A subscription to Cook’s Illustrated may be pricey ($24 for six issues/year), but considering how many times I’ve referred to the two-page spread on Stir Frying in Issue 123, I’d definitely say it’s been worth the investment. Summarizing their tips below, they’ve helped me nail the technique, while giving me a range of recipes to try or tweak.
Pretreat Your Protein
One of the trickiest parts of stir frying is making your you don’t overcook your proteins. Pretreating them helps boost flavor, and tenderizes the meat. I usually just have time to marinate, but all are good tips.
- Chilling the meat 20-30 minutes before slicing makes it easier to cut.
- Lean meats like chicken or pork can be soaked in a baking soda solution to keep them juicy during the flash frying. Use 1 teaspoon dissolved in 2 tablespoons water for 10-15 minutes. DO NOT GO LONGER THAN 15, and rinse off the solution.
- Marinate chicken, pork, and steak in a salty liquid for a quick brine. Soak in 2 tablespoons soy or fish sauce, and drain well before cooking.
- After marinating, lay your protein on paper towels to remove excess moisture–it will help brown the meat.
- CLASSIC: 1/2 c. chicken broth, 1/4 c. dry sherry, 3 tablespoons hoisin, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 2 teaspoons cornstarch, 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil.
- COCONUT-RED CURRY: 1 c. coconut milk, 1 tablespoon fish sauce, 2 teaspoons Thai red curry paste, 1 teaspoon packed brown sugar, 1 teaspoon cornstarch
Veggie Cooking Times – Pick 2
- LONG (3-7 min): broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, green beans, snap peas
- MEDIUM (1-3 min): bell peppers, bok choy, eggplant, mushrooms, onions, snow peas,
- FAST (30-60 sec): bean sprouts, celery, frozen peas, tender greens, tomatoes, water chestnuts
Don’t Forget Aromatics
These go in last, but you need to have them on hand before: 3 minced garlic cloves and 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger, mixed with 1 teaspoon vegetable oil.
Putting it All Together
- While you pretreat your protein, get your rice started before you forget. Then prep all your veggies and prepare your sauce.
- Add 1-2 teaspoons oil (peanut, vegetable, or canola work best) to a broad skillet (instead of a wok), heat on high until just smoking. Be careful about overheating, or your kitchen will definitely become a smokey place within seconds of adding anything to it.
- Cook your protein first. Transfer to a plate and cover to keep warm. Cook everything in batches so everything browns nicely–you want a fry, not a steam. Reheat the pan and add 1 teaspoon of oil every time you start a new batch.
- Cook vegetables according to the time chart above.
- Add aromatic mixture to center of pan. Mash until fragrant (15-30 sec), then stir into veggies.
- Remove from heat and return protein to pan. Whisk sauce to recombine, and add to skillet. Toss constantly until liquid thickens (30 sec).
- Garnish with sliced scallions, sesame seeds, chopped nuts, or cilantro, if desired.