While you can stir-fry in a large tall sided skillet, a wok is a good investment for creating kitchen magic. The veggies spread out and have greater contact with the heating surface in a wok. This helps you to stir up crispy veggies instead of letting them sit in a soggy mess.
You don’t need an expensive wok. I suggest getting one in your local Asian food store. I have seen them on sale there for $10. You might as well pick up an interesting veggie or two while you are there.
Stir fries are templates like all other recipes. Make them with ingredients you love.
If your family is not one to experiment, use ingredients everyone is already familiar with – such as in the pic above with broccoli, onions, carrots, and beef strips.
If you like new things, experiment a bit. A favorite past time of mine is to do is go to the local Asian market (or just the international food aisle at the grocers), and look around. If the market has a food counter, sample a few things, and ask questions about the ingredients.
Too many recipes do not give you the proper heating directions to achieve crisp tender veggies. Unfortunately, for the stir fry newbie, it also means your veggies turn to mush and your meat stews.
I always thought I was stir fry impaired until my good friend from Thailand told me the following secret.
Let’s say that the recipe said to heat the wok to medium or medium high temperature. What happens with each addition of meat or veggies is that the temperature reduces quite a bit. This means that if you begin at Medium High, you end up braising at Medium which caused the veggies and meat to steam a little and release water. Yes, the heat will rise in a minute or two, but unfortunately, partially steamed ingredients do not turn crispy tender.
So what to do? Heat the wok on High or right next to High heat. You don’t want to turn the oil smoky, just get the wok very hot. This lets you add the first round of veggies (temperature drop to Medium High) with you stirring a couple minutes, then add the second veggies (temperature drop again) and wok another minute or two before reducing the heat to Medium-High which is where most wok recipes say is the right place to be. With this method, the wok is at Medium High through the entire process resulting in hot crispy deliciousness.
Clean and slice all the veggies ahead of time. It helps you to be efficient at the wok if ingredients are grouped in bowls based upon cooking time, all nestled together in like sized pieces, lined up next to the stove in the order of need.
Onions generally take the longest cooking time so are often added first. Broccoli and mushrooms need less time so add them in the middle. Cabbage and snow peas cook very quickly and should be added at the end right before the sauce. Beef strips or ground pork will take longer to brown than shrimps which need just a few minutes to cook.
Keep the food moving using two spoons and a folding out to in motion. Speed is not important. Just don’t let the ingredients sit while you go answer the phone. If you have a helper who can stir while you add things at the proper time, so much the better! Cooking with others is more fun too and enjoyment of the process is a very mindful thing indeed.
If you need to brown an ingredient, that ingredient will always be called for first. This is where you can pause between stirs. Contact with the wok will brown the meat or vegetable, so let it sit 15 or 20 seconds between stirs, reducing the temperature only when you need to.
It will be easy to know when to adjust the heat because you have not left the stove to talk to your Mom on the phone – why did you not call her earlier?!
Now let’s give it a try! Pause a minute, take a few breaths, and think about stirring up a great meal.
This is my favorite use it in anything stir fry sauce, but I especially love it on Moo Shu. What will you stir fry today?
Simple Stir-Fry Sauce:
½ cup vegetable stock, low sodium
2 T soy sauce, low sodium
2 T sesame oil
1 T rice wine vinegar
1 T cornstarch
1 tsp honey
Whisk it all together in a bowl and add to your favorite stir fry mixture! You may want to add hot red pepper flakes, ginger, garlic, or any other seasoning you love with Asian food. If you prefer a thicker sauce, increase the cornstarch a bit… but not too much.