Stir-Frying At Home

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Stir-frying is a method of cooking where ingredients are fried in a small amount of very hot oil while being stirred. This technique originated in China but has spread into other parts of Asia and the West. To traditionally stir-fry, the most obvious tool you need is a good wok and spatula. However, if you don’t have a wok, that shouldn’t stop you! Simply use a large, wide frying pan with some other basic pantry ingredients. You’ll soon be able to whip up the most delicious stir-fry recipes.

Stir-Frying At Home

Have Everything Ready To Go Before You Start

The key to successful stir-frying is to have all of your ingredients ready before you even start cooking. When choosing your ingredients try to keep it simple, sometimes less is more. Once you’ve selected your ingredients, cut them into roughly equal sizes or shapes. This promotes even cooking. If you can, try to keep each type of vegetable separate. This is because when it’s time to cook, delicate ingredients like tomatoes will go in the pan at the end of the cooking process while robust ingredients like carrots will be added at the beginning. 

Your Wok Should Be Smoking Hot

To make a good stir-fry, you must have an extremely hot wok or pan. Simple as that! Restaurants have extremely powerful stoves pumping out super-high heat, which enables them to get that iconic charred ‘wok flavour’ and is the reason food cooks so quickly.

Since we cannot produce the same heat as a Chinese restaurant at home, you need to heat your wok or pan for a long time. To test if it’s hot enough, you can flick a little water over the surface of the wok. If it evaporates the second it makes contact, you’re good to go! Once the wok is really hot, add some neutral oil such as vegetable, grapeseed or sunflower oil (peanut oil works well too). These oils have a high smoke point which hopefully won’t set the smoke alarm off as quickly as olive oil. Once you add your oil, work quickly. Stir-frying isn’t about taking it low and slow.

Do Not Use Ice-Cold Or Wet Ingredients

Adding cold tofu or vegetables will instantly reduce the temperature of your wok or frypan. To avoid this, let the ingredients sit out at room temperature at least 20 minutes before cooking them. Then when you are ready to cook, ensure all your prepped food is drained properly. You can even go as far as patting items dry with paper towel. Even slightly damp ingredients will alter temperature and sizzling sound that ingredients make in oil, causing your food to steam instead of sear.

Don’t Overcrowd The Pan Or Wok

The most common mistake we make when stir-frying at home is adding too many ingredients into the wok at once. If you overfill your wok or pan, it cools everything down in the process. Your food will stew, not fry! You really want your food to sizzle, especially harder vegetables. Also, if you dump all the ingredients into the pan at once, you’re not taking into account the different cooking rates of your food. For example, firm carrots need more time to cook than leafy greens or pre cooked noodles.

Cook In Batches

At home, you’ll want to stir fry in batches for even browning. First heat up the oil, then add aromatics like ginger or garlic, followed by your tofu, mock-meat (or other protein). Only add approximately 200-250g at a time and spread it out so it is not all piled up in the centre. Leave it for at least 30 seconds to give it a chance to sear, then stir until it’s browned nicely. Cook the protein until it is almost done, remove the batch and set it aside. Reheat the pan or wok and add more oil if necessary, then repeat the process with any remaining ingredients. 

Cook The Vegetables Next

Once you have set aside your protein, heat up the wok again and add a little more oil so you can cook the vegetables. You may need to do this in batches depending how much food you have to cook. Start off with sturdier veggies like onions or chunky mushrooms, leaving leafy greens, shredded cabbage or bean sprouts to the end to maintain their texture. Some items may need extra cooking time before stir-frying. You can blanch vegetables like broccoli in salted boiling water for 60 seconds and refresh in iced water to ensure they stay crisp. This is an extra step, but the aim with a wok is to cook quickly so that you don’t end up with a pool of liquid at the base.

Thickening The Sauce

You Should add the cooked tofu or protein back to the wok at the end to finish cooking and combine with other ingredients. At this point, you can add your seasonings and sauces. By making a ‘slurry’ from a tablespoon of corn starch and 60ml of cold water (forming a paste) and adding it into the stir-fry, this will thicken the sauce and give that classic glossy look to your meal.

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