Hot, steamy, spicy stir-fry on a cold day: warming, filling, and so very satisfying. One of the most popular and well-known Chinese preparations, it’s rumored that stir-fry was popularized in the States during the Depression, when families were looking for ways to stretch rationed resources farther.
Stir-fry makes a fantastic vehicle for reinventing leftovers and can be as budget friendly (or aggressive) as you choose to make it. Here’s the basic technique:
Step 1: Marinate your protein(s).
No matter how delicious and bursting-with-flavor your sauce is, your stir-fry will fall short if your meat (or meat alternative) doesn’t hold its own flavor. Have your sauce and other ingredients in mind as you select/prepare your marinade, and make sure the flavors will mesh well and not disappear with or overpower each other. Marinate for at least an hour and up to overnight.
Step 2: Get your prep on.
Stir-frying usually involves lots of sliced and chopped veggies, which you’ll want to have all primped and ready to go by the time you get cooking.
Group your ingredients in bowls based on the order they’ll cook in—denser vegetables like carrots and broccoli in one bowl, softer ones like celery and onion in another, aromatics in a third, etc. Fresh herbs and anything precooked (like canned baby corn) should go separately and last.
Slice fresh chiles whole, with their seeds for all the heat. Thin/diagonal slicing will give you that authentic stir-fry aesthetic.
Step 3: Get saucy.
Whether you’re making your own sauce or using something pre-made, get it all measured out and mixed up before you turn on the heat. You’ll be working quickly and juggling batches when its time comes, so you’ll want to have it handy and within reach. Most stir-fry sauces contain a thickener like corn starch, which may need to be re-stirred just before it hits the pan.
Step 4: Sear, steam, set aside.
Heat your wok or skillet over high heat with 1 to 2 tablespoons of peanut or other good frying oil. When it’s just beginning to smoke, sear your protein in small batches on each side and then remove it to a plate. You’re going for a beautiful and brown, not cooked through.
Continuing to work in batches, re-oil your wok as needed and repeat with your various bowls of veggies, aromatics last. Let them set in the high heat long enough to get a nice dark sear on the outside—don’t over stir. You want your veggies to be crisp and bright, not limp and dull.
You can add a bit of liquid and cover for a few moments to steam harder stuff like carrots and potatoes. Pull each group out after it has cooked to make room for the next.
Step 5: Sauce in the hole.
Once your aromatics start filling your kitchen with their seductive perfume, turn your heat down slightly, and add your cooked veggies and meat back in. Stir everything around to get it well mixed, create a well in the center of your stir-fry, and pour the sauce in.
Bring it to a boil, and allow it reduce down for a couple to several minutes, depending on how thick you want it and how much you’re working with. Once it’s good and ready, stir everything together, add precooked veggies and/or fresh herbs, and let it cook and combine for a few more minutes.
There’s an abundance of stir-fry recipes out there, using many different meat/veggie combos and styles of sauce. Follow them exactly or just use them as guiding inspiration. Get creative, think up your own version, and don’t be afraid to experiment with different spices, marinades, and ingredients.