Four Key Elements for a Perfect Stir-fry Without a Recipe
Stir-frying is the perfect way to use up those extra ingredients at the end of the week. No matter what you end up using – the steps always stay the same – but your finished masterpiece is unique every time!
Simply toss bite-sized pieces in a wok or pan using a little hot oil over medium-high heat and, in five minutes or less, the work is done! Meats are flavorful, tender and well-seared, and vegetables stay bright and crisp.
1. Size Matters
Most vegetables cut into thin, bite-sized pieces are ideal, especially those with high moisture content, such as squash and bell peppers. Denser vegetables, like broccoli, work well too, just expect them to be a little crisper. Leafy greens, such as spinach, chard or kale cook in seconds. Tender cuts of meat, such as chicken breasts, flank steak or pork tenderloin, stir-fry beautifully when cut into thin, bite-sized strips. Avoid large or tough chunks of meat, such as pork shoulder or beef stew meat, which require long, slow cooking in order to become tender. Shrimp, scallops and firm fish, such as halibut, work well, but a delicate, flaky fish isn’t a great choice because it tends to fall apart.
2. It Helps To Be Well Equipped
You can use a large pan, but a good wok is the traditional tool used for stir-frying, because it conducts heat quickly through the bottom and sides. “Tossing” food or moving it around in the wok permits everything to cook evenly. If you don’t have a wok, choose a pan that conducts heat well. Since stainless steel pans don’t develop a nonstick patina, they often require more oil for cooking, and food may stick more readily. A lid is helpful for dense vegetables that may need to steam briefly at the end of cooking. It’s very important to avoid pans that come with a nonstick finish, as they can’t be used over high-heat.
3. Fats Are Our Friend
The next important element to a satiating stir-fry is to use a healthy portion of fat that’s very heat resistant. Coconut or avocado oil and ghee are the best choices. Don’t use dark sesame oil for stir-frying; the high heat will diminish the distinctive taste. It’s best to add it at the end or in a marinade to add flavor.
4. Ready Set Go!
Stir-frying proceeds at a fast pace and requires a lot of attention. The total cooking time may only be five or so minutes, which doesn’t allow time to prepare ingredients midstream. Start by cutting, measuring, and mixing ingredients, and set them near the wok. Pull out the serving dish, then turn on the heat. Preheat the wok on medium-high heat until it is very hot, at least two minutes. Add oil and swirl the wok so the oil coats the surface. The oil becomes hot immediately and ripples across the surface.
If using onions, garlic or ginger, start with those. Add the onions and once they’re almost soft, add the ginger and garlic for a few seconds until they become fragrant.
Stir-fry thinly sliced meat and poultry in small batches of six ounces or less, so the pan is not overcrowded – otherwise, it won’ cook evenly. Cook the meat for a few minutes until it changes color, but not totally cooked through.
Next up, add the vegetables, making sure to stir the entire time. Limit the amount to about four to six cups at a time (or eight to ten cups for leafy greens). Start with firm vegetables, like carrots, peppers and thick broccoli stalks because they take longer to cook. Leafy vegetables like spinach and bok choy, as well as beansprouts, can go in towards the end. This way, everything is done cooking at the same time. Toss the ingredients from center to side of the wok. Add your sauce and any reserved ingredients. This is also a good time to add seafood. Seafood cooks quickly, so take care not to overcook or it will become tough. Cover to steam if further cooking is required. Add any fresh herbs last.
- Some great additions for your stir-fry are bone broth, coconut milk, coconut aminos, apple cider vinegar, citrus zest, curry, turmeric, cayenne, chili peppers, garlic, ginger, lime juice, basil or cilantro to name a few.
- For a delicious finish on a stir-fry – try adding a drizzle of toasted sesame oil and garnish with some raw nuts or seeds.