How to Stir Fry in Your Own Kitchen
Every week or so I get a craving for Chinese food. There’s something about those crunchy vegetables, tender meats, and incredible flavors that forces me to dig out a menu buried in a kitchen drawer and order from a local restaurant.
The Chinese have a way of manipulating food that I wanted to learn about so I dug out the wok that I inherited when I got married and started reading up and experimenting.
The Art of Stir Fry
What I learned about the ancient technique of Stir-Fry is you have to be prepared before you start. Often I talk about prepping ingredients before you start cooking, but this is a must when doing stir-fry. In fact prepping the ingredients will take longer than the actual cooking. Once you get your pan hot…..you can’t stop.
Stir-frying will also give you some practice with your cutting skills since each ingredient will be bite size (Have you ever seen a knife in a Chinese restaurant?) and have different cuts. Once prepped, I like to put the ingredients in individual bowls separated by cooking times.
The technique is to quickly fry the ingredients in a large pan over high heat while constantly stirring to preserve flavor, color and texture of the food and keep the vegetables crisp. Easy enough.
Typically one uses a wok; a large deep bowl made of thin metal with gentle curved sides. The heat concentrates at the bottom of the pan and the curved sides allow you to push the ingredients to cooler areas. You can use a typical frying pan, but it won’t cook as fast thus keeping your vegetables as crisp as you would want.
Other than a few specialty ingredients, you can use whatever you have on hand to make a stir-fry. It’s a great way to clean out the vegetable drawer. Because you’ll be cooking at very high heat, you want to use a high smoking point oil like peanut, safflower, corn, or canola. Some of the specialty ingredients that you should be able to find at your local supermarket are soy sauce, hoisin sauce, and chili sauce. Short or medium grained rice is best for accompanying your stir-fry.
You start by prepping the meat or chicken. Cut the meat into thin bite-size slices and marinate to protect it from overcooking. The marinade can be made with a variety of liquids depending on the flavor you are trying to obtain. Typical marinade ingredients include chicken stock or beef stock, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, chili sauce, corn starch, brown sugar, rice wine or dry sherry. Marinate for a least one hour, longer is better.
Prepare an aromatic mixture consisting of finely chopped herbs and spices that will add flavor and aroma to the stir-fry. Typical aromatics include garlic, scallions, red pepper flakes, shallots, and chili peppers to name a few. Next prepare your vegetables by cutting them into small pieces and separating according to their cooking times. Slower cooking vegetables like asparagus and green beans will be added before faster cooking vegetables like pea pods and tomatoes. Now you’re ready to stir-fry.
Check out my recipe for Chicken and Broccoli Stir-Fry but experiment with different marinades, aromatics, and vegetables to create your own special stir-fry.