September 27, 2022

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Stir-Frying 101 - My Food Story

Stir-Frying 101 – My Food Story

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Stir-Frying is one of my favourite ways to cook so here’s a Stir-Frying 101 – to share everything I know about stir-frying and how to get it right!

Closeup of Asian Veg Stir Fry served in a bowl over white rice

Stir-Frying is my go-to cooking method for busy nights! Stir frying is an Asian cooking technique that involves food cooked in some sort of fat, over high heat and for a short duration. The best part of stir frying is that it is incredibly versatile. There is probably a stir fry recipe out there for most proteins and vegetables! The trick is to get the temperature and cut of vegetables and meat just right to ensure it cooks perfectly!

Love Stir Fry? Try Asian Veg Stir FryCrispy Tofu Broccoli Stir Fry, Chicken Chow Mein and Chinese Cashew Chicken Noodles Stir Fry.

  • This method, though super quick, does justice to the flavours and ingredients involved.
  • Keeps ingredients crisp and retains their natural colour, crunch and freshness more than some other cooking methods
  • Each ingredient gets the perfect treatment resulting in a beautiful hearty dish.
  • Some ingredients may need a pre-prep. A marinade, blanching or steaming or boiling may be required. This is to ensure that the food doesn’t end up undercooked.
  • All stir-frys require a fat of some sort – be it neutral oil, coconut oil, ghee or anything similar.

How to Stir Fry Anything?

Stir-Frying is a super simple technique where you only need a few things:

Oil (fat) + Veggies + Protein of Choice + Stir Fry Sauce

Here’s a quick step by step to show you how to easy it is:

Step by step picture collage showing how to stir fry
  1. Stir Fry Sauce: Keep your stir fry sauce whisked together and ready to go
  2. Blanch: Blanch any hardy vegetables like broccoli and carrots for the stir fry. This makes sure they are not undercooked. Tender but still crunchy
  3. Strain and set the vegetables aside
  4. Saute aromatics like garlic, ginger, onions and celery in hot oil in a hot wok. This is the flavour base for most stir fries and Chinese dishes
Step by step picture collage showing how to stir fry

5. Veggies + Protein: Add the other veggies such as bell peppers, zucchini etc which don’t take a lot of time to cook. If using protein, add it at this time. Make sure your protein is sliced thinly or cut into medium-sized pieces to allow it to cook fast

6. Blanched Veggies go in now: Add the blanched veggies and toss

7. Add the stir fry sauce and toss well

8. Simmer till the sauce thickens and looks glossy and coats the veggies and protein – about 1-2 minutes. Your stir fry is ready!

Here are few of my simple rules on how to make the most out of stir-frying

  1. Prep: Always have your prep ready before you start. The French call it mise en place. It refers to keeping all ingredients and equipment prepped and ready to go before you start cooking. This is essential for stir-frys as the cooking is very quick and over high heat. This leaves a lot of room for burning ingredients if you don’t have everything ready to go! 
  2. High heat: High heat not only aids in cooking the ingredients but also maintains their texture. High heat helps keep the ingredients soft on the inside and crunchy on the outside – the mark of a good stir fry. 
  3. Equipment: A wok is the best. A wok in fact adds flavour to the dish. Woks are made of carbon steel or iron – this material is able to maintain high heats and lends a smoky flavour to the dish. If you don’t have one, use a large round-bottomed vessel like a kadhai.
  4. Ingredients: Not just the ingredients, even the cut of ingredients is important. Use small cuts like dices or strips for both vegetables and proteins. These cuts cook quickly while preserving the right texture! 
  5. Serving: Serve it hot immediately! Most stir fries are made like a semi-gravy semi-dry dish. When left to sit out, the ingredients start to settle or leave out water changing the consistency of the dish. This is especially important when you are using a thickener like corn flour or potato flour.
  6. Fat: We already covered that a fat is essential for a stir-fry. But keep in mind not to use fats with a low smoke point, i.e. the temperature at which oils start to burn the food instead of cooking it. This means you need fats with a high smoke point, as the food is cooked on high flame, you need an oil that can withstand it too. Here is a handy guide I use!

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What all can be added to a Stir-Fry? Remember stir-fry is just a cooking technique and not a dish. Anything added to a pan, tossed with aromatics and sauces is technically a stir fry!
  2. What types of condiments can be used for Stir-Frys? There are several Asian condiments such as soy sauce, oyster sauce, rice vinegar, hoisin sauce, red chilli sauce, plum sauce, black bean sauce and more! A combination of these can be used to create a stir-fry of your choice! An easy option is to buy a ready-made stir-fry sauce or wok sauce. These sauces are ready mixes of various Asian condiments that can be used directly while stir-frying! They come in different flavours and styles so it’s always good to keep them on hand.
  3. What are the basic essential sauces for a Stir-Fry? As mentioned earlier, you can use any combination of sauces you like. If you are looking for a base recipe – you can use my basic stir fry sauce and add on ingredients to adjust it to your preference (for example, add sichuan chillies, green chillies, extra red pepper flakes or chilli flakes to make it spicier)
  4. Do I need a wok to make a Stir-Fry? A wok is not necessary but highly recommended. A wok can conduct and retain more heat as it is made of carbon steel. This lends a smoky flavour to the dish that is unparalleled! In a pinch, a kadhai will do. Or even a regular pan. Just make sure to heat it well.
  5. How to prep vegetables for a Stir-Fry? Cut the vegetables into approx 1 inch chunks, small cuts will end up overcooking and becoming mushy. Blanch any hardy vegetables individually – you have to blanch them according to their specific cook times separately. For example, carrot needs to be blanched for longer than broccoli. Also, all veggies need not be blanched. You only have to blanch hardy vegetables such as carrots, beans, broccoli, potatoes. Vegetables that leave out water such as zucchini, bell pepper, onions, cucumber and mushrooms can be directly sautéed in the wok. Remember to keep in mind not to overcook them while sautéing. 1-2 minutes on high heat should do the trick as the vegetables will continue to cook once the sauces are added.
  6. How to keep the vegetables crunchy? There are two important things to focus on – heat and time. A stir-fry is always done on high heat for a short duration, not more than 15 minutes in total. Once vegetables are added, stir continuously to ensure they do not stick to the bottom and burn. You only sauté them until they are coated in the fat and form a glossy layer on top. Sauté ingredients like garlic, ginger and celery until fragrant. Onions should be sautéed until almost translucent. Zucchini, mushrooms and bell peppers only have to be sautéed until they are semi-cooked. Remember, the vegetables that are already cooked (blanched) do not need a lot of sautéing – they are already cooked so they only need to be combined with the rest of the ingredients. Once the veggies are added, be quick and add the remaining sauce and thickening ingredients.
  7. How to prep meat for a Stir-Fry? Like the veggies, you can add raw meat or pre-cooked meat to a stir fry. If adding raw meat, cut them into small cubes or strips. Marinate it for 10-15 minutes. Sauté in fat on high heat after adding garlic and ginger. Do not fully cook the meat. Start adding the remaining ingredients when the meat is almost cooked. If using cooked meat like shredded chicken, add it along with the other cooked vegetables before adding the sauces. Remember to toss it before the sauces – this will ensure that the meat crisps up.
  8. How to add texture to Stir-Fry dishes? This is a great question. You can get creative with the ingredients like adding nuts to the stir-fry such as cashew nuts, pine nuts, peanuts etc. You can even add fried garlic, fried onions or even toasted sunflower or melon seeds as a topping once the dish is done!
Chinese Cashew Chicken Noodles Stir-Fry in a pan.

Stir-frys are ideal for when you need something quick and yummy with whatever is in your fridge. Another tip I can give you is to always have stir-fry condiments such as chilli oil, wok sauce, soy sauce or even pre-made mixes such as black pepper sauce or a chilli basil wok sauce read to use. Combine these condiments along with some blanched veggies, a fat, a wok, high heat and a lot of continuous stirring and you’re good to go!

I hope this guide on Stir-Frying 101 is helpful. What’s your favourite stir fry? Leave me a comment below!

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