Y’all know how I am about leftovers. I try to use them whenever and wherever I can because food waste is one the the biggest areas where you can recapture some of your food budget. While rice is one of the least expensive ingredients in my arsenal, I find that it’s really easy to accidentally make too much and have the leftovers get lost in the fridge, only to end up in the garbage a week later. Making a conscious effort to keep track of and use leftovers can have a huge impact on your budget. So, this week when I saw some leftover rice in my refrigerator and I started brainstorming to come up with these 7 ways to use leftover rice. Hopefully this will be helpful to you!
Is Leftover Rice Safe to Eat?
Yes, IF it has been cooled and stored properly after cooking. Rice can naturally contain a bacteria called Bacillus cereus, which has spores that are resistant to cooking. After cooking, these spores can “hatch” if the rice is left at warm temperatures (between 40-140ºF) for too long. Once the spores hatch, the bacteria goes to work eating the rice and producing a toxin that can make us sick. While reheating the previously cooked rice may kill the active bacteria, it does not kill the spores or eliminate the toxins in the rice, making the rice still potentially dangerous.
How to Properly Store Cooked Rice
Bacillus cereus contamination does not produce any visible signs or smells, so it’s of utmost importance that rice be cooled properly immediately after cooking. Transfer your cooked rice to a new container (do not leave it in the hot container it was cooked in), divide the rice into smaller portions if cooked in a large batch, and then place it in the refrigerator to cool. Do not let your rice sit out at room temperature. The goal is to cool the rice to below 40ºF in under two hours, so the sooner it gets in the fridge, the better.
Fun fact: I used to be a microbiologist and worked with Bacillus cereus on a daily basis! It’s one of those environmental organisms that is on the surface of almost everything and is usually benign, unless it gets someplace that it shouldn’t be, like our food.
Fried Rice and Stir Fry – Leftover or day-old rice is actually ideal for making fried rice because the grains are slightly more firm and less likely to get sticky and gummy when stirred in with sauce or other ingredients. So, toss whatever vegetables you have in your fridge or freezer into a skillet, a scrambled egg, add your leftover rice, and drizzle them with a delicious sauce. Dinner is DONE. Try Shrimp Fried Rice with Pineapple and Toasted Coconut. You can also add rice to traditional stir fries. Use it either as a bed for the stir fry or combine it right in the skillet to make a fried rice/stir fry hybrid. Try adding rice to Beef and Cabbage Stir Fry or use it as a bed for stir fry like these Hoisin Stir Fry Bowls with Spicy Peanut Sauce.
Bowl Meals – Breakfast bowls are my jam, but “bowl meals” are actually great any time of the day. Here’s the idea: grab whatever protein, vegetable, and sauce you have in the fridge and pile them on top of a bowl of rice. Heat, eat, and be happy. They’re so fast and easy and you can make “one offs” to accommodate whatever leftovers you have on hand. At least 50% of my meals follow this format. Some of my favorites include: Poor Man’s Burrito Bowls, Pineapple Sriracha Breakfast Bowls, Spicy Tuna Guacamole Bowls, Sweet and Spicy Chicken Bowls, and Bibimbap.
Soups and Stews – Okay, this one is not going to be news for anyone living in Louisiana because we add rice to everything, but I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who don’t know how much a simple scoop of cooked rice can add to a bowl of soup or stew. If you don’t have a nice loaf of crusty bread to dip in your soup, add a scoop of rice instead! This is perfect for when you have just a small amount of rice that needs to be used. Try adding scoop of cooked rice to Golden Coconut Lentil Soup, Vegan Peanut Stew, 30 Minute Posole, Slow cooker Black Bean Stew, Weeknight Black Bean Chili, or Mexican Red Lentil Stew.
Casseroles and Skillet Meals – Similar to fried rice, day-old rice is actually ideal for casseroles and skillet meals. The grains are slightly dryer and more firm, allowing them to mix easily with other ingredients and absorb extra liquid and flavor. So, turn last night’s leftovers into a whole new meal with a comforting casserole, or quick skillet meal. Try Broccoli Cheddar Casserole, Beef Burrito Casserole, Southwest Chicken Skillet, or Cheesy Chicken and Vegetable Rice Casserole.
Meatloaf and Meatballs – Leftover rice makes a great addition to both meatloaf and meatballs and absorbs excess moisture in the same way that breadcrumbs can! This is a great alternative for those with sensitivities to wheat. You may need to play around with the proportions as it probably won’t be a 1:1 substitution for bread crumbs. Try Thai Turkey Meatloaf.
Rice Pudding – Transform your leftover rice into a rich, creamy, and COZY dessert with just a few ingredients. It really doesn’t get any better than this! Try my Creamy Rice Pudding.
Rice Pancakes – Okay, I haven’t made this one in ages, as you can probably tell by the photos, but it’s still one of my favorite ways to use up leftover rice. Simply mix your rice with an egg to hold everything together and a few yummy flavorings like cinnamon and vanilla, then cook them in a skillet. Now that I’m thinking about it, I bet these would be really awesome cooked in a waffle iron, too! Try Rice Pancakes.
Freeze it – And if all else fails and you just can’t find an immediate use for your leftover rice, be sure to pack it up and freeze it for later use. Having single portions of cooked rice stashed in the freezer makes last-minute meals (like those bowl meals!) really easy. A quick microwave and you’re on your way. Check out How to Freeze Rice.
Of course, these aren’t the only ways to use up leftover rice, but they are seven of my favorite methods. Share your favorite way to use up your leftover rice with the rest of us by leaving a comment below!
My children’s favorite lunch was leftovers made into rice pancakes. Planned-over rice from supper, mixed up with whatever protein (chopped up) and veggies were on hand with a couple of raw eggs and appropriate seasonings got fried up in 3 to 4 inch patties. If there was no leftover protein, a can of tuna would suffice. I usually served it with soy sauce, but occasionally whipped up some foo yung sauce. Never had leftovers from that dish!
Rice pancakes, love them, I just use regular pancake mix and add my rice. yummy
I don’t know if it still matters, but your “Hoisin Stir Fry Bowls with spicy peanut sauce” link is wrong. At least for me it redirected me to the “Shrimp Fried Rice with Pineapple and Toasted Coconut” recipe.
Thanks for the heads up! I’ll fix that. :)
One word; onigiri
Thanks for your blog! I really enjoy your sense of humor, the inspiring ideas, and the “why’s” of certain steps so I learn more about cooking.
And I LOVE my InstantPot – it’s so versatile and the rice comes out perfect every time (and I haven’t been paid to say that – it’s just the truth!). Happy cooking everyone!
Rice has been my specialty ever since I started cooking. I am told good things by other people about my rice. The main thing to cooking rice, regardless of the type, is to NOT lift the lid until done. Most rice require 1 cup water to 2 cups rice, pinch of salt and pats of butter or olive oil. *This is basic.. Boil water.. bring to full rolling boil. Add all ingredients and return to full rolling boil. Then turn heat to low flame gas stove, or #3 on electric stove. Make sure the high rolling is calmed down a bit but still boiling low and put your lid on. Do not lift the lid. Check package of rice you are using for time which should be 15 – 20 minutes. When done, move off heat and lift lid. All water should be absorbed and rice done. If not, quickly return lid and let sit for few more minutes to finalize absorbing the small bit of water that may be leftover. Then enjoy!! I even finish off cooking roast, chicken, etc etc with rice at approx. 20 min. I am posting this for those having difficulty making good rice. I hope it helps someone! As for left over rice, I’m searching for easy rice pudding recipe if anyone has one? Thank you. ps. lived in NJ, FL and central US.. works everywhere.. and now I mix brown and white rice together also.
its 2 cups water 1 cup rice. everything else perfect
Really different idea is my choc rice balls.
To 2 cups cooked rice ( I used Jasmine rice), add 1 Tblsp melted butter/ ghee, 4 Tblsp golden/ maple syrup, 2-3 Tblsp raw cocoa powder, 3Tblsp fine dry coconut.
Mix all together. Roll balls in melted chocholate and refrigerate.
I live in Florida, like Nancy and a rice cooker is the way. The humidity here really effects the outcome of the rice. I usually have to cut back the water 1/4-1/2 cup.
I also make vegetable fried rice from left overs. Amazing how good left over rice can be.
I came on this site to find a different left over rice idea and there are so many. Looking forward to trying them as we eat A LOT of rice.
Hi Beth. Can you do a post on how to cook different kids of rice? We have a variety of house at the house, but I have a really hard time cooking rice. it rarely turns out fluffy and cooked. It is usually sticky and mushy. We love white basmati, it think it is because that is the only one I can get right. We have the brown version too, but that never turns out good and we have a bag of Jasmin I am afraid to touch in fear of totally messing it up. Rice shouldn’t be that hard to cook right?
You’d be surprised at how many people have difficulty with rice! :) I’ll see what I can do!
Hey Beth, when I lived in NY I used Carolina Rice, with no difficulty (except for the time I left it on the stove and forgot about it! That was a mess!!) Anyway, I moved to Florida and couldn’t find Carolina Rice and for the first time my rice was ruined – every time! I don’t know whether it’s the rice, the water or what, but I was told my the locals to buy a rice cooker. My rice has been perfect ever since. I use equal portions, 1:1, some olive oil (instead of butter) and some salt and then just make sure you don’t touch it for at least 25 minutes. And don’t over wash the rice.
I cook Jasmine rice all the time. On the stove top and in my rice cooker. On the stove top my ratio is normally 2/3 cups rice to 1 cup water. The most I will do on my stove top is 2 cups rice to 3 cups water. Wait for the water to boil then put the rice in, cover and cook for 20 minutes. If I have to make a big batch, my rice cooker is a life saver. This is the only way I do Jasmine rice. Good luck!
Rice with runny eggs, salt and pepper. Yum.
Awesome options for left over rice. I will try the broccoli casserole next time when I have left over rice. Usually I use the leftover rice to make pudding (kheer) or cutlets or fried rice. Now I have some more ideas for using them. Thanks for the post.
I’ve never thought of the rice pancake idea. For a breakfast option, I like reheating leftover rice on the stove in some milk. I add cinnamon and maybe some raisins and/or sweetener (honey, maple syrup, sugar), then let it cook down a bit. It turns into a creamy porridge that’s almost as good as rice pudding but less decadent.