Over the last 6 months I’ve created a series called ‘simple classic dinners’ where we do a ‘deep dive’ into a different type of meal.
There’s been burgers, abundance bowls, frittatas and many more.
So this week I thought I’d give you a little ‘taste’ of what my students experience and share a mini version of the lesson on The Stir Fry.
One of my all-time favourite quick and easy dinners.
With infinite possibilities for variation so you’ll never get bored!
Classic Weeknight Dinner: The Stir Fry
Every week the boys and I head to town on a Wednesday morning and have lunch with my Dad.
Now my Dad isn’t much of a cook so I got the surprise of my life when he asked me for my best stir fry recipe.
So I spent a good 15 minutes talking him through it.
Dad taking comprehensive notes the whole time.
And it reminded me that stir frying is the best!
It only uses one pan – so the cleanup is minimal.
It’s all about simple protein and lots of veggies.
There are endless possibilities so you’ll never get tired of the same old thing.
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.
Even if you’re my Dad. Who was very happy with his efforts when I checked in the following week.
So lets delve into the world of the stir fry.
The Secret to a Tasty Stir Fry
When I was researching the art of the stir fry 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.
Like making a good sandwich, the secret to a tasty stir fry is to use ingredients that work well together.
And trust your instincts.
Remember Clancy’s Law of Cooking…
‘If you think something is going to be delicious, it probably will be!’
It’s a liberating way to cook.
The other secret is 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.
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 large skillet or frying pan will do.
Woks are one of the rare cases of cooking equipment where cheaper is better.
I picked up a carbon steel wok online over 6 years ago 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 or a nylon egg flipper. The wider the better for making your stirring more effective. A large wooden spoon will work.
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, like me, who are stuck with electricity and love your stir frys, it’s worth investing in a portable gas burner. I keep mine outside and it doubles as a gas BBQ.
Or you could use the wok burner on your gas BBQ.
The bonus of stir frying outside is you don’t have to worry about the house smelling like a stir fry. AND it’s great in Summer when you don’t want to heat up the house.
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 organized before the flame touches the wok.
The cooking happens so quickly, it’s not worth having to stop mid stir fry to rush and catch up 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 make a note to add the longer cooking veg like broccoli 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 refined coconut oil or ghee (Indian clarified butter) but I do use my refined olive oil when I’m in a hurry. You don’t need much oil.
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.
On the protein front, 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. If you’re not sure, go with a splash of soy and remember you can always add more at the table if needed.
18 Simple Stir Fry Recipes
NOTE: My cooking school students get links to all these recipes on the Stonesoup Virtual Cookery School website.
- Broccoli & Tofu Stir Fry
- Winter Veg Stir Fry
- Green Curry Stir Fry
- Crunchy Snow Pea & Chicken Stir Fry
- My Simple Kung Pao Chicken*
- Chicken & Basil Stir Fry
- Chicken & Broccoli Stir Fry
- Chicken & Cashew Stir Fry*
- Zucchini & Chicken Pad Thai
- Summer Chicken Stir Fry
- Sesame Pork Stir Fry
- Ginger Beef Stir Fry
- Asian Beef & Cabbage
- Asian ‘Spag Bol’
- Beef & Broccoli Stir Fry*
- Chinese Chinkiang Beef
- One Pot Beef, Zucchini & Cashew Stir Fry
* marks my all-time favourite stir frys if you’re looking for a place to start.
A Stir Fry ‘Formula’
Here’s my ‘formula’ or ‘template recipe’ for a simple stir fry. I’ve included these to get your creative juices flowing.
Quick Stir Fry
takes: 20 minutes
150g-200g (5-6oz) protein, finely sliced
1/2-1 tablespoon aromatics
250-300g (7-10oz) vegetables, chopped
1-3 tablespoons sauce
small handful garnish / highlight
1. Heat a wok on a fierce heat.
2. Add a little oil and stir fry the protein and aromatics until no longer pink. Remove from the heat and place in a clean bowl.
3. Add the vegetables and stir fry until they are wilted or tender – a few minutes for leafy veg like bok choy, 5 minutes or more for crunchy veg like carrots.
4. Return the aromatics and protein to the pan. Add the sauce. Stir fry for another few seconds or until everything is hot. Taste. Season.
5. Remove from the heat. Serve sprinkled with the garnish / highlight.
minced (ground) meat – beef, chicken, lamb, turkey, pork, veal, buffalo.
tender cuts of meat, finely sliced across the grain – steak, eye fillet of beef (fillet mignon), lamb fillet or backstraps, pork fillet, pork shoulder, chicken breast, chicken thighs.
veggie protein – tofu, cashews, almonds, setian, eggs (cook as an omelette in the base of the wok then slice and stir through at the end), cooked or canned lentils, cooked or canned beans.
– Use one or a combo of finely chopped fresh red chilli, garlic and/or ginger. Deseed the chilli if you’re sensitive to heat. OR double it if you like it hot!
fresh veg – use one or a combo of zucchini, carrots, red capsicum (red bell peppers), bok choy, choy sum, other asian greens, spinach leaves, green beans, snow peas (mange tout), shaved cabbage, broccoli, broccolini, cauliflower, sugar snap peas, fennel, witlof (belgian endive), asparagus.
cooked veg – root veg are best pre-cooked – either simmered or roasted in bight sized chunks. Try beets, parsnip, swedes, sweet potato, pumpkin.
Asian Sauces – my go-to stir fry sauce is just soy or tamari (a gluten-free soy). Other times I use oyster sauce, fish sauce, hoisin sauce or sriracha (chilli sauce). Or just serve with a good drizzle of chilli oil.
Non-Asian Sauces – don’t feel like your stir fry has to have an Asian vibe. Try worcestershire sauce, ketchup, mustard, BBQ sauce or pesto. Or serve with a big dollop of mayo or miso mayo.
Garnish / Highlight Options
herby garnish / highlight – try fresh coriander (cilantro), basil, mint, parsley, oregano, chives, green onions or even thyme.
crunchy garnish / highlight – roast nuts especially cashews, peanuts or almonds, super finely sliced red onion, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds.
other garnish / highlight – sesame oil, pesto, extra chilli, chilli oil.
My favourite is to pile it into a bowl and eat with chopsticks.
more substantial – carb-lovers – toss in some cooked noodles, lentils, chickpeas or steamed rice. And cook until hot.
more substantial – low carb – nuts are your friend here. My go-to is cashews or peanuts.
less protein – feel free to reduce the protein and increase the veggies.
OK. But best when hot from the wok. Just keep in the fridge for up to a week or two and reheat in the wok or frying pan. You could freeze but it’s not going to help the texture.
Problem Solving Guide
tough protein – it’s super important to use a tender cut of meat, or ground meat with stir frying. Cutting the meat as thinly as possible across the ‘grain’ (or muscle fibres) makes a big difference too. Over cooked meat will be tough and dry so make sure you only cook it for long enough to change the colour. Unfortunately there isn’t really anything you can do to ‘fix’ tough meat. Another cause is if the heat isn’t hot enough or if you add too much food to the wok and it ‘stews’ or simmers rather than being seared. If you find this happening, stop and remove the food from the wok. Start again and cook the food in batches.
burning – you’re not stirring fast enough! Adding the sauce too early can cause it to burn as well.
veg too crunchy – it’s important to finely slice your veg so they cook as quickly as possible.
too bland – season with more sauce or salt & pepper.
too dry – try adding a little more oil or sauce or both.
Have fun in the kitchen!