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Stir-Fry Recipe: Create Your Own

Why order takeout? With this simple method, you can create dozens of Chinese stir-fries at home.

by Robert Danhi

from Fine Cooking
Issue 58

A stir-fry has all the features of an ideal weeknight meal--it's quick, nutritious, and delicious. But stir-frying on a home stove isn't the same as stir-frying over the super-high temperatures that a Chinese chef uses. Too often, a home-cooked stir-fry falls prey to unevenly cooked vegetables, dry meat, scorched garlic, or a watery sauce. My method reorganizes the classic stir-frying method so that you're able to stay in control throughout the process and get perfect results every time. The basic method is simple enough that you can get creative with your favorite ingredients.

A skillet beats a wok on a home range. The traditional method of stir-frying involves cooking in a wok over very high heat--with more oil than you'd believe. Home stovetops, however, just don't have the firepower to heat a wok adequately and evenly. Your best bet is a heavy 12-inch skillet. It conducts heat well, and the pan's shallow sides allow extra moisture to evaporate, keeping the vegetables crisp and the meat tender. And you'll use less oil, too.

Serves 3 to 4

Prep your ingredients

Because stir-frying happens at lightning speed, you want to have all elements fully prepped. Besides prepping your sauce and aromatics here, you'll also want to cut up all the meat and vegetables as directed (see below).

In a small bowl, combine 2 Tbs. very thinly sliced scallions (white and light green parts), 2 tsp. minced fresh ginger, and 2 tsp. minced garlic.

Make your chosen sauce (see options below) according to the recipes at the bottom of this page.

Choose one sauce (recipes at bottom of the page)

  • Cantonese orange sauce
    Cantonese Orange Sauce
  • sesame soy sauce
    Sesame-Soy Sauce
  • szechuan sauce
    Spicy Sichuan Sauce
  • black bean sauce
    Chinese Black Bean Sauce
Cook the meat or shrimp

To keep things sizzling, don't overcrowd the pan. The trick is to stir-fry in batches: first the meat or shrimp and then the vegetables and the aromatics.

Season 1 lb. of meat or shrimp (see options below) with 1/4 tsp. kosher salt and a dash of ground white pepper. Heat a 12-inch skillet or a stir-fry pan over high heat for 2 minutes. Add 1 Tbs. vegetable oil, swirl to coat the pan evenly, and heat until the oil just barely begins to smoke, about 30 seconds-only a light haze is necessary.

Add the meat to the pan. Let it sear for about 15 seconds and then begin to stir occasionally (every 10 seconds or so) until its raw appearance is gone but the center is slightly undercooked, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.

Choose one meat or seafood

  • beef
    Beef: rib-eye or sirloin, New York strip, or flank steak, trimmed, cut across the grain into 2-x1-1/4-inch pieces
  • pork
    Pork: boneless loin chops or tenderloin, trimmed, cut across the grain into 2-x1-1/4-inch pieces

  • chicken
    Chicken: boneless, skinless breasts or thighs, trimmed, cut across the grain into 2-x1-1/4-inch pieces
  • shrimp
    Shrimp: preferably small (26/30 count), peeled, deveined, rinsed and patted dry (if the shrimp are large, split in half lengthwise)
Cook the vegetables and aromatics

Different vegetables cook at different rates, so you'll often see recipes that call for cooking each vegetable separately. Since I like to use a lot of different vegetables in my stir-fries, I find this tedious. It defeats the whole quick-cooking concept. So I've designed my stir-fry method so that each vegetable is cut to a specific size according to its density (i.e., the denser the vegetable, the smaller the cut). This way, the vegetables can cook at the same rate in one easy batch. Waiting to add the aromatic trio-garlic, ginger, and scallion-until after the vegetables have cooked for a minute is a trick to prevent scorching. With plenty of vegetables in the pan to temper the heat, the flavors of the garlic, ginger, and scallion can bloom without the chance of burning.

Add another 1 Tbs. vegetable oil to the pan and swirl to coat evenly. Add 1 lb. your chosen vegetables (see options below) and 1 Tbs. water and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute.

Add the scallion-ginger-garlic mixture to the pan and cook, stirring constantly, until the vegetables are crisp-tender, 1 to 4 minutes. If the bottom of the pan looks like it's starting to burn, add more water, 1 Tbs. at a time.

Choose 2 to 5 vegetables, for 1 lb. total (about 4 cups)

  • carrots
    Carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/4-inch coins
  • broccoli
    Broccoli, cut into 3/4-inch florets
  • bell peppers
    Bell peppers, cored and cut into 2x1/3-inch strips
  • shiitake mushrooms
    Shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, caps cut into 1/2-inch strips
  • sugar snap peas
    Sugar snap peas, stems and strings removed
  • asparagus
    Asparagus, woody ends removed, cut on an angle into 1-inch lengths (slice thick stalks in half lengthwise first)
  • bok choy
    Bok choy, white ribs cut on the bias into 1-inch pieces; leaves cut into 2-inch pieces. Wash and drain after cutting
  • red onion
    Red onions, cut into 1/2 inch slices
Add the sauce and finish the stir-fry

Stir the meat or shrimp back into the pan and cook for another 30 seconds to reheat and to blend the flavors.

Whisk the sauce to recombine it. Pour the sauce into the stir-fry, stirring well to coat evenly, and cook until it thickens, 15 to 20 seconds. Transfer the stir-fry to a bowl and serve immediately with rice.

Tips for the perfect stir-fry

A skillet beats a wok for home stoves. The traditional method of stir-frying involves cooking in a wok over very high heat—with more oil than you’d believe. Most home stovetops, however, just don’t have the firepower to heat a wok adequately and evenly. Your best bet is a heavy 12-inch skillet. It conducts heat well, and the pan’s shallow sides allow extra moisture to evaporate, keeping the vegetables crisp and the meat tender. And you’ll use less oil, too.

To keep things sizzling, don’t overcrowd the pan. The trick is to stir-fry in batches—first the meat, chicken, or seafood and then the vegetables and the aromatics.

Just a bit of water prevents burning. Since I use much less oil than in a traditional stir-fry, sometimes my pan dries out and the vegetables begin to burn before they’re crisp-tender. If I see this happening, I add water, about a tablespoon at a time, to the pan to keep the process going without adding more oil.

Cantonese Orange Sauce Recipe

1-1/2 tsp. cornstarch
2 tsp. soy sauce
1/4 cup homemade or low-salt canned chicken broth
2 Tbs. thawed frozen orange juice concentrate
2 Tbs. dry sherry
1-1/2 tsp. oyster sauce 1 tsp. granulated sugar
1 tsp. minced fresh ginger

In a measuring cup, combine the cornstarch with the soy sauce, whisking to blend. Then whisk in the remaining ingredients.

Sesame-Soy Sauce Recipe

2 tsp. sesame seeds, toasted
1-1/2 tsp. cornstarch
2 tsp. rice vinegar
1/4 cup homemade or low-salt canned chicken broth
2 Tbs. soy sauce
2 tsp. granulated sugar
1 Tbs. sliced scallions (white and green parts)
2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
1/2 tsp. minced garlic

Toast the sesame seeds in a small, dry skillet over medium heat, tossing until golden and fragrant. Immediately transfer to a small bowl to stop the cooking. In a measuring cup, combine the cornstarch with the rice vinegar, whisking to blend. Then whisk in the sesame seeds and the remaining ingredients.

Spicy Sichuan Sauce Recipe

1-1/2 tsp. cornstarch
1-1/2 tsp. soy sauce
1/4 cup homemade or low-salt canned chicken broth
2 Tbs. dry sherry
1 Tbs. Asian chile paste
1 Tbs. sliced scallions (white and green parts)
1 Tbs. honey
1 Tbs. hoisin sauce
1/2 tsp. minced fresh ginger
1/2 tsp. minced garlic

In a measuring cup, combine the cornstarch with the soy sauce, whisking to blend. Then whisk in the remaining ingredients.

Chinese Black Bean Sauce Recipe

1-1/2 tsp. cornstarch
1-1/2 tsp. dry sherry
1/2 cup homemade or low-salt chicken broth
1-1/2 Tbs. Chinese black bean and garlic sauce
1 Tbs. granulated sugar
1 tsp. Asian chile paste
1/2 tsp. minced fresh ginger

In a measuring cup, combine the cornstarch with the sherry, whisking to blend. Then whisk in the remaining ingredients.

Photos: Scott Phillips


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