Creating a Stir

Stir frying is a Chinese technique in which ingredients are fried in a small amount of very hot oil while being stirred in a wok. The technique originated in China but by now many countries have adapted the technique to their own dishes. Many chefs claim that this quick, hot cooking seals in the flavors of the foods, as well as preserving their nutrients, color and texture.

Stir-frying is easily mastered. The key is to be prepared before you begin cooking. Recipes often talk about prepping ingredients before you begin; with stir-frying, this is essential. In fact, preparing the ingredients will take longer than cooking the dish. Once your pan gets hot you can’t stop and chop the vegetables.

Preparing to stir-fry will also give you some practice with your knife skills, since each ingredient will be bite sized. Chicken cutlets should be thinly sliced to promote quick cooking. Likewise, meat should be thinly sliced against the grain. We like a cut of beef with some visible fat to add tenderness. Carrots and zucchini are cut into thin rounds or matchsticks; celery into angled slices.

Peppers are cut in strips and snow peas are cut on the diagonal. Checked broccoli florets work well and canned vegetables add flavor — but be sure to drain them well. Whichever vegetables you choose, cut them into similarly-sized pieces so they cook in the same amount of time. In addition, if you are using a homemade sauce, be sure it is also prepared before you begin cooking.

Once prepped, put the ingredients in small bowls, arranged by cooking times. Because the technique is to quickly fry the ingredients in a large pan over high heat, comparable cooking times are very important. Constant stirring while cooking will preserve flavor, color and texture of the food and keep the vegetables crisp. Cooking small quantities of meat or chicken slices for 3–4 minutes will give you tender pieces that are not dried out. Remove the meat or chicken from your pan while still slightly pink — the meat will continue to cook from the residual internal heat.

Many stir-fry recipes call for a wok. A wok is a large rounded pan that is flat only at the bottom center. The rounded shape allows the food to slide back down to the heat source as the pieces are tossed and stirred and the open sides promote evaporation of the liquids, keeping the vegetables crunchy. If your family enjoys Chinese food it is a great investment. Stir-frying can also be done in a large, low-sided skillet but a deep pan is not a good idea because the high sides trap steam, which will soften your vegetables.

Vegetable Stir-Fry

3 tablespoons canola oil

1 red bell pepper, julienned

1 carrot, julienned or sliced thin

1 small red onion, thinly sliced

1 cup thickly cut zucchini (half-moon slices)

2 cups broccoli florets

1/2 cup snow peas

1 clove garlic, minced

1 to 2 tablespoons peeled and minced ginger

1/4 cup sesame oil

1/2 cup teriyaki sauce

1/3 cup sliced bamboo shoots or baby corn

1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, optional

Start by preparing and cutting all the vegetables and measuring your ingredients so that they are ready to go. Once you begin stir-frying, it goes very quickly.

In a wok or large frying pan, heat canola oil over high heat to almost smoking. While stirring constantly, one at a time, add in the peppers, carrots and onions, followed by the zucchini, broccoli, snow peas, garlic, ginger, sesame oil, and teriyaki sauce. Cook for about 2 minutes and then add in the remaining ingredients and seasonings. Cook about 2 minutes more. Remove from heat. Serve immediately.