3 Ways to Use Leftover Rice | Cook Smarts (2023)

Looking for easy ways to use leftover rice? From how to cook fried rice to how to use leftover rice in soup, this is the place to start if you’re drawing a blank on leftover rice dishes.

  • By Leila Kalmbach
  • April 15, 2020

There’s a lot to love about rice — it’s easy, it’s tasty, and it goes with pretty much any meal. And perhaps best of all, when you’re making a pot of rice for tonight, it doesn’t add any time or effort to double or triple the batch for later in the week! Having rice in the fridge will save you some serious time later on.

There’s just one problem: What do you do to keep leftover rice interesting?

Quite a lot, actually! These dishes alone are worth making some extra rice. And if you’re bored out of your mind with the plain leftover rice you were so excited for just days ago, we hope these options will get you looking forward to rice again. Read on for our three favorite ways to use leftover rice.

How to Store Leftover Rice

First, however, you should know that it’s crucial to store leftover rice properly to avoid getting sick. Rice may not seem like a food that would be especially prone to food-borne illness, but in fact, it can be one of the worst.

Rice can sometimes contain spores of a bacteria called Bacillus cereus, and amazingly enough, they can survive the cooking process. They’re not always present in rice, but when they are, a small amount won’t hurt you. The problem is that this is a fast-growing bacteria and moist foods like rice are an ideal breeding ground, so rice that won’t be eaten right away should be cooled and put in the fridge within an hour of cooking it.

To cool it faster, spread leftover rice into a thin layer before storing it in the fridge, or portion it out into shallow leftover containers that will allow the rice to cool quickly. You can even spread the rice onto a cookie sheet and put the whole thing in the fridge, then transfer the rice to a ziplock bag or airtight leftover container once it’s cool. In the fridge, the rice must stay cooler than 40 degrees Fahrenheit, so test your fridge temperature if necessary and put rice in the coolest part of the fridge.

This is not a bacteria you want to mess around with, so if you suspect your rice has been at room temperature for longer than a couple of hours, throw it out. Better safe than sick, right?

How to Reheat Rice

Leftover rice should be used within four days. For our recipes below, you’ll start with cold rice, but if you’re having rice as a side dish on its own, you’ll need to reheat it — and it’s crucial to do so properly.

To reheat leftover rice, take out only the portion you’re going to eat, as rice should not be cooled and reheated more than once. In other words, any leftovers from the recipes below should be discarded. Rice can be reheated on the stovetop, in the microwave, or even in the oven.

  • Microwave: Add a tablespoon or two of water per cup of rice. Cover the rice with a damp paper towel and nuke it (in a microwave-safe container, of course!) for two or three minutes. It should be so hot it’s steaming all the way through — or at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit, if you have a food thermometer.
  • Stovetop: Add a tablespoon or two of water and stir the rice until clumps have broken up. Then cover the pan with a lid and let cook, stirring occasionally, until the rice is steaming hot.
  • Oven: Similar to the stovetop method, start by adding one to two tablespoons of water and stirring to eliminate clumps. Spread the rice out in an oven-safe baking dish and cover tightly with foil. Bake in a 300-degree Fahrenheit oven until the rice is steaming hot, or about 20 minutes.
3 Ways to Use Leftover Rice | Cook Smarts (1)

1. Rice + Frozen Veggies + Egg = Fried Rice

If you’re not making fried rice at home, you’re seriously missing out! It’s a great way to use up leftover rice (it actually sticks to the pan way less when you start with cold rice), and tossing in some frozen veggies means no chopping, no washing cutting boards or knives, and no worrying about veggies cooking at different speeds (veggies in frozen mixes tend to be paired with other veggies that cook at the same rate).

Start by heating a frying pan or cast iron skillet, then add a little cooking oil once it’s hot. Add the frozen veggies and cook them for a couple of minutes, or until they start to sizzle. Then add some rice and any other flavors you’re using (we like soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, and hot sauce, and sometimes also add in shallots, garlic, ginger, brown sugar, red pepper flakes, and / or some ground spices).

While this is heating through, heat a nonstick frying pan with some cooking oil over medium heat. You can either scramble the eggs and fold it into the fried rice, or fry eggs by cracking one egg per person into the heated oil and letting them cook to your liking. (You can cover the pan with a lid or flip the egg midway through to cook on both sides.) When the fried rice is heated through, remove it from the heat (we like to squeeze some lemon or lime juice over the rice) and serve it with the fried egg on top!

2. Rice + Black Beans + Sweet Potatoes = Veggie Patty

Rice, black beans, and sweet potatoes are a classic combo, but have you ever considered combining them into a single veggie patty? Mash together a can of black beans with one cup of leftover rice and about three cups of roasted sweet potatoes. For extra flavor we like to add some garlic and finely chopped shallot or onion, but in a pinch you can use garlic powder or just the rice, beans, and sweet potatoes — and of course, don’t forget salt and pepper. If you’re using leftovers, your ingredients may already have some flavor to them, and that just makes things easier!

For less crumbly patties that will stay together better during cooking, add an egg. You can also add breadcrumbs, ground nuts, or spices such as cumin, parsley, paprika, and / or cilantro. Form into patties and cook in a skillet over medium-high heat until browned and fragrant, or about four minutes per side. Serve on buns or with a side salad.

3. Rice + Stock + Chicken = Soup

Rice adds bulk to chicken soup, turning it from an appetizer into a meal. It’s also the ultimate comfort food, and who couldn’t use a little extra comfort?! In its simplest form, you can heat some stock, then add shredded rotisserie chicken and cooked rice until they’re heated through. If you want to put in a little more time and effort, sauté diced onions, chopped carrots, and celery in a stock pot with a pinch of salt until soft, then add raw diced chicken. Cook until browned on the outside, then add broth and any spices you might be using. Let the soup simmer for 15 or 20 minutes, then add leftover cooked rice before serving and let heat for one more minute before serving.

Rice can also be cooked from dry in the soup, but you’ll probably have to add some extra stock or water to make up for what the rice will soak up, and you’ll need to keep an eye on it to ensure the rice doesn’t get mushy. We also prefer to use cooked rice because if you plan to save some soup for leftovers, you can wait to add rice until just before you eat, ensuring that even the rice in the leftovers won’t get mushy.

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What can I do with lots of leftover rice? ›

Leftover rice is one of the most versatile ingredients—use it to make soups, stir-fries, casseroles, rice pudding, and even breakfast.

How many ways can rice be used? ›

There are generally four different methods for cooking rice: steaming, boiling, pilaf and risotto, all of which produce very different results. Different methods often require specific types of rice to achieve the desired texture and flavor.

What to do with leftover rice from Chinese takeout? ›

Heat rice with some milk or cream in a small pot until the rice is tender and the milk has thickened, add sweetener and fresh fruit, and you've got rice pudding to call dessert, breakfast, or any other meal.

What are the three ways to cook rice? ›

The three basic techniques for cooking rice with hot liquid are boiling, absorption, and steaming, which are perhaps the most popular methods for cooking all whole grains. Often a combination of these methods is used to cook rice depending on the type of rice, the particular recipe, or the desired effect.

Can you reuse leftover rice? ›

Tips on serving rice safely

Keep rice in the fridge for no more than 1 day until reheating. When you reheat rice, always check that it's steaming hot all the way through. Do not reheat rice more than once.

What is leftover rice water good for? ›

As it turns out, that murky water left behind when we're done boiling rice is packed with starch and nutrients, making it a game-changer for cooking. Rice water, like pasta water, can be used to thicken stews (particularly Korean stews like doenjang jjigae) or sauces and add depth of flavor to your dish.

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