Fried Rice and Retrogradation

The key to making great fried rice, with individual kernels of rice intermingled with eggs and vegetables is to use cold, leftover rice. This is because of the molecular changes that happen to the starch molecules during the cooking and subsequent cooling process.

According to On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee, Starches, which are mainly made up of glucose (sugar) molecules strung together, are a plants way of storing extra energy. The two main starch molecules used by plants to store energy are amylose and amylopectin. The difference between amylose and amylopectin is that amylose is mostly a linear molecule (imagine a chain) while amylopectin is highly branched. A typical amylose molecules in made up of about 1,000 glucose molecules, while a typical amylopectin molecules is made up of about 5,000 – 20,000 glucose molecules.

red pepper zucchini carrots and scallion

shredded vegetables

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A plant stores amylose and amylopectin tightly packed in structures called starch granules. During the cooking process, the plants orderly arrangement of amylose and amylopectin is disrupted, creating a mesh like structure of the two molecules. This mesh is the result of water molecules being absorbed during the cooking process and making the grains expand and soften. The cooling process to some extent reverses that mesh like structure into something that does not resemble either the original orderly arrangement of the starch molecules or the mesh, but something in between, with many of the water molecules once again pushed out from in between amylose and amylopectin. The change that occurs during the cooling process called retrogradation and results in what are called resistant starches. Another example of retrogradation happens when bread cools down after baking.

What keeps the rice kernels from clumping up while making the stir fry is the loss of water and the molecular changes that the starch molecules undergo during the process of retrogradation.

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Print Recipe
Red Pepper, Carrot and Zucchini Fried Rice
Fried rice is a family favorite and as written will feed a hungry family of four as a main course. In this recipe, I used short grain brown rice. The order in which I add the vegetables to the skillet is determined by their relative cooking times.
fried rice resistant starch retrogradation
Servings
people
Ingredients
  • 7 eggs whisked
  • 3 tablespoons oil divided
  • 1 scallion sliced
  • ½ red pepper finely diced
  • 2 carrots shredded
  • ½ zucchini shredded
  • 5-6 cups of cooked rice
  • 1/2 teaspoon fish sauce
  • Salt to taste
Servings
people
Ingredients
  • 7 eggs whisked
  • 3 tablespoons oil divided
  • 1 scallion sliced
  • ½ red pepper finely diced
  • 2 carrots shredded
  • ½ zucchini shredded
  • 5-6 cups of cooked rice
  • 1/2 teaspoon fish sauce
  • Salt to taste
fried rice resistant starch retrogradation
Instructions
  1. Pre-heat a large skillet on medium-high heat for 4 minutes. (I recommend a well-seasoned cast iron skillet.) Once the skillet is pre-heated, turn the stove off (if you are using a cast iron skillet), add 2 tablespoons of oil and then 1/2 the scrambled eggs. As the eggs start to cook on the bottom, flip, and continue to cook until fully cooked. Remove the egg from your skillet repeat with remaining egg, reheating pan as necessary. Set egg aside and dice.
  2. Re-heat your skillet on medium-high heat; add the remaining oil, scallions (white part only) and red peppers to your skillet. Sauté for 1 minute, add the carrots and continue to sauté for another 2 minutes. Then add the zucchini for one additional minute. Add the reaming ingredients and continue to cook until the rice is thoroughly heated.


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