Quick Meal Technique: How to Stir Fry

Stir frying is really one of the best techniques we home cooks can have up our sleeves. Because they cook so quickly, you can have a stir fry on the table in about the time it takes to chop up the vegetables! Plus, stir fries are a great way to clear out the fridge and use up produce. Here's how we do it:

1. Start the rice or cook the noodles - Because the stir fry itself comes together so quickly, you don't want to be waiting on your side dish. Alternatively, make the rice or noodles ahead and add them as another stir fry ingredient!

2. Chop your vegetables - While your rice or noodles are cooking, get all the vegetables chopped. Cut them all about the same size and shape so they cook evenly. Make sure the vegetables are fairly dry; if they're too wet, they'll steam in the pan. Also prepare any aromatics, like ginger or garlic.

3. Heat the pan - Woks are great, but you don't necessarily need to rush out and buy one. Flat-bottomed skillets work just as well, especially with our western-style burners. Get the pan nice and hot over high heat before adding the oil. Canola or peanut oil are best.

4. Meat first, then vegetables - If you want meat or seafood in your stir fry, cook it first then scoop it out onto a separate plate before cooking the vegetables. You'll add the meat back in at the end.

5. Don't crowd the pan - If you have too much in your pan, the vegetables will steam instead of staying crisp. If necessary, cook in batches and then combine everything back together at the end. Cook dense vegetables like broccoli and carrots together and softer vegetables like onions and greens together.

6. Don't stir too much - You want to give your meat and veggies a chance to sear and develop flavor. Let them sit for 30-60 seconds between each stir, and they're done when they're no longer raw but still crisp. Until you're familiar with how each vegetable cooks, the best way to tell when they're done is by tasting them.

7. Add aromatics - You don't want the aromatics to burn, so add them at the very end and cook them just until they're fragrant. If you want a more deeply flavored dish, you can also cook the aromatics at the very beginning to infuse the oil, but move them to a separate plate while you cook the rest of the stir fry.

8. Add the sauce - The sauce can be as simple as a few shakes of soy sauce or as complex as a homemade barbecue sauce thinned with broth - or you can go with no sauce at all! The idea is just to coat the stir fry ingredients with flavor. You can make a thicker sauce by mixing a tablespoon or two of cornstarch into the sauce before pouring it onto the veggies. Let the sauce cook until it's thickened and glossy.

Do you like to stir fry? What other tips do you have?

Related: Playing with Your Food: How to Make Carrot Flowers

(Image: Flickr member ginnerobot licensed under Creative Commons)