Eight Dance Steps to Stir-Fry

Just about everyone, at one time or another, decides that stir-fry is the perfect food preparation technique. Fast cooking, choice of material to cook with (as healthy as you want – or don’t), and not a lot of expensive equipment to buy. There are thousands of good recipes, dozens of good techniques, but not a lot on the basics.

Here are the steps that will lead you to compliments, cooking with a wok:

1. You have to prep everything before you start cooking – even the sauce – because it goes fast.

You’re not going to use large quantities of materials, so it’s not that arduous – a cup or two of meat (or firm, drained tofu) and three or four cups of veggies (total) is enough. Meat should be cut into thin strips; veggies should be no larger than bite-size. Remember everything but meat will only cook, at most, a very few minutes – so small is key. A tip: slice veggies on a diagonal, so the maximum surface is exposed to heat.

If you’re having rice, cook and drain it during prep time.

2. Use the right oil.

Many use peanut or canola oil, because stir-fry is done at almost the same temperature as deep-frying. You need something with a high smoke point (the oil won’t scorch), and that doesn’t add a strong flavor of its own. Sesame oil? Use it only for flavoring; at frying temps, it scorches and does not taste nice at all. Save it for your sauce.

3. Get it hot enough – before you add the oil.

Check how hot the wok (or pan) is, by flipping a few water drops into it. If they flash into steam instantly, too hot – set the pan aside, and lower your heat slightly. The water drops should skitter around a couple of seconds, then vanish. (About like a perfect pancake griddle).

4. Add the oil and wait for it to heat.

Pretty much everyone agrees on this one – drop a small piece of veggie in there, if it fizzles but doesn’t blacken quickly, you’re there. Remove the test piece before cooking.

5. A disagreement – choose your own path here.

Some experts say this is the time to cook your ginger, garlic, or any other “aromatics” you choose – while the oil is fresh and hot. Those experts also say to only cook it until it darkens, then remove it, and any pieces, from the oil. This is also the time to add, for example, soy sauce.

Others say forget all that; cook those things with the veggies, later.

6. Cook the meat first.

Don’t dump in more than about 3/4th of a cup at a time; you don’t want the wok to lose too much temperature. Continuously move the meat from the center of the oil to the edge, until it is no longer pink. Then move it up the side of the wok, so it will still continue cooking, but not continue frying. You’ll add it back in at the end, along with the sauce.

7. Now add the vegetables, in order of density.

If you didn’t add garlic, ginger or whatnot earlier, this is the time. Cook it with the rest of the veggies.

Add carrots and onions first, and stir-fry for about 2 minutes. Then add broccoli florets and water chestnuts, and stir-fry for 3 to 4 minutes. Red and yellow bell peppers come next, and stir-fry for 2 more minutes. (If you’re keeping track, yes, the carrots have been in since the start… they cook about eight minutes). If you want to add something leafy (like bok choy), that takes a matter of seconds. Remember, keep everything moving, from the center of the oil to the edge. This “wave” will keep everything cooking smoothly.

8. Bring the meat back in, add your sauce – and it’s time to eat.

This is the last movement of the symphony; you’re almost there. Add your sauce, and mix meat and veggies (gently) until everything is covered in a smooth layer of sauce. Remove it from the heat, and turn everything off.

Serve immediately.

Enjoy your meal!

Alicia D. Walker

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