I take a pretty freewheeling approach to making fried rice – I look to see what’s in the fridge and freezer, and work from there. Sometimes it’s as austere as rice with eggs and some spring onions, but most of the time, it’s more elaborate.

Fried rice is a fast, easy way to use up leftovers, although you should take as much care with combining the flavours as you do when composing a dish from scratch; if you have containers of ratatouille or tomatillo salsa in your fridge, it’s best to save them for something else, rather than throwing them into rice. It’s essential that the rice is chilled, because if it’s freshly cooked and hot, it will clump up in the pan, rather than separating into individual grains.

Shrimp and vegetable fried rice

This recipe can be varied in so many ways. If you have leftover cooked seafood, meat or vegetables in the fridge, cut them into small pieces (rinse them first, if they were cooked with strong-flavoured ingredients), then add them to the fried rice when it’s almost ready, so they just heat through. You can also use another type of raw seafood (or small pieces of raw meat) in place of the shrimp, or, if you’re a vegetarian, mix in some firm tofu (soft tofu will exude too much water).

I rarely use soy sauce in fried rice, preferring to season it only with salt. But, when I served it to friends, they complained about the too-white colour of the rice, which I actually like – it makes the other ingredients appear more vivid. Use soy sauce if you like; if not, season the rice with fine sea salt. For a Thai version of fried rice, add fish sauce (instead of soy sauce) and some chopped red bird’s-eye chillies, and serve the rice with lime wedges.

After preparing all the ingredients, the rice should take five minutes or less to cook.

2 large eggs, at room temperature
400 grams cooked long-grain rice, chilled
350 grams fresh shrimp (or 200 grams peeled shrimp)
100 grams kale stems (save the tops for stir-fried kale to serve with the fried rice)
10 ears baby corn
100 grams peas, fresh or frozen (thaw them if frozen)
About 10ml soy sauce, or to taste (optional)
Fine sea salt
Cooking oil, as needed

1 If using fresh shrimp, remove the heads, tails and shells. Cut the shrimp into 1cm pieces.

2 Slice the kale into rounds about 5mm thick. Cut the baby corn into 1cm pieces.

3 Press the rice between the palms of your hands to break up the clumps. (If the rice sticks to your hands, dampen the palms with water.) Set up all the ingredients by the side of the stove – the vegetables in one bowl, the shrimp in another – and have the oil and seasonings at hand.

4 Whisk the eggs. Heat a large, well-seasoned wok over a medium-high flame and rub the interior thoroughly with oil. When the wok is very hot, add one-third of the egg and immediately swirl the pan so the egg becomes a thin, large circle about 15cm in diameter. Cook until the egg is set – it will be matte and slightly dry on the surface – then use a metal spatula to carefully lift it out of the wok.

Place the egg crepe on a plate then make two more the same way, stacking them as they’re ready. Loosely roll the stacked egg crepes, then cut them into 1cm-wide strips. Unroll the strips and pull them apart.

5 Wipe out the wok with a paper towel (there’s no need to wash it, unless there’s egg stuck to the metal). Place the wok over a high flame and when it’s very hot, add about 15ml of oil. Swirl the pan to coat it with the oil, then add the kale, corn and peas. Sprinkle the vegetables lightly with salt, add a splash of water then stir-fry for about a minute.

Add the shrimp and stir-fry for 30 seconds, or until the shrimp pieces start to turn pink, but are not yet cooked. Add the rice and mix until the ingredients are evenly distributed. Spread the rice around the surface of the wok so it heats quickly, leave for about 15 seconds, then mix; repeat this twice.

If using soy sauce, drizzle it over the rice and mix well. If using salt, sprinkle it over the rice and mix well. Turn off the flame and taste for seasonings; add more salt or soy sauce, if needed. Mix in the egg crepe strips then transfer the ingredients to a serving bowl. Serve with stir-fried vegetables.