I can’t believe that I waited so long to make this delicious meal. It took me watching numerous YouTube videos of Asian street food (kinda my relaxation jam these days) to sorta tweak my interest in making this simple stir-fry for ourselves. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve made stir-fries before, but they were never that good; without a wok, I reasoned, making limp and somewhat soggy, overcooked vegetables with no discernable flavour was not exactly a rousing endorsement to keep making it.
In watching these videos, however, I learned a few critical steps I’d been missing; other than having a professional wok-cooking set up in your kitchen, there are things the regular home cook can do to make a good stir-fry. Effectively, they boil down to the following few simple amendments to my method.
Firstly, flavour. I don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me before, but adding more Asian flavour profile elements was key to making my homemade stir-fries taste more like what I could get from a good takeout. Duh.
I’ve since started using sesame oil, red chili flakes, fresh ginger, good quality soy or tamari (gluten-free soy sauce). I even recently took possession of some gojuchang chili paste (for when I wanna get my Korean BBQ on), and am planning to pick up some rice wine soon.
Secondly, heat is king. According to experts, wok cooking over extremely high heat, ideally over gas, is the best way to make this meal as authentic as possible. Lower heat is more likely to steam-cook your veggies before they have a chance to brown. The Serious Eats website has a comprehensive step by step process for best wok cooking. If you actually own a wok for home use, then see their recommendation below:
At a restaurant, a wok chef has two valves controlled by his knees. One controls gas flow, while the other controls oxygen. Together, they allow him to control the heat under the wok from a lighter-sized flame to an all-out, jet-engine-sized ring of fire. Most cooking gets done under this extreme heat, which allows him to successively add ingredients to the wok without risking rapid temperature drop. Try the same thing at home, and you’ll find yourself standing over a woeful wok-ful of pale, flaccid, steaming meat and vegetables.
To compensate for this, the key is to heat your wok until it is literally smoking hot, cook in batches, and allow your wok to reheat fully between each batch.Serious Eats: Wok Skills 101 – Stir Frying Basics
However, if you’re stuck with no wok and an electric stove like me, then cranking that to high/maximum is the second best. I’d strongly recommend using a cast iron pan as they can handle the high heat; this is not the time to use your thin-bottomed non-stick pan for this exercise, as you will likely scorch and possibly warp your pan. Cast iron pans will retain heat better than other materials; you want the pan to remain very hot. This makes it particularly important when cooking on an electric stove, because the electric element has more difficulty retaining heat compared to a gas flame.
Some pro-tips to help you get the best results:
Mise En Place. Stir-fries are a very rapid cooking process with multiple parts, so being organized and having all of your ingredients, liquids, and seasonings prepped in advance and immediately to hand is crucial. In addition, make sure you have all your needed utensils, bowls, and serving plates close to hand.
Ingredient Uniformity: As your stir-fry is under the heat for a relatively short though intense period of time, it’s important to be sure that your protein and veggies are cut uniformly for even cooking. While your aromatics like ginger and garlic should be finely minced, slice your meat and veggies thinly on the diagonal (meat sliced against the grain to maximize tenderness) for maximum surface area exposure.
High and Hot vs Low and Slow: While most of your stir-fry should be cooked quickly at high heat, you want to do the opposite when it comes to using your finely chopped aromatics such as ginger, garlic, lemongrass or scallions (green onions). In your cooking order of operations, they should be cooked first at a lower heat; if they are added to a wok or pan at too high a heat, they’ll burn quickly and taint the flavour of the stir-fry with a nasty bitterness. As these ingredients’ primary purpose are to flavour the oil, heat the oil over medium heat and cook the aromatics gently. Spoon them out of the pan before increasing the heat to cook the rest of the ingredients; they can be added again at the end if desired.
Smoking Section: As mentioned previously, a good stir-fry needs very high heat, which unavoidably creates smoke. Manage your ventilation as such that you won’t set off all your smoke detectors or have your home smell like a Chinese takeout joint for days.
The ingredients you use for making your own stir-fry is, really, completely up to you; I highly recommend using up what you may have in your fridge, as to me stir-fry shouldn’t be an expensive undertaking. In my recipe below, I’ll indicate which vegetables I used, but feel free to substitute ingredients for what you have on hand.
YIELD: 4 servings | PREP: 10 mins | COOK: 15 mins
- 4 tbsp/60mL peanut or canola oil, divided
- 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 1 small knob fresh garlic, grated or minced finely
- ¼ cup/25g green onions/scallions, white parts sliced into thin coins, green parts sliced on the diagonal
- ⅛ tsp/0.5g red pepper flakes (optional)
- 2 tsp/10mL sesame oil (I used light sesame oil for a lighter taste)
- ½ lb/227g boneless, skinless chicken filets or breasts, cut into thin slices (I used a pkg of Gardein Chik’n Strips)
- 1/2 onion, thinly sliced
- 1 carrot, peeled, trimmed, and cut into thin batons
- 1 stalk celery, trimmed and cut into batons
- 1 bell pepper, sliced (I used 2 half peppers of different colours)
- ½ bunch broccoli, cut into florets (you can also peel and slice stalk into batons as well)
- 2 tsp/10mL soy sauce or gf tamari
- 2 tsp/5g minced scallions, green parts only
- 1 tsp/3g sesame seeds
- Heat 1 tbsp/15mL of the peanut or canola oil under medium heat and gently sauté the minced garlic, ginger, sliced scallions and red pepper flakes (if using) until fragrant; remove from the oil and reserve.
- Turn the heat to high and add 1 tbsp/15mL peanut/canola oil, plus 1 tsp/5mL of the sesame oil. Once the oil is ripping hot and starting to smoke, add the chicken and stir, moving the slices around until browned on all sides and mostly cooked through. Remove from pan and reserve.
- Add the remaining peanut/canola and sesame oil and heat to near-smoking, then add the onion, celery, and carrot and stir vigorously and continually for approximately one minute.
- Add the bell peppers and broccoli, and continue stirring frequently and vigorously, adding the soy sauce or tamari during cooking, for another 60-90 seconds or until vegetables are starting to brown on the edges. Add the cooked chicken with any juices back to the pan and mix to distribute. Cook for another 30-60 seconds, then remove from heat, stir the aromatics back into the pan, and
- Sprinkle top with fresh minced scallions and sesame seeds; serve immediately over steamed rice or a carb of your choice.
Some excellent vegetable options to make the best stir-fry you can: bok choy, green beans, fresh spinach, eggplant, cauliflower, seeded tomatoes, sweet potatoes, water chestnuts, baby corn, mushrooms, young bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, shredded cabbage.