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How to Stir-Fry

Stir-frying is an Asian cooking technique of rapidly frying small pieces of foods in oil over high heat. A wok is the perfect implement for stir-frying, as it exposes the food to the maximum cooking surface while keeping it from flying out of the pan as you stir. A large, deep cast-iron fry pan or heavy sauté pan is a good substitute, however. Almost any vegetable or meat can be stir-fried as long as it is cut into small pieces. The steps below are designed for approximately 1 pound of vegetables and 1⁄2 pound of meat, fish or tofu.

  • How to Stir-Fry 1. Cut ingredients into pieces about 1 1/2 inches long or into 1/2-inch dice. Cut red meat into strips against the grain, cut chicken or fish into thin strips or dice, and cut tofu into dice. Leave shrimp whole. Cut vegetables, such as carrots and zucchini, into matchsticks or very thin slices; cut long, thin vegetables, such as green beans and asparagus, on the diagonal. Marinate meat, fish or tofu for about 15 minutes in a little soy sauce and vegetable oil flavored with garlic, ginger, and dry sherry or Shaoxing rice wine.
  • How to Stir-Fry 2. Preheat the wok over high heat until hot, then pour about 1 1/2 Tbs. canola or peanut oil into the wok. Carefully tilt and rotate the pan in a circle so the oil is distributed 6 inches up the sides of the pan. The oil should spread out in fragrant waves.
  • How to Stir-Fry 3. Add the meat, chicken, fish, shellfish or tofu, stirring the food rapidly and pushing it up the sides of the wok until just beginning to brown, 2 to 3 minutes; shrimp should just have turned pink. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the food to a bowl and set aside.
  • How to Stir-Fry 4. Add another 1 Tbs. oil to the pan and heat, then add the vegetables and stir-fry until their color turns bright, about 1 minute.
  • How to Stir-Fry 5. Add 2 to 3 Tbs. stock or water and cover the pan. Reduce the heat to medium-high and cook just until the vegetables are crisp-tender, a few minutes more. Vegetables like broccoli, carrots and cauliflower will take 3 to 4 minutes; bell peppers and zucchini will take 1 to 2 minutes; tender vegetables, such as bean sprouts and snow peas, need only 30 seconds or less.
  • How to Stir-Fry 6. Return the meat, chicken, fish, shellfish or tofu to the pan along with the marinade and any other flavoring ingredients, such as black beans, soy sauce, chili oil or Asian sesame oil. If you would like a thickened sauce, dissolve 2 tsp. cornstarch in about 1⁄3 cup cold stock or water, add to the pan at the very end of cooking, and stir until the liquid is thickened. Serve immediately.