How to Stir-Fry Anything

By Caryn Anderson

Break out your wok and create a fast, fresh and undeniably delicious meal. Stir-frying exposes food to a blast of high heat, which lets the subtle flavors shine. Choose the freshest ingredients possible, including meat, fish and seasonal vegetables, along with your choice of seasonings and sauces. As long as you have the right tools and techniques, you can stir-fry just about anything, elevating the flavor of your ingredients while maintaining their natural taste and texture.

vegetarian wok stir fry
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An array of fresh stir-fry vegetables in a wok.

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Choosing a Wok

Having the right equipment is essential to making delicious stir-fries. Stir-fry expert and author Grace Young recommends using a flat-bottomed wok, which maximizes the surface exposed to the heat of the burner, giving you more efficient at-home cooking. Avoid stainless-steel, nonstick and anodized aluminum woks in favor of one made of carbon steel, a material that becomes naturally nonstick after you season it, while giving stir-fries optimal flavor. If you don't have a wok, use a heavy-bottomed large skillet to stir-fry your meal, although the flavor won't be exactly the same.

Preparing Fresh Ingredients

Choose a neutral-flavored oil with a high smoke point such as vegetable or peanut oil. Good proteins include tofu, mussels, scallops, shrimp, beef, lamb, pork or chicken. Cut meat against the grain for optimal tenderness, and at a 45-degree angle for maximum seasoning. Cut vegetables such as carrots, squash, sugar snap or snow peas, bell peppers and leafy greens into uniformly sized pieces for even cooking. Other components of a delicious stir-fry include aromatics such as ginger, garlic, nuts, chili peppers and sauces made from ingredients such as broth, vinegar, fermented bean paste, soy sauce or rice wine thickened with arrowroot or cornstarch.

Stir-Frying Technique

Start by heating the wok over high heat until it's hot enough to evaporate a drop of water within a second or two. Add oil then sear the protein in a single layer for approximately one to two minutes. Add aromatics and begin stir-frying the protein by moving it in a tumbling motion, continually moving the food at the bottom of the wok to the top so it cooks evenly. Once the protein is about 75 percent cooked, transfer it to a plate and stir-fry the veggies for about one minute before returning the protein to the pan. Swirl the sauce down the side of the wok to keep the temperature as even as possible. Continue cooking the mixture until the protein is done and the veggies are crisp-tender.

Stir-Frying Tips

To get the most flavor and to enhance tenderness, marinate meat by tossing it in a liquid such as seasoned soy sauce for a few minutes before cooking. Avoid an overcrowded wok to maintain the crisp texture of the vegetables. Add no more than 3/4 pound of beef or 1 pound of lamb, pork, chicken or shellfish with 2 cups of vegetables. If you're making a vegetable-only stir-fry, use no more than 8 to 12 cups of leafy greens and 4 cups of hard vegetables.