9 Awesome Tips for a Perfect Stir-Fry
Stir-fries, the perfect solution for the week. They're quick to prepare and provide a balanced meal in one bowl - basically the ideal family meal. But even though they're so easy to prepare, you should pay a little attention to technique if you want to master the process. Here are nine easy ways to improve the quality of your stir-fry.
1. Prepare all the ingredients before you turn on the stove
Once the stove is on, everything goes really quickly. Slice the ingredients and measure the liquids before you start, and keep them within reach. Be prepared to add ingredients quickly and make sure each component is cooked properly.
2. Slice meat and vegetables to get as much surface area as possible
The goal is to expose as much surface area as possible: Vegetables are often thinly sliced diagonally, spices such as garlic and ginger are usually finely chopped, and meat is always cut against the grain to make it more tender. The larger surface area means that everything comes into better contact with the heat and acquires more flavour.
3. Use a wok or cast-iron skillet
If you have a wok, you should always use it. A wok has a large surface area and retains heat very well, making it ideal for stir-fry dishes. If you don't have a wok, use a cast iron skillet. As you add more ingredients, the pan needs to stay very hot, and cast iron pans retain heat better than other materials. This is especially important if you're cooking on an electric stove, because the element has more difficulty retaining heat compared to a gas flame.
4. Aromatics should be cooked slowly and gently
There is one exception to cooking at high heat, and that is if you're using finely chopped spices such as ginger, garlic, lemongrass or green onions. They should be cooked at a lower heat first. If they're added to the wok or pan at high heat, they'll burn quickly and spoil the flavour of the wok. Since these ingredients are used to flavour the oil, heat the oil over medium heat and gently fry the aromatics. Be sure to scoop them out of the pan before increasing the heat (they can be added back in at the end if you like)
5. But the stir fry must be cooked quickly and hot
The heat should be set on high, but still controlled (you don't want it to smoke). Heat the wok or pan before you add the oil, as this will prevent the oil from sticking. Once the oil is in, swirl it around in the pan to coat it well. Choose an oil with a high smoke point. (Peanut oil works very well for stir-fry dishes)
6. Add ingredients according to cooking time
Make a plan and decide in what order to add ingredients to the pan, depending on their cooking time. (Some ingredients only take 30 seconds to cook.) Don't be afraid to cook the meat first and then remove it from the pan to add back at the end. This will allow you to cook the vegetables without overcooking the meat. Don't expect the meat to be browned - in skillet dishes, the meat is just barely cooked through, so there's no time for it to caramelise.
7. Stir your ingredients often
Ingredients should cook quickly, but to make sure everything is cooked evenly, you should stir constantly (hence the name). It's important to move ingredients quickly in and out of the centre of the pan.
8. Thicken the stir fry sauce
In some recipes, a mixture of cornstarch and water is recommended to thicken the sauce at the end of the wok. In this case, make sure the mixture is stirred smooth so it doesn't clump when added.
9. Always add a side dish
Serve stir-fries with a steaming bowl of rice or noodles, but don't forget to add a fresh element: Herbs, sprouts or fresh citrus slices make a big difference.