It’s a last-minute dinner savior, a clean-out-the-fridge champion and one of our all-time favorites: stir fry. Few dishes come together as easily or can be customized with so little fuss. The cooking technique for which it’s named—the constant stirring of ingredients over high heat—is a simple technique, but one that has (easily learnable!) nuances. Once you have those down pat, you’ll be able to whip up a perfectly cooked dish at the drop of a hat—with just about any ingredients you have on hand.
For a stir fry, you need 3/4 cup of sauce that starts with a base of broth and corn starch and is flavored with salty, acidic and sweet ingredients to your taste (be aware: the sauce is made first, but added last!); 2 tablespoons of oil; 1 pound thinly sliced protein; 1 teaspoon fresh ginger; 1 tablespoon chile garlic sauce; 2 cups of long-cooking vegetables and 1 cup of short-cooking vegetables.
Here’s how to put it all together:
When it’s a stir fry kind of night, start by selecting choice of the following ingredient types:
- Sauce elements: Broth and corn starch, plus your choice of ingredients that add each of these taste elements: salty (soy sauce, Worcestershire, miso, fish sauce); acidic (rice vinegar, cider vinegar, lime juice, lemon juice, mirin, sake, white wine); sweet (honey, brown sugar, sugar, maple syrup)
- Oil: A neutral-flavored, high-heat oil such as vegetable
- Thinly sliced protein (your choice): chicken breast, chicken thighs, flank steak, sirloin, pork tenderloin, shrimp, beaten eggs
- Aromatics: Garlic, ginger and chili-garlic sauce or fresh, chopped chiles
- Long-cooking vegetables (your choice): Thinly sliced onion, thinly sliced bell peppers, broccoli, bok choy, asparagus, white or shitake mushrooms
- Short-cooking vegetables, cut on the bias (your choice): snow pea pods, sugar snap pea pods, purple cabbage, shredded carrots, baby spinach, Asian greens, baby kale, corn, shelled and thawed edamame, celery, peas
- Toppings & finishes (your choice): Peanuts, cashews, fresh mint, fresh Thai basil, diced avocado, crumbled or julienned toasted nori (seaweed), Sriracho mayo (1:1 ratio)
Preparation is the key to success in lots of scenarios, but it’s especially crucial to a successful stir fry. Here are the key things you need to know:
- All of your ingredients, from proteins and veggies to the sauce, should be cut, sliced and prepared before you start cooking. Stir frying demands constant motion and attention, so there’s no down time to go chop another ingredient.
- Get your oil good and hot. This dish is cooked hot and fast. Test the temperature by adding a piece of meat to the pan; if it doesn’t sizzle immediately, the oil isn’t hot enough.
- Pat your ingredients dry before adding them to the oil to prevent painful, messy splattering.
Once you’ve got your ingredients ready and your pan hot, it’s time to stir things up. Use these steps that apply no matter what’s going in the pan:
- In a small bowl, whisk together broth, corn starch and your sauce ingredients of choice (salty, acidic, sweet). Set aside.
- In a large skillet or wok, heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil.
- Add your thin slices of protein and sear, stirring often.
- Add your aromatics: Either 1 teaspoon chopped gingerroot and 1 tablespoon chili garlic sauce. Or a mixture of 1 teaspoon chopped gingerroot, 1 tablespoon chopped serrano chile and 3 cloves finely chopped fresh garlic. When the meat is cooked and the aromatics are fragrant, transfer to a bowl and keep warm.
- Wipe out skillet, add 1 tablespoon more oil and your long-cooking vegetables of choice. Cook, stirring often.
- Add the short-cooking vegetables and continue to cook, stirring often.
- Return protein to pan. Quickly whisk your sauce and add it to the pan. Cook, stirring until the sauce thickens.
Keep these principles in mind for a flawless stir fry:
- A finished stir-fry is more about a “feel” than a prescribed time for cooking. Your senses are your most useful tool. Look for browning, smell the fragrance, feel the softness of the vegetables and watch the sauce thicken and become glossy.
- Don’t turn protein until it “releases.” If the oil is hot and your protein is dry, it will release (turn easily) once browned on the first side. If you try to move it too early, it will stick to the pan.
- As long as you have room in the pan, you can add more vegetables. If you want to add more than can fit in the pan, cook them in batches, using more oil for each and transferring finished vegetables to the bowl with cooked protein when they are done. To finish, transfer everything back to the pan for even heating and coating with the sauce.
Another reason we love stir fry is that there are so many options for serving it!
- It’s equally delicious to serve your stir fry on top of rice (white, brown, black or red), noodles (rice noodles, ramen, udon or soba) or grains like quinoa.
- Set out toppings and finishes and let each person decorate their dish to their liking.