There’s probably no cooking method that’s faster, fresher or healthier than stir frying. But not a lot of non-Asian folks use this technique regularly. Why? I’ve been asked many times about how to solve several common problems new stir fryers face when trying to master this ancient art…
Stir frying is fast, fresh, flavourful, easy and Veggieful! It’s also a low fat cooking method to which you can adapt just about any main ingredient. But many first-time stir fryers fall afoul of the hidden pitfalls involved and (unfairly) set their Woks aside, never to be fired again. That’s too bad…
What you need
First, let’s look at what you should have at hand to ensure a successful stir frying session.
Ideally, you want to stir fry over a gas flame. But gas is not an absolute necessity.
A proper Wok is indispensible. Ideally, yours is a slope-sided, deep-ish, plain carbon-steel pan with handles on both sides and a slightly rounded bottom. That bottom shape lets you tilt the Wok over the flame for easier stirring. And to aid and abet tilting, you’ll need a Wok Stand, which is nothing more than a plan steel ring that acts as a cradle for the curved bottom of the pan. You should also have what I call a proper Wok ‘Shovel’, which is simply a spatula shaped like a small coal shovel, with a broad mouth and fairly high sides, to scoop the most material around the pan quickest.
On the side, have pinch dishes of Salt and Pepper, Sugar, and whatever Spices or Spice Blends you like to use.
Also have at hand bottles of the most common Asian Cooking Sauces and Condiments: Garlic, Light Soy Sauce, Hoisin Sauce, Oyster Flavour Sauce, Thai Sweet/Hot Chicken Sauce and Thai Fish Sauce. You should also have whatever specific Cooking Sauce you want to use – be it Butter Chicken or whatever – close at hand as well.
Cooking Oils must be temperature resistant, such as Corn or Canola. Sesame Oil is a classic in Asian cooking and is useful both for high-temperature cooking and to add flavour.
How to prep your foods for stir frying
Slice foods thin for fast cooking – especially dense, hard foods such as Carrots, Celery and Water Chestnuts.
Part-cook some foods – again, any dense, hard ones as above.
Pre-cook Noodles or Rice, whether they are going into the Wok (at the last minute, of course), or being served as a base for your stir fry.
When actually cooking
Pre-heat your Wok to at least 450 F (500 F is better, and easier to achieve over gas).
When Wok is hot, add 2 – 3 tbsp. / 30 – 45 ml of cold (room temperature) Cooking Oil of your choice.
Spread the oil across the bottom and up the sides of the Wok with a heat-resistant (bristle) brush. A thin, even coating is best. You don’t want too much Oil in the bottom of the Wok or you’ll end up with poached, rather than fried, food.
Keep the food moving!
Add any dried Herbs or Spices, or Garlic first and allow to toast for a few seconds before adding any foods.
Add the hardest, densest foods (the ones you par-cooked) and stir, tossing with the Shovel, until almost cooked through. Then, add other foods in sequence from densest to least dense (fastest cooking)
Then, add Cooking Sauce, Soy Sauce and other Flavours. Just heat it through, stirring and tossing vigorously to make sure all foods receive a thin, even coating.
Finally, add Noodles or Rice that are intended to be part of the dish, rather than a serving base.
Toss a few times just to coat the final additions, and serve immediately, family style, in a deep bowl, with separately cooked Rice or Noodles on the side.
And there you have it!
Stir frying a main dish should not take more than 90 seconds from Adding the Oil to turning out the finished dish into the serving dish. If you’ve been disappointed by your stir frying results in the past, give the process one more try, my way, and see if you aren’t impressed enough to keep experimenting!
~ Maggie J.