What to cook with leftover rice: sushi, arancini, bibimbap, congee, rice pudding and more

Megan Johnston
Adam Liaw's belly-warming garlic fried rice.
Adam Liaw's belly-warming garlic fried rice. Photo: William Meppem

Rice is the star of international fare, crossing culinary borders with ease and travelling its way into virtually any style of cooking.  

Simple yet versatile, this seemingly plain grain can be dressed up with spices, tossed into salads and refried to golden perfection.

So what to do with the inevitable leftovers you find in the fridge? Put it to back to work in a nourishing breakfast, knock-out nutty salad or elegant supper.

Here are some simple ways to make the most of your leftover rice. From traditional fried rice, to a sushi hand-roll party for the hordes and home-made arancini, you won't let a grain go to waste.

Crab and barramundi congee at Lawyers Guns and Money.

Use leftover rice to make a quick congee breakfast. Photo: Darrian Traynor

Porridgy goodness

"Leftover rice is a shortcut way to make congee," says Malaysian street food expert and blogger Jackie M. Throw some rice into a pot with stock, pepper, sliced ginger and a dash of chicken powder. Add shreds of cooked chicken or for an exotic touch, dice a preserved egg (usually found in Asian groceries), then simmer for 15 minutes until reaching a porridge consistency. Garnish with coriander, spring onion, sesame oil or soy sauce to make a delicious breakfast.

Aromatic herbs

For a refreshing summer salad, try nasi ulam, a herb dish from northern Malaysia. If you can't find traditional herbs such as betel and pennywort at your nearest Asian grocer, shred basil, kaffir and other aromatic leaves into a bowl and mix with shrimp paste, slices of lemongrass, fresh turmeric, Spanish onion and desiccated or ground coconut. Bake dried shrimp and salted fish for 10 minutes at 150 degrees, then pound together (or grill and flake mackerel). Mix it all together with cold leftover rice and you have an aromatic salad perfect for this time of the year, Jackie M says.

Golden crunch

Give leftover risotto new life with this elegant crisp rice pancake from chef Alessandro Pavoni from Ormeggio at the Spit. "Risotto al salto" is usually made with risotto Milanese but any risotto will do. Drizzle oil in a frypan over medium heat, then add a large spoonful of risotto, flattening it into the pan with the back of the spoon. Cook for a few minutes, then loosen sides with a spatula and shake pan gently. Cook for another 6-8 minutes, gently shaking the cake free from the pan's base. Flip the cake onto a plate and back into the pan, then cook the other side until golden. "It's about the crispiness of the beautiful risotto," Pavoni says.   

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Supplii is a typical Italian street food.

Melted mozzarella makes suppli the perfect Roman snack. Photo: iStock

When in Rome

​Suppli (risotto balls) are crunchy Roman snacks filled with stringy melted mozzarella that match perfectly with an aperitif or antipasta, Pavoni says. Mix beaten egg into leftover pork and tomato risotto, and pour the mixture onto a flat plate. Once cool, form the rice into oval shapes with your hands, inserting small pieces of mozzarella. Close the ball, roll in egg and breadcrumbs and shallow fry in hot oil, turning until golden. Best devoured with aioli or a tomato sauce alongside a glass of pino gris or a light red wine, Pavoni says.

Arancini at Pasticceria Savia, Catania.

Arancini: Totally doable at home. Photo: Pasticceria Savia

Home-made arancini

​The pride of Sicilian cuisine - arancini – are easy to make at home even if you don't have a deep fryer, Pavoni says. Push cold risotto into your palm, placing a teaspoon of ham and mozzarella in the middle. Fill in the base of the arancini with risotto and mould it into the shape of a pear. Crumb the arancini and deep fry, or heat 2-3 litres of oil in a large saucepan to 180 degrees and fry for a few minutes until golden brown, being careful not to break the shape. Lift with a slotted spoon or skimmer, drain and serve warm.  

Hot with cold

Japanese chef Chase Kojima from The Star's hatted Sokyo restaurant is so besotted with rice he swapped traditional wheat buns for rice rolls at burger joint Gojima. For a magical hot-and-cold combo he loves to slurp down a bowl of ochazuke. "It's super easy and super delicious - it's like a cup of noodles but with rice," Kojima says. Boil dashi (Japanese stock) in a pot and mix with hot green tea and soy sauce. Pour the liquid over cold rice in a cup with salted fish, Asian pickles and seaweed. Or an easy cheat is to buy a dried ochazuke sachet from your nearest Japanese grocer and pour it with hot water over a cup of cold rice.

Bibimbap at Ginger's Diner.

Make a speedy bibimbap in a pan. Photo: Robert Shakespeare

Bowl o' flavour

​Kojima's quick bibimbap recipe offers a quick savoury hit. Warm leftover rice in a microwave and throw into a frypan or wok with oil over medium-high. Scatter raw garlic, sesame seeds, chilli powder, thinly sliced Japanese pickles, cold cut meats and blanched spinach around the sides of the rice. In another pan, fry an egg without letting the yolk cook and in a separate pot make a sauce from miso paste, sesame oil and teriyaki glaze. Place the egg on top of the rice, then drizzle the sauce into the yolk. Lower heat and cook for 5 minutes, then mix ingredients and eat straight from the pan.

For SMH Good Living. Picture by Jill Dupleix. Picture shows handmade salmon sushi hand rolls. ***FDCTRANSFER***

Roll up for a temaki party.

Feed the hordes

Friends coming over? You can't go past a fun temaki (sushi hand roll) party. Reheat leftover rice in a microwave or steamer, mix with sushi vinegar (salt, sugar and rice vinegar) and season with sesame seeds or seaweed and allow to cool to room temperature. Arrange platters of sashimi, cucumber, avocado, Japanese pickles, sushi, wasabi and soy sauce on a table, then let everyone fill a nori sheet with ingredients and roll it up like an ice-cream cone. Voila - "it's like a sushi burrito party", Kojima says.

Karen Martini's fried rice with chicken, ginger and egg

Fried rice is best kept simple. Photo: Marina Oliphant

Traditional Thai

For a purist take on fried rice, try this idea from Thai food expert David Thompson, the chef behind Long Chim in Sydney, and Perth. Fry garlic in a pan with a plain oil such as rice bran, crack in an egg to make an omelet then add the rice, fry it off so each grain is coated in egg, garlic and oil, seasoning with soy or fish sauce. "Add some meat whether it's cooked chicken or prawns, but don't complicate it with carrots and peas - that's just a muddle of confusion." Leftover roast duck, barbecued pork or crab meat work just as well as prawns or you can serve with a clear broth with Asian vegetables, Thompson says.

Flavoursome stuff

Sydney home cook Karlie Hindmarsh who blogs at "Karlie Eat to Live" loves to put leftover rice to work as roast chicken stuffing. "Rice stuffing is much tastier than bread stuffing in my opinion - it's moist and absolutely delicious." Combine leftover cooked white rice with diced onion, garlic, fresh herbs, salt, pepper, olive oil. Stuff, bake and enjoy.

Nutty and wholesome

For an easy vegetarian lunch or delicious side dish, Hindmarsh suggests adding brown rice to a simple salad with roasted sweet potato, spinach leaves, pine nuts and fetta. Dress with olive oil, honey, apple cider vinegar or lemon, grated garlic and a touch of wholegrain mustard and toss it all together with salt and pepper. "Brown rice gives it a bit of a nutty texture," she says.

Healthy and quick

Stuffed capsicums make a quick, healthy dinner, Hindmarsh says. Slice the top off the capsicums and hollow out the seeds, then stuff with a mixture of leftover rice, sauteed onion and garlic, chopped greens, diced tomatoes, fresh herbs and spices. Add beef or chicken mince for a heartier option. Since the rice is already cooked, there's no need to add passata or water but if you like a saucier texture a dollop of tomato paste or sauce won't go astray. Pop the lids back on, drizzle with olive oil and bake for 15-20 minutes at 180 degrees or until the capsicum is soft and roasted and the mince is brown.

Swap for spuds

Skip the potato and make a rice frittata instead. Mix rice with egg, garlic, diced onion and very finely diced tomato and leftover vegies. Drizzle olive oil into a quality non-stick frying pan and press the rice mixture into the pan. Cook over medium-high for 10 minutes, occasionally piercing with a fork or skewer to check the mixture is cooking through. Once the first side is cooked and crispy, slip the frittata under the grill and cook until the top is golden brown. Cool and slice for a fancy no-fuss picnic, Hindmarsh says.  

Sweet note

For a final sweet treat, baked rice pudding is a simple snack or dessert toddlers will love, Hindmarsh says. Whisk together milk, cream, sugar and whole eggs, stir in the rice and pour the mixture into ramekins. Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes at 150 degrees or until the tops start to set. Up for a flavour twist? "Add Middle-Eastern flavour with little bit of cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon or nuts," she says.