Stir-fries are a classic Chinese dish made by frying aromatics, veggies, and meat quickly, at high temperatures. Tips for the perfect stir fry include:
- Prepping well in advance
- Marinating your protein,
- Using the right wok,
- Using oils with high smoking points,
- Using aromatics, and
- Cooking in batches.
- The Perfect Stir Fry Recipe
- How To Make The Perfect Stir-Fry – Our Recipe
- Prep Ahead
- The Right Wok
- Our Favourite Rounded Bottom Wok For Gas
- Our Favourite Flat-Bottomed Wok
- Slice It Right
- Marinate – The Art Of Velveting
- Never Skip The Aromatics
- Keep It Sizzling Hot!
- Timing Is Important
- Room Temperature Meat, Always
- The Sauce – A Must For The Best Stir Fry Recipe
- Keep Calm And Stir On
- The Garnish Games
- Tips For Making The Perfect Stir Fry: The Final Word
The Perfect Stir Fry Recipe
I’ve always loved eating Asian food, but found the stir fry really tricky. Trying to get my stir-fries to be that perfect mix of meltingly tender meat and crunchy veggies was always a challenge until I realized that there were so many things I was doing wrong, from not using a hot-enough wok (or even the right one, for that matter) to slicing my meat and veggies incorrectly.
Overlooking even the smallest things can make such a huge difference—a lesson learned the hard way.
If you’re looking to nail this cooking technique, here’s a list of my lessons in the art of stir-frying to help you out!
How To Make The Perfect Stir-Fry – Our Recipe
Here are some tips that will help you whip up the perfect stir-fry every time!
In a stir-fry, time is of the essence. When your veggies hit the heat, there’s no time to lose and things are going to keep moving quickly! Get your mise-en-place ready ahead of time so that a last-minute search for a spatula doesn’t end up with your meat overcooked.
This means that all your veggies are sliced, your meat is marinated, and your other ingredients are measured, placed in separate containers, and ready to be tipped in before the flame is turned on. You also have all of your equipment and serving plates, ready on hand when needed.
This also means thinking about the carb you want to pair with your stir-fry. Stir-fries go best with a carb by the side; I love a side of noodles with my stir-fries. Somedays, for convenience, I even tip the noodles right at the end and mix it all up, which means that my noodles have to be ready before I start my stir-fry, or at the very least, cooking simultaneously.
If you want to pair your stir-fry with rice, I recommend setting your rice to cook before you start your stir-fry—rice takes a while to cook, so time the rice to be ready when the stir fry is ready. Make sure you give your rice draining time so that it isn't soggy when you add the stir fry ingredients to the bowl.
The Right Wok
Woks are engineered to have large surfaces that retain heat efficiently until the very end, which is why they’re traditionally used for stir-fries. If you don’t have a wok at home and don’t want to invest in one, a cast-iron pan is a passable replacement. But to get that real stir-fry experience you really need a great wok.
If you’re investing in a carbon steel wok, you’ve picked a great wok! Carbon Steel is what the great Chinese Chefs use and they last for a very long time.
However, this style of Wok needs to be looked after, which means that it needs to be seasoned with oil, at high heat, to create a non-stick layer that prevents food from sticking and burning. This should be done before you even start using the Wok. See our tips for looking after your Wok here.
Also, take into consideration the kind of heat you’re going to be using. The Chinese only use a rounded bottom Wok on Gas, but if you don't have it we have options for you.
There are great Woks that are flat bottomed if you have Electric or Induction, but stick to the Carbon Steel versions.
Remember, you don’t want to overcrowd your ingredients, so if you find yourself cooking often for large groups in addition to cooking for yourself, either choose a large Wok or have 2 sizes.
You will also need a
- flat spatula
- ladle and,
- a deeper strainer.
If you don't already have these pieces of kitchen equipment, you can usually pick up a combined set at a cheaper price than buying them individually.
And you can't cut those veggies unless you have a great knife that is super sharp. I also love to use a Cleaver Knife, the ones that look like Meat Cleavers. They aren't just for meat, they are great for vegetables as well.
Our Favourite Rounded Bottom Wok For Gas
Our Favourite Flat-Bottomed Wok
Slice It Right
If you’ve eaten a lot of stir-fries, you’ll notice that the veggies are always small and sliced thinly, and more importantly, diagonally. This is done to maximise the surface area of the vegetables, helping them cook better and more quickly, while also being small enough to pick up with chopsticks.
Similarly, meat is typically sliced against the grain so that it cooks evenly while retaining its tenderness, while aromatics are finely chopped.
Chopping the ingredients this way allows them to stay in constant contact with the heat, leading to more flavourful results.
Marinate – The Art Of Velveting
Whichever protein you’re using (we find chicken, beef and pork are the best), marinating it can level up your stir-fry game like crazy! Marinating the meat gives you juicy, tender results—if you can’t do a 24-hours-in-advance marinade, even 15-30 minutes can work wonders, especially for thinly sliced meat. You can marinate while you are cooking your rice or noodles and chopping your vegetables.
A highly popular and efficient marinating method that you can use is called “velveting”. Don't underestimate how much better your stir fry will be using this method.
It involves marinating your protein in:
- A little water (1-2 tablespoons), to keep the protein moist.
- Some soy sauce or oyster sauce, and around a couple of teaspoons of rice wine or sesame oil.
- Letting it sit for 5 or 10 minutes until the liquid is absorbed.
- Adding an equivalent amount of cornflour (i.e. a couple of teaspoons) then mixing it thoroughly through the protein.
- Try and let it sit for about 30 minutes.
The meat turns luxuriously velvety and soft (and remains this way all the way till the end), after which you can briefly fry it in the Wok at a high heat until around 60% cooked. You may have sufficient oil in the mix, if not add another teaspoon or two of sesame oil.
Put the meat aside, as you will add it to the vegetables near the end of the cooking process.
If you’re using tofu, make sure that you squeeze out as much of the water as possible, and marinate it for at least an hour before cooking (tofu takes much longer to soak up the flavours).
Never Skip The Aromatics
Know that mouthwatering smell that emanates from stir-fries? I have one word for you—aromatics.
Aromatics are an integral part of every cuisine, with scallions, ginger, and garlic forming the indispensable holy trinity of Chinese food. Add these in right at the beginning and saute/fry them in fat till they “bloom” or release their flavours into the fat, creating distinct and intense flavours.
However, the one time in a stir-fry when you won’t be cooking over a high flame is when you’re cooking your aromatics. Gently cook these at low or medium heat, as they burn quickly, and this strong burnt flavour can overwhelm the entire dish.
Make sure you take the aromatics out of the pan before increasing the heat of the wok (which you’ll have to do—more on that below). You can add them in at the end if you’d like.
Keep It Sizzling Hot!
The wok needs to be sizzling hot when the veggies need to be added. The flame needs to be set to high but not high enough to burn. Heat the wok for at least 5-10 minutes at this temperature.
Another way to achieve this is to use oils with high smoking points (which means no olive oil, my health-conscious friends).
Peanut oil works best, as do other high-smoking-point oils like grapeseed, canola, and avocado. Once you add in the oil, roll it around so that it coats the wok well.
Timing Is Important
The secret to having both crisp veggies and tender meat in one dish? Timing.
When using ingredients with different cooking times, add the ones that will take longer (such as eggplant, carrots, mushrooms, etc.,) and cook these before you add in quick-cooking ingredients (such as greens).
To make it easy, stick to this sequence:
- Aromatics (cook these, then take them out and add again at the end)
- Proteins (you can cook these, take them out, and add them again at the end.)
- Hard veggies (unless they’re already blanched), and
- Soft veggies
A good way to achieve this is to arrange your ingredients in order around the stove so that you can easily add them in at the right time.
Room Temperature Meat, Always
Never use meat that’s cold or comes straight out of your fridge. The meat should be at room temperature; if you’re taking it out of the fridge, give it at least 20 minutes outside before you use it.
This way, your meat won’t bring down the temperature of the oil in your wok, while cooking faster and searing better.
I always cook my stir-fry in batches. Sure, this takes longer, but it achieves two things—I don’t have to worry about overcrowding my wok or undercooking and overcooking.
Here are the steps:
- Cook my aromatics first and remove them
- Cook my meat next and remove it
- Then cook my veggies
- Then the last step is to return the meat and the aromatics to the wok once the veggies are cooked.
If I’m working with large quantities of meat, I cook the meat in batches too, so that they fry and char nicely instead of simmering or steaming, leaving me with tough and grey meat.
The Sauce – A Must For The Best Stir Fry Recipe
Sauce is non-negotiable in stir-fries if you want a glistening, glossy result. You don’t want to drown your main ingredients, but you want enough gravy to flavour your rice. Stir-fries work better with thick sauces, so if your sauce is too runny, you can use cornflour to thicken it (create a cornflour and water mixture, ensuring that there are no lumps, and pour it in at the end).
Keep Calm And Stir On
I mean, it is a stir-fry, which it wouldn’t be if you weren’t constantly stirring it! The ingredients in stir-fries cook extremely fast; to ensure the even cooking of all your ingredients and circulation of heat, keep stirring often, giving all the ingredients a chance at the centre of the wok, where it’s hottest.
The Garnish Games
While it may seem like a decorative frill to most people, a fresh element can add a different texture to your stir-fry. Sprouts, fresh wedges of lime, and herbs are all great garnishes to add to your stir-fry.
How Do You Stir-Fry Vegetables Without Getting Soggy?
If your veggies are getting soggy, it’s probably because you’re overcrowding your wok. When this happens, veggies overlap, which leads to steaming instead of sauteeing, giving you soggy, rubbery results.
What Types Of Vegetables Are In Stir Fry?
Some classic stir-fry vegetables are carrots, broccoli, mushrooms, sugar snap peas, bell peppers, onions (white, yellow, and green), cabbage, asparagus, leafy Asian greens, zucchini, spinach, and water chestnuts. However, you can add anything to your stir-fry as long as you’re able to manage the different cooking periods.
How To Clean A Carbon Steel Wok
Cleaning a carbon steel wok is relatively simple, and by following these easy-to-follow dot points, you can maintain its seasoning and longevity:
After using the wok, rinse it with hot water immediately. Avoid using soap or abrasive cleaners as they can strip away the seasoning.
Use a soft sponge or brush to remove any food residues gently.
If there are stubborn food bits stuck to the wok, you can deglaze it by adding some water to the hot wok and using a wooden or silicone spatula to scrape off the residue.
Never soak your carbon steel wok in water for an extended period as it can cause rusting. Carbon steel requires immediate cleaning rather than soaking.
For tough, stuck-on residues, sprinkle some salt on the wok's surface and use a soft sponge or non-abrasive brush to scrub the area gently.
After scrubbing, rinse the wok thoroughly with hot water to remove any remaining food particles or salt.
Place the wok on a stove over low heat to evaporate any remaining water.
Once dry, wipe the wok with a paper towel or a cloth dampened with a small amount of vegetable oil to prevent rusting.
Store the wok in a dry place to avoid moisture buildup.
As your carbon steel wok gets used over time, the seasoning may wear off. To maintain its non-stick properties, periodically re-season the wok by applying a thin layer of vegetable oil to the inside surface and heating it over low heat for about 10-15 minutes.
Remember that a well-seasoned carbon steel wok will develop a natural non-stick surface, making cooking and cleaning easier over time. By following these steps, you can ensure your wok stays in excellent condition for many delicious meals to come!
Tips For Making The Perfect Stir Fry: The Final Word
If you’ve struggled with replicating the stir-fry results of your favourite Chinese restaurants, these tips will definitely help you take steps in the right direction. With these tips and sufficient practice, you’ll be dishing up stir-fries like a pro!