Stir-Frying 101: A Guide to Quick & Healthy Meals
Out of all the different cooking methods, stir-frying is the one method we can always rely on for a quick, healthy, and delicious meal. Whether we’re trying to get dinner on the table in the shortest amount of time possible, or use up some veggies in our fridge, stir-fries are the way to go.
Stir-frying is a Chinese cooking technique that is done over high heat and with a small amount of oil. Vegetables and proteins are tossed together in a wok, which is a round-bottomed pan, shaped like a bowl. The bottom of the wok gets the highest temperature, and the ingredients that call for lower heat can be pushed up the sides of the wok. The high sides also allows the ingredients to be stirred quickly without spilling over.
However, round-bottomed woks don’t fit too well over electric stove tops, and heat will not distribute evenly. That’s why there are flat-bottomed woks available, making it easy for you to make Asian stir-fries in your own kitchen. We use a flat-bottomed one ourselves:
What we love the most about stir-fries, though, is that they allow for so much flexibility and creativity. The best part is that once you learn the basics of stir-frying, you can combine any random assortment of proteins and veggies for a variety of stir-fried dishes to enjoy at any time.
Today, we’re going to teach you these basics and give you some stir-fry combos to get you started. Once you get the hang of it, feel free to get creative and come up with your own! We’ll explain the process of stir-frying below, but if you need a visual, we have a video that shows you how to stir-fry:
How to Make a Stir-Fry
Stir-frying is a great way to bring together just about any vegetable and protein combination in a fast and tasty way.
Now let’s get ready to stir-fry!
1. Choose Ingredients
This is the fun part. You can make any kind of stir-fry you like, tailored to your taste buds. There’s no wrong combo! You can even use what’s leftover in your fridge or freezer. Have you ever wondered what to do with the few stalks of celery about to go limp, or the bunch of spinach that is about to wilt? You don’t have to wonder anymore, because you can toss them into a stir-fry with your favorite protein and not worry about wasting food.
The main ingredients to a stir-fry are:
- Proteins – chicken, beef, pork, seafood, tofu, tempeh, seitan
- Aromatics – garlic, green onions, shallots, ginger
- Vegetables – pretty much anything goes for this category
2. Prep Ingredients
As mentioned before, stir-fries consist of cooking over high heat, which helps maintain the ingredients’ flavors, as well as keep the color and texture of the foods. Because of this quick cooking, it’s best to have everything prepped and chopped and ready to go. Once you have this step ready, all you have to do is toss the ingredients into the wok, and you won’t have to worry about ingredients getting burned.
Have your ingredients prepped into prep bowls, so that they can be easily tossed into the wok. And if you chopped them in advance, cooking will be a breeze come dinner time.
If you’re using meat, make sure to slice against the grain and tenderize with a fork first. This simple step will cut the tough fibers in the meat and allow for maximum flavor absorption. Check out this video to see how we tenderize with a fork:
How to Season & Tenderize Proteins with a Fork
Maximize flavor and tenderize proteins with this little trick.
Cooking Tip :
Chop the ingredients in small or thin pieces. This helps them cook quickly, especially ingredients that take a longer time to cook, like carrots. Tweet this tip.
3. Make Stir-Fry Sauce
Sauces add flavor to any dish, so it’s important to not leave this step out! [Learn more about sauces here.] Just like your ingredients, make your sauce before you start cooking to make sure that it gets added in at the right time without your veggies and meat getting overcooked.
A stir-fry sauce is made with basic ingredients that you most likely have in your pantry – soy sauce, rice vinegar, brown sugar, and cornstarch. We’ve added our favorite stir-fry sauce variations to the infographic below, so that you don’t have to be stuck with the same basic flavor profile for all of your stir-fries.
To make the sauce, you can either mix all the sauce ingredients together in a bowl, or shake it up in a jar. Just remember to give the sauce another stir or shake before adding it to the wok, so that the cornstarch does not settle to the bottom.
Cooking Tip :
Cornstarch helps thicken the sauce of a stir-fry, which will then coat each piece of veggie and protein. For the cornstarch to dissolve properly, it must be mixed with lukewarm or cold liquids. Tweet this tip.
Now you’re ready to make your stir-fry!
- Cook your proteins and vegetables separately, since they have different cooking times. Start off with your wok on medium-high heat and cook your protein until golden. It doesn’t have to be cooked all the way, since you’ll be adding it back into the wok in the end for a final toss. Remove from the wok.
- If you plan on using aromatics, add them next until fragrant. Then add your veggies until tender but still crunchy.
- Once your veggies are near done, add the protein back in, toss together, and then make a donut by pushing all the ingredients to the sides of the wok, leaving an empty hole in the middle.
- Give your stir-fry sauce a stir or a shake and then pour the sauce into the hole. The heat will activate the cornstarch, which acts as a thickener, and the sauce will start to darken and bubble. That’s when you know your stir-fry is about done. Toss everything together until every piece is coated with the now-thick sauce, and you’ve got your stir-fry!
Cooking Tip :
Take your wok off the heat before the veggies are fully done cooking. They’ll continue to cook in the wok as you finish the dish. Tweet this tip.
5. Finish the Dish
This step might seem unnecessary, but it makes a huge difference. We like to finish a dish with a squeeze of lemon or lime juice to really bring out all the flavors.
And as always, taste your food to see if it needs more lemon or lime juice, or even just a bit of salt.
6. Garnish Your Stir-Fry
Garnishes can add a new flavor component to a dish, so don’t write them off as just something to make the dish look pretty! Add a bit of sharpness with freshly chopped green onions, some freshness with minced cilantro, or some crunch with toasted peanuts or cashews. Or for those of you who like a little kick, top with your favorite hot sauce.
Now you know the basics to stir-frying, and you can start getting creative by coming up with your own stir-fry combos!
As a helpful reminder, we created the printable infographic below, so that you can put this up in your kitchen to help you with your stir-frying skills. The stir-fry possibilities are endless, so let us know in the comments below what stir-fry combos you have created!
And as always, we work incredibly hard to create these cooking resources to make life in the kitchen smarter, healthier, and happier, so we’d appreciate it if you shared this post with others by sharing a tweet on Twitter or sharing on Facebook!
Guide to Stir-Frying
This guide to stir-frying teaches the basics of this quick and healthy cooking method.
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