Easy tips to elevate your wok game without taking a single cooking class.
At its core, stir-fry is a simple, delicious dish. Why is it so hard to get it to taste like restaurant fare? It's not that you're doing anything wrong; you may just be skipping some very important steps.
1. Gather your ingredients carefully.
When it comes to a basic Asian stir-fry, you don't necessarily have to go with all fresh vegetables. Canned water chestnuts, baby corn, and bamboo are all perfectly prepared for you and ready to use. Put your ingredients into categories: hard or tougher vegetables like carrots, green beans, and cabbage on one side and your softer items like leafy greens and mushrooms on the other.
Classic combinations for your sauce include garlic and soy sauce, but you can turn up the volume with add-ins like fiery chili pepper slices, slivers of fresh ginger and green scallions, or Thai basil and chili paste.
2. Prep all the ingredients beforehand.
The trick here is to make sure everything cooks evenly. Cut veggies down to bite-sized pieces so you're not waiting for carrots to cook while the asparagus gets soft and mushy. Always use fresh cloves of garlic and smash them with the back of your knife.
3. Make your sauce separately.
A good basic sauce for stir-fry is 1:1:1 oyster sauce, soy sauce, and mushroom soy sauce. The oyster sauce is a thicker sweet condiment than the "regular" soy sauce, and the mushroom soy adds a different layer of umami. Start with 2 tablespoons of each in a jar, shake it well, and keep any leftovers in the fridge. If you want to go for something a little sweet, add a touch of honey or sugar.
If you prefer a thicker sauce, use the cooking method in Step 5 and use a slotted spoon to remove your vegetables once they're cooked. Create a slurry with a teaspoon of corn starch with some hot water and use that to thicken the sauce.
4. Use a wok.
While you don't need something fancy or non-stick, a wok is an ideal pan to use for stir-fry. Its curved shape and high sides give you plenty of room to toss around your ingredients, evenly coating everything with sauce.
Just like when you're cooking with a grill, you'll have indirect heat at the center of the wok and indirect heat along the sides. Keep that in mind if you think something is taking too long to get cooked.
5. Don't be scared to turn up the heat.
Whether you're using a gas stove or an electric range, set the heat on HIGH. Get the wok good and hot for at least a minute before you even add the oil. When all is said and done, a basic stir-fry should take no longer than a few minutes to cook. Anything more will result in overcooked vegetables, and no one wants that.
In your hot wok, start with about a tablespoon of vegetable oil, infuse it with 3 cloves of garlic, then add your harder vegetables. Stir and shake the wok constantly, add your soft vegetables next, and finish by adding the sauce to coat everything and adjust your seasoning as needed. That's all there is to it!
**All photos by Sarina Petrocelly
Do you have a favorite stir-fry recipe? What vegetables or sauces do you use? Share your tips with us in the comments.