teaspoon of white pepper. Sometimes, we also add a pinch of MSG for extra flavor.
What it comes to meat, we recommend using what you can source locally. But what meat is best?
Many Chinese cooks use Jinhua ham, a local sun-cured pork product similar to prosciutto that’s not easy to find outside of China. Prosciutto, smoked ham and boiled ham are all good alternatives; however, lap cheong sausage or char sui barbecued pork are fun alternatives. Some of our favorite restaurants in Philadelphia (our home town) use both boiled ham AND char sui pork.
Our ham of choice is Portuguese presunto since we now live in Lisbon where local markets sell large presunto in large 500 gram blocks. You may be able to ask a counter person to sell you a thick slice of prosciutto if you have an Italian specialty store or even a Whole Foods in your town. Smoked country ham would work great too. You can even use thick sliced bacon.
As you can see, almost anything goes in this dish.
Since we love big bites of shrimp, we recommend buying frozen 16-20 shrimp for this recipe. You can either keep your shrimp whole or cut it in pieces. We like to brine our shrimp with a tablespoon of salt in about 2 cups of water for about 20 minutes before cooking.
→ Click here for instructions on how to clean and prep the shrimp prior to cooking.
You can use either onions or shallots in our Yangzhou Fried Rice recipe. But which is better? Given the choice, we prefer the flavor of shallots but it doesn’t matter too much either way.
We use cornstarch to treat the shrimp and chicken. The cornstarch seems to tighten the texture of the shrimp, making it more plump and less stringy. As a bonus, adding cornstarch helps to brown the chicken
If you have access to fresh peas, by all means use them. However, we usually use frozen peas in our recipe.
Frozen peas are so much easier. All you have to do is remove a bowlful from a bag in the freezer and you’re ready to go.
Oyster Sauce, Light Soy Sauce and Shaoxing Wine
It would be a shame not to make Yangzhou Fried Rice if you have Shaoxing Wine, Oyster Sauce and Chinese Light Soy Sauce in your pantry. These are the three ‘seasoning’ ingredients that make this recipe pop with flavor. Note the following:
- It’s a common mistake to add too much soy sauce to the rice. You’ll only need a tablespoon of soy sauce in this recipe.
- Oyster sauce is a potent seasoning ingredient and adds a significant flavor ‘backbone’ of savoriness to the rice. Our recipe calls for two tablespoons of Oyster sauce which is enough to significantly impact the flavor of the rice.
- Shaoxing wine is commonly found in Chinese cuisine. Chefs like J. Kenji Lopez-Alt believe that this wine deglazes the brown, almost-burned bits of the wok to create that coveted wok-hei flavor. You can also use dry sherry as a substitute, even the cheap grocery store stuff.
Mindi prefers a little heat in her fried rice – and by a little, we mean a lot. Daryl could go either way.
If you choose to add hot sauce to your Yangzhou Fried Rice, Daryl encourages that you DON’T drown your rice. However, Mindi recommends adding a squirt or two of Huy Fong Sriracha sauce for a bit of zip to the dish.
→ Click here to buy a bottle of Sriracha if you agree with Mindi.
We encourage you to experiment with your finishing condiments. After you try Sriracha, we recommend trying Lao Gan Ma Chili Crisp next. Of course, adding any hot sauce is completely optional.
→ Click here for instructions on how to clean and prep the shrimp prior to cooking.
Having the right equipment makes all the difference in this recipe. Before proceeding, make sure you have the following tools in your arsenal:
Wok or Saute Pan
We like to use a carbon steel wok when we make fried rice. Chinese cooking is all about high fire and intense heat and, in our opinion, nothing works as effectively as a carbon steel wok. After you properly treat your wok, it will provide an excellent nonstick finish.
→ Click here to buy a carbon steel wok and wok tools.
In the absence of a wok (or for convenience), we recommend using a nonstick pan. While you won’t get the same heat and ‘wok-hei’ power, you’ll still produce tasty rice.
How to Make Yangzhou Fried Rice
Our Yangzhou Fried Rice recipe requires about an hour of prep time. But, after you make the recipe a few times, you’ll be making fried rice like a pro.
Prepping the Ingredients
With the exception of the shrimp, we recommend following the ‘shape rule’ to make the dish. When everything is the same shape and size, there will be a harmonious surprise in every mouthful.
You can mince the garlic and smash and mince the ginger. We recommend brunoising the carrot by slicing it into long rectangular cubes. You’ll want to continue slicing the carrot until the shape and size mimics the rice.
To make the ham easier to handle, you can freeze it for about 20 minutes before slicing. You’ll then want to slice the ham into small cubes.
Keeping to theme, you’ll want to chop the chicken into small rice-sized cubes.
With the shrimp, you have two choices – you can either chop each shrimp in about 3 to 4 pieces OR you can keep them whole. Keeping the shrimp whole violates the shape rule but, being Americans, we like an occasional bite of big shrimp. We’ll just call it our “i before e except after c” exception.
Once you’ve prepped your ingredients, it’s best to set them up in an orderly row next to your stove – otherwise you may forget one or two ingredients once the wok action starts. Since it’s easy to slip up here, we generally place our ingredients next to the wok in the order that we plan to add them.
Since we don’t want to overcook the chicken and pork, we remove them from the wok after we cook them and add them back in the final steps. Accordingly, we place a couple mixing bowls to the side of the wok to hold these cooked ingredients for later. We recommend that you do the same.
Carbon Steel Wok Only: Start by placing your carbon steel wok over high heat and heat the pan until it’s ripping hot. Then, remove the wok from the heat and apply an even layer of vegetable oil over the surface. (We prefer a neutral oil with a high smoke point.) Place the wok back on the stove at high heat and add enough oil so that you have about a half inch layer on the bottom of the wok.
Teflon or Nonstick Wok Alternative: Overheating the pan’s surface could cause the cooking layer to chip, peel or leech into your food. We recommend heating any nonstick surface over medium heat instead.
Add the ham cubes when the vegetable oil starts smoking. Once the cubes are browning on the edges, remove them from the wok by using a perforated spoon to strain the oil. You can alternatively strain the oil by tilting the ham at the edge of the pan before removing the cubes.
Add the chicken and cook until lightly browned. Remove them from the wok using the same method as the ham.
If the pan begins to look dry, add more oil as needed. Add the chopped shallots, carrots, ginger and garlic to the wok. This is your mirepoix. Cook until brown.
Add the shaoxing wine to deglaze the pan.
Set the mirepoix mixture to the side of the wok and add about a teaspoon of vegetable oil to the wok. After the wok heats up a little, pour in your eggs. You can crack them directly into the pan if you prefer. Do NOT immediately scramble the eggs. Let them cook a little and then mix them. Once they’re scrambled to your liking, stir the eggs into your mirepoix.
Add the cooked rice and break it up with your spatula.
Toss your rice in the pan with the spatula, making sure to press the rice against the surface of the pan in a slight kneading, scraping motion. This step will slightly caramelize and soften the rice.
Use a wooden spoon instead of a spatula if you’re cooking in a nonstick pan.
Add both the soy sauce and the oyster sauce.
Once you feel that the rice is cooked through, add the chicken and pork back into the pan. Stir the pork and chicken a couple times to bring the proteins back to temperature.
Once the chicken and pork are hot, add the uncooked shrimp. Stir the shrimp through the hot rice. In two to three minutes, the shrimp should look opaque and will be cooked.
Add the peas last. They literally take seconds to cook.
Once everything is cooked, spoon the dish into a large serving bowl. Garnish with sliced scallion greens and serve. You can optionally drizzle the finished rice with a little sesame oil and/or hot sauce.
What to Serve with Yangzhou Fried Rice
The beauty of Yangzhou Fried Rice is that it’s a complete meal in one bowl. The dish packages protein, vegetables and rice together and the end result is both flavorful and satisfying.
We suggest that you serve the dish with either beer or white wine. Buy a few bottles of Tsingtao Beer if you’re an overachiever. Otherwise, whatever beer or wine is in your kitchen or bar will work just fine.
Yangzhou Fried Rice Recipe
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About the Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.