A few weeks ago I got a text message from my Dad with a photo of his latest stir fry.
I knew something was up.
For Dad to text is remarkable enough. For him to send a picture is even stranger. But a picture of something he cooked? A good lesson that you should ‘never say never’.
Anyway, it got me thinking about the whole stir fry thing. It’s one of the few cooking techniques that I’ve never felt I’ve ‘mastered’.
If Dad could learn to stir fry (with the help of my sister, Batgirl), surely I should be able to get my stir-fry-mojo on.
So I did a little research. Got myself a wok. Seasoned it. And started experimenting.
And the results?
Stir frying is the best!
It’s quick. And there seems to be some sort of stir fry magic, similar to when you make a sandwich. No matter what you throw in, the results are either pretty good or downright delicious.
the secret to a tasty stir fry
In my research I came across Eleanor Hoh, self proclaimed ‘wok star’. She’s super passionate about wok cooking and her philosophy is that you don’t need a recipe to make a great stir fry.
Again, like making a good sandwich, the secret to a tasty stir fry is to use ingredients that work well together. And trust your instincts. It’s a liberating way to cook.
The other game changer for me was the realisation that you don’t need a heavy Asian sauce to make a great stir fry. I’d always thought you needed oyster sauce or something. But in fact, some of the best stir frys are seasoned with a simple splash of soy sauce. Or even more radical, they skip the sauce all together.
It’s really so much simpler than I ever thought.
what you need
a pan to cook in
Even as a minimalist, I’m happy to make space in my kitchen for a wok. But if you aren’t ready to make that investment, a good skillet will do.
Woks are one of the rare cases of cooking equipment where cheaper is better. I picked up a carbon steel wok online for about $15 and then seasoned it following the method over here.
Don’t even think about a ‘non stick’ wok. Stir frying is all about using temperatures well above the recommendations of non stick pan manufacturers. You don’t want to risk that non stick surface working its way into your food.
something to stir with
The only other business critical piece of equipment is a stirring utensil. I use a wooden spatchula (pictured above). The wider the better for making your stirring more effective.
super high heat
The reason stir frying is so quick is that the thin steel heats up almost instantly. It passes on the heat from the flame directly to the food. So it’s all about your heat source.
Gas is best, especially if you’re lucky enough to have one of those double ring ‘wok’ burners.
For those of you who are stuck with electricity and love your stir frys, Eleanor Hoh had a great suggestion. Buy a portable butane gas stove. Or you could do like my sister Nao, and use the wok burner on your gas BBQ.
ingredients chopped & ready to go
Usually I’m a prep-as-I-go type of cook. When it comes to stir frying, I’ve learned the hard way. It’s much better to have everything organised before the flame touches the wok.
The cooking happens so quickly, it’s not worth having to stop mid stir fry to rush and catchup with your chopping. OR worse still, burning your dinner because you took your eye off the wok.
how to stir fry
1. prepare your ingredients
Chop everything into bight sized pieces. Ingredients that take longer to cook should be chopped smaller. Or get them cooked before you add the quick cooking veg.
2. pre heat your wok so it’s super hot
We’re looking for fierce heat. Thin carbon steel woks heat up fast. If you’re using a heavy cast iron wok or a skillet or frying pan, best to take the extra time to preheat properly before you add any food to the pan.
3. add a little oil and stir fry your aromatics & protein
Use an oil that is suited to high temperature cooking. I prefer peanut or macadamia oil. You don’t need much.
Traditional aromatics include ginger, garlic and chilli. Some people add these before the protein. I pop them in at the same time to make sure you don’t end up with bitterness from burnt garlic or ginger.
Tender cuts of meat are better suited to stir frying. Slicing finely across the grain of the meat or poultry will ensure tenderness and quick cooking.
If you’re cooking for more than 2 people, best to cook in batches to makes sure there is enough heat to quickly sear the meat. A crowded wok will end up with stewed, tough meat.
As soon as the meat looks cooked, remove it from the wok and keep warm in a clean bowl.
4. stir fry the veg
Start with the longer cooking veg like carrots and broccoli. Finish with the speedier leafy veg like bok choy.
Again, depending on the amount of food you have to cook, it may be better to stir fry in batches.
5. return the protein to the pan toss a few times over the heat
Once everything is back in the pan it’s time to season with your sauce. A little salt and pepper would be my choice for the recipe below. Serve asap.
like to learn more?
The Super Quick Cooking class at The Stonesoup Virtual Cookery School could be just the thing for you!
From 18th Feb we’ll be focusing on speedy techniques such as stir frying. As well as looking at time tricks to help make you faster in the kitchen.
To join in the fun go to:
an ‘italian’ stir fry
Even though you don’t need a recipe, they can still be a useful source of ideas. I’ve gone for an Italian vibe here because stir frying isn’t just about using Asian flavours. I could have used Mexican, Lebanese or even Indian flavours.
The ‘italian’ in the name comes from both the use of pesto and garlic as flavourings AND the green, white and red colours of the Italian flag. I haven’t ever seen an italian ‘stir fry’ before… maybe this is a world first?
2-3 chicken thigh fillets
1-2 cloves garlic
1 red capsicum (bell pepper)
2 handfuls snow peas (mange tout)
4 tablespoons pesto
1. Prepare your ingredients. Trim and finely slice the chicken, peel & slice the garlic, chop the capsicum (peppers) into long ribbons, and top the snow peas.
2. Heat your wok or frying pan so it’s super hot.
3. Add a little oil. Stir fry the chicken and garlic until the chicken is just cooked, a few minutes at most. Remove and place in a clean bowl.
4. Add the veg and stir fry for another few minutes.
6. Return the chicken and garlic to the pan. Toss a few times over the heat.
7. Serve with pesto on top.
vegetarian / vegan – replace the chicken with tofu, seitan or a can of drained lentils. Use a dairy free pesto such as my sicilian nut pesto.
different veg – I just happened to have capsicum & snow peas in the fridge. But most veg stir fry well. Try zucchini, fennel, greens such as spinach or cavolo nero, green pepper, carrot, broccoli, celery, cabbage.. millions of possibilities.
different protein – I’ve already mentioned tofu & lentils, but you could also use pretty much most meats. Just make sure they’re finely sliced across the grain to keep them as tender as possible.
lebanese – replace the chicken with lamb and replace the pesto with hummus. It may also help to use zucchini instead of the snow peas.
dairy-free – use a dairy-free pesto or just serve with a handful of fresh basil leaves and some toasted pinenuts.
more italian – serve with parmesan cheese for grating over and maybe toss in some cooked pasta at the end.
more traditional stir fry – use a knob of ginger, finely sliced, with the garlic. Skip the pesto and serve with a splash of soy sauce and a little sesame oil drizzled over. Some chilli can also be lovely.
video version of the recipe
recently on the stonesoup diaries
upcoming classes at the Stonesoup Virtual Cookery School
Super Quick Cooking
Starts on the 18th Feb. We’ll be focusing on techniques such as stir frying and cooking with your kettle. As well as looking at time tricks to help make you faster in the kitchen.
The Weekly Meal Planning Method
Beginning on the 3rd March, this 4 week in-depth class will teach you my hassle-free system for planning your weekly meals.
To get access to these new classes and to over 350 video recipes from 13 existing classes go to:
ps. If you’re looking for more stir fry ideas, there’s a whole chapter on ‘speedy stir fry specials‘ in my eCookbook The Tired & Hungry Cook’s Companion.
For more details go to: