Stir-Fry . . . Easy, Healthy, and Zippy!

By Arlene Marshall (TwinLakesChef) on March 20, 2011

A technique traditionally associated with Asian cooking, “Stir-Frying” is a cooking method and not a particular recipe. We learned the stir-fry technique years ago while living in Southern California, by taking a Chinese cooking course taught by a Chinese woman. Once you master the basic technique, you can get good results with many different combinations of ingredients.

Use very high heat and cook fast.  Actual cooking time is no more than 20 - 30 minutes! That means you are stir-frying only 2-3 minute between adding the next ingredient, maybe 5 minutes on the hard vegies.

Stir frying meets all the modern challenges.  It is  quick, with the vegies chopped into very small pieces which cook quickly in a very hot pan. Vegetables step up and protein steps back. Meat and seafood play a major role, but more often as an accent rather than as the star of the dish. 

Asian-style noodle bars put an emphasis on seasonal ingredients and exhibition cooking station.   Customers select their own vegetables, meats and sauce ingredients for the wok chefs to cook in the exhibition stations.

We have these types of restaurants here in the Midwest.  HuHot Mongolian Grill & BBQ in Des Moines, Iowa comes to mind. 

Cornell College, in Mount Vernon, Iowa also offers stir-fry in their cafeteria.  They have done filled crepes, some potato dishes, and omelet spin-offs all based around stir frying.  Some offer to have the hot protein components from the stir fry station added to their salads to create a ‘sizzling salad’.”

 The secret to stir fry is to be sure you maintain a balance of flavors and temperatures, because you're cooking quickly over a very high heat, the vegetables will retain crisp texture, bright color and flavor.  They need to be uniform in size and temperature before they hit the pan.  The work is in the chopping and it helps to do that a day or two before. 1. & 2

 After bringing our vegetables home from the market is the best time for me.  .  . washing, chopping, and packing into zip locks . . then into the refrigerator.  Several hours before stir frying, we set the bags on the kitchen counter for the chill to come off them.

The correct pan to use for optimal results is a wok. A wok is a heavy pan that has sloped sides and a rounded or flat bottom. The wok should be large enough to cook all ingredients without crowding.  We have used a large Teflon coated skillet and it works fine but the high heat destroys the Teflon finish.

A flat spatula, preferably heat-resistant, can be used to stir the food and a hot pad will come in handy when working with such a hot pan. 3.

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Start with a very hot pan and just a couple of tablespoons of oil; We are adding onion and fresh gingeroot; saute briefly & remove from the pan if you want your onions to retain some crunch. (first picture)

Next add chicken pieces and keep stirring, flipping to cook on both sides. (second picture)

The hard vegetables go in next: carrots, asparagus, green beans, and keep stirring! (third picture)


We use Peanut or Canola oil because they have a higher smoke point, allowing one to cook at high temperatures without burning.  Vegetable oil would also work fine. Occasionally we have used Olive oil, wanting the flavor it adds but it is much harder to work with because it has a lower smoke point.  Butter and margarine have even lower smoke points and should not be used.

Toasted Sesame oil (which is a yummy brown nuttier version of regular sesame oil) & hot chili oil are used to flavor the dish and are added toward the end. 7.

Heat the wok until it is almost smoking before adding the oil. Use one or two tablespoons of oil, at the most, when stir-frying. Swirl the oil around in the pan to heat it quickly before adding other ingredients. 3.



Now you can add sugar snap peas, colored bell peppers, broccoli and minced fresh garlic as well as Toasted sesame oil and hot chili oil. Keep Stirring! (first picture)

Finally add back in the reserved onion and fresh gingeroot as well as soft vegetables, like zucchini & yellow squash.You can add a bit of soy sauce or choose from any number of bottled stir fry sauces available in markets. Keep Stirring! (second picture)

Sprinkle over with toasted sesame seeds and serve with your choice of rice, noodles, or by itself.  (third picture)

 Common Stir-Fry Vegetables

  • Carrots, peeled and sliced thinly on a diagonal
  • onions (we use red)
  • Sugar Snap Peas
  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Snow Peas 
  • Broccoli florets
  • Yellow summer squash or zucchini
  • Asparagus
  • Bell peppers (we prefer the sweeter colored peppers) 
  • Tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Summer squash
  • Zucchini
  • Bok Choy (Chinese cabbage)
  • Green beans (We steam ahead of time in microwave 3 minutes) 6.
  • Potato

Meats to Stir-Fry:

  • Chicken, cut in very thin strips that will cook in a very short time
  • Beef (cut as above)
  • Pork (cut as above)
  • Shrimp or prawns, peeled and deveined

Other Possibilities:

  • Minced fresh ginger
  • Fresh chopped basil
  • Garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
  • Mushrooms, sliced
  • Scallions, cut into one-inch pieces
  • Nuts-cashews, sesame seeds, peanuts
  • Soy sauce
  • Bamboo shoots
  • Water chestnuts
  • Tofu (choose fresh, firm-style tofu) cut into small cubes  Tofu, won't keep its form in the stir fry, so you might  like to deep fry it for just a few seconds before adding it to the wok.

7 Steps to Successful Stir-Fry

  • Cut meat and seafood into bite-size pieces and chop all your vegetables into bite-sized pieces.
  • Arrange vegetables in the order they are to be cooked.  The only trick is adding the vegetables that need more cooking time first. Those that only need to be briefly heated go in toward the end.
  • Mix sauce ingredients before you start cooking. This allows you to give your undivided attention to the dish you're stir-frying.  This can be as simple as using a bit of soy sauce at the end and there are many available bottled stir fry sauces available in today’s markets.
  • Preheat your wok or pan. Do not add the oil or other ingredients to the pan until it is hot.
  • "Season" the oil. Many recipes call for the garlic, ginger, shallot, or chili to go into the pan first, to flavor the oil for the cooking that follows.
  • Avoid overcrowding the food in your frying pan or wok. Most recipes call for less than a pound of meat. More than that can make it difficult to cook all the ingredients evenly.
  • Keep things moving in the pan. Remember it's stir-frying, so stir, and don't stare. 4.



2. "My Iowa" magazine.




6. "How to Cook Everything"  by Mark Bittman pg. 532.

7.  "Taste" feature of "The Seattle Times" April 18, 1999

Related articles:
Asparagus, Bell peppers, Broccoli florets, Carrots, chili oil, Cucumbers, Fresh peas, ginger root, greens, healthy, nutritiou, onion, sesame oil, snow peas, stir-fry, Sugar snap beans, toasted sesame oil, Tomatoes, wok, Yellow summer squash, zucchini

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Comments and discussion:
Subject Thread Starter Last Reply Replies
Low Salt Seasoning for high blood pressure? Bluespiral Mar 28, 2011 7:12 PM 3
stir and don't stare Maridell Mar 27, 2011 4:05 PM 27
Any recommendations for a good wok? MaryE Mar 20, 2011 8:33 PM 1
Remember Wok With Yan? threegardeners Mar 20, 2011 11:18 AM 1

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