Stir-frying is one of the best cooking techniques to make quick, healthy meals. It’s a versatile dish that allows you to use almost any protein and vegetable you’d like. Once you learn the basic technique, you can get creative and easily incorporate whatever ingredients you have to make a nutritious meal.
What is Stir-Frying
Stir-frying is a cooking technique where vegetables and protein are cooked quickly with high heat, using a small amount of oil.
Ideally, you should buy a 14-inch wok made of carbon steel and season it before using. Non-stick works are available too, but they are less ideal since you will be cooking at very high temperatures. A flat-bottomed wok is best because you can use it on either an electric stovetop or gas stove. If you don’t have a wok it’s possible to use a large saute pan, but it has less cooking surface so it’s easier to overcrowd it and have things fall out while you’re stir-frying. Woks are inexpensive, so it’s a worthwhile investment if you think you’ll make stir-frys often. You’ll also want to have a heat-resistant stir-fry spatula, which is generally made of metal (don’t use in a non-stick wok) or bamboo.
Steps to Make a Stir-Fry
1. Choose the Ingredients
You don’t need to include a lot of ingredients. You can use a protein and several vegetables, a few vegetables and no protein, or even make a stir-fry with only one vegetable or protein.
Aromatics (~ 1 tablespoon)
- Chilies (fresh or dried)
Protein (~1 pound)
- Flank steak
Vegetables (~ 4 cups)
- Bok choy
- Napa cabbage
- Sliced red onion
- Green beans
- Sliced bell pepper
- Snow peas
- Baby corn
- Bean sprouts
Carbohydrate Base (~2 cups)
Choose a carbohydrate base to serve your stir-fry meal over if you would like.
- Brown rice
- Vermicelli noodles
2. Make a Sauce
You can get very creative with making sauces. A quick Google search will come back with dozens of stir-fry sauce variations. However, if you keep a few basic pantry items on hand (i.e., soy sauce, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, sugar, and garlic or ginger) you can always make a simple stir-fry sauce. To do this, whisk together the following:
¼ cup soy sauce + ¼ cup water or broth + 1 tablespoon sesame oil + 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar + 1 tablespoon brown sugar + 1 tablespoon minced ginger or garlic (you can use 1 teaspoon of garlic or ginger powder if you don’t have fresh)
To thicken the sauce, stir 1 tablespoon of cornstarch with equal parts water, then add to the sauce.
3. Prep Ingredients
Stir-fry cooking happens fast due to the high heat. Have everything prepared before you heat the wok.
- Mince or grate the aromatics or cut them into thin strips.
- Cut meat and vegetables into small, uniform pieces so everything can cook quickly. You may want to cut some vegetables into matchstick pieces since this size will cook quickly.
- Marinate your protein if you wish.
- Since ingredients may need to be added at different times, put each ingredient in a separate small bowl so you can grab what you need when it’s time to add it to the wok.
- Make the sauce.
- Although not necessary, consider parboiling longer crispier vegetables, such as carrots or broccoli, to reduce the amount of time they need to be stir-fried. Shorter cooking time means these vegetables will absorb less oil.
- If you are going to serve your stir-fry over rice or some other base, make that before you start the stir-fry.
4. Stir-Fry Everything
Now you’re ready to stir-fry your ingredients. Once you start cooking things will move fast. Remember not to crowd the wok. If necessary, stir-fry ingredients in batches and then combine everything together at the end. Also, if things start to get too dry, add a few tablespoons of water. Now follow these steps to stir-fry your prepped ingredients.
- First, heat up the wok on medium-high heat.
- Then carefully add a small amount of oil (1-2 tablespoons) down the side of the wok. Ideally, use an oil with a high smoke point such as canola or avocado oil.
- Add 1 tablespoon of aromatics and heat until it’s fragrant.
- Next, add your protein to the oil. Let it sit and cook for 1-2 minutes. Then stir-fry it by pushing the ingredients along the bottom of the wok with your spatula for an additional 1-2 minutes (it does not need to be completely cooked). Remove it from the wok and set aside.
- Heat 1-2 tablespoons of oil and add the remaining aromatics.
- Add vegetables, starting with the crispier ones that take the longest to cook, such as carrots and broccoli. Let them cook a minute without stirring, then stir-fry ~4-5 minutes.
- Add any remaining softer vegetables and stir-fry an additional ~2-4 minutes or until everything is cooked.
- Add the protein back to the wok.
- Add the sauce and stir everything until the sauce thickens.
- Serve over rice or some other base.
5. Finishing Touches
To add some fresh flavor, spiciness, or texture, finish your stir-fry dish by topping it with one of the following.
- A squeeze of lemon or lime juice
- Chopped fresh herbs like cilantro or basil
- Chopped cashews or peanuts
- Black sesame seeds
- Hot sauce
- Chopped scallions
Knowing how to stir-fry provides you with a way to make quick, healthy meals utilizing ingredients that you already have. Follow these 5 steps to make a nutritious dinner tonight!