Stir frying is one of the most used cooking methods in the world
When done correctly it can be a very healthy, quick meal. When done incorrectly, like at the “Chinese” restaurant down the road from my house, in can be greasy mush. I’m going to give you some tips on how to avoid the greasy mush and make easy delicious stir fry.
(Scroll down for what may be the best Chicken Stir Fry Recipe in the world)
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The most common way to stir fry is in a wok. Woks are thought to have been invented in China, during the Han dynasty, about 2000 years ago. Their popularity didn’t really become wide spread until the Song dynasty, about a thousand years ago. During this period Chinese merchants traveled far and wide, bring their woks, and methods of cooking, with them.
The wok then became popular all over South and Southeast Asia, with each region and ethnic group developing their own unique style of stir frying.
I have been lucky enough to work in Thai and Malaysian (which is very influenced by Chinese and Indian cuisines) restaurants, and blessed to have worked with chefs from Indonesia, Korea, China, Laos, and I love the different flavors and styles of each of these culinary traditions.
One thing they all have in common is high heat and quick cooking, no matter how different the ingredients and flavors end up.
A wok isn’t absolutely necessary for stir frying. Where I live we have primarily electric stoves and ranges, and a wok is too deep to get good heat, so I use a large sauté pan with high sides and small wok spatula.
Some cooks use chop sticks to stir fry, some use wok spatulas, and some use wok ladles. I prefer wok spatulas, but you can use anything you feel comfortable with, just not plastic as the high heat of stir frying can melt plastic.
Preparation is very important
Everything should be ready to go before heating your wok because once you start cooking it’s a very fast process. Every ingredient you want to use should be prepared and in reach. I like to clean off a large area and place bowls of ingredients within reach. I start by preparing my veggies.
Veggie prep is important, as different vegetables cook at different rates. A small thin piece of onion will cook very quickly, a large piece of broccoli will take a few minutes.
For this reason I separate stir fry veg into 3 categories: needs to cook, turns to mush, and add at the end.
Not very scientific classification, but important to note the differences. I put vegetables that snap in the “needs to cook” category, veggies like carrots, green beans, onions.
I put veggies that can be smashed with fingers in “turns to mush” category, veg like corn, peas, tomatoes. And finally, the add at the end category would be things like bean sprouts, basil, and green onions.
How you cut your veggies will also affect cooking time
When I want to add broccoli to a stir fry I cut it into very thin pieces, carrots I cut into pieces that are about the size of a coin. The softer veggies, like tomatoes, I cut bigger. We want to heat all the veg without overcooking. When you are finished, all the veggies should be identifiable and still have a little crunch.
Meat preparation is something I do last after all my veggies are cut and in place, and my sauce ingredients are standing by. Meat should be cut thin to facilitate cooking. When I use chicken I slice into very thin strips, as you always want chicken cooked thoroughly.
When I use beef I may leave the slices a little thicker, as I like my beef cooked a little less. Pork is a personal choice. Trichinosis is always a concern, but there are only about 11 cases reported each year in the US. I feel comfortable eating pork still a little pink, but I would never serve it that way in a restaurant.
Once all your ingredients are prepped and at hand, you are ready to go. One thing to keep in mind when stir frying is that you need an oil that can take high heat, so extra virgin olive oil is out. I use soybean oil as it seems to leave no taste, but whatever oil you prefer, just make sure it has a high smoking point. Here is an easy recipe.
Garlic Ginger Chicken Stir Fry Recipe
2 pounds chicken, sliced thin
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
¼ cup onion, sliced into thin sticks
¼ cup carrots, sliced into coins
¼ cup green bell peppers, sliced into sticks
½ cup snap peas, strings removed
1 ounce soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
2 ounces chicken stock
½ ounce vinegar
3 tablespoons oil
Heat your wok or sauté pan to high. Add 2 tablespoons of oil, reserving the last in case more is needed after cooking the chicken. When oil begins to smoke, add chicken. When the chicken is seared on all sides, add the garlic and ginger.
Stir well and constantly, remember, it is called STIR fry . When you can smell the garlic and ginger, add the onions, carrots, and bell peppers. When the veggies are well coated in oil, add the peas. When the peas are coated, start making your sauce.
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First, add 1 ounce of chicken stock, save the other in case the dish gets too dry. Next, add the soy sauce and vinegar, then the sugar making sure to put all the sugar into liquid so it doesn’t burn on the side. Stir well and taste. Adding the remaining stock will help balance flavors, but if you need to, you can add more sugar to help with too much salty or too much sour. Adding a little soy sauce will give more salt.
This is a basic recipe, but once you get it down, experiment. Add hot sauce. Use different veggies.
Play around and enjoy!