The Stir-Fry is the name given to meals prepared in the ancient Chinese cooking style of frying ingredients in a small amount of very hot oil whilst stirring. The oil is very hot so that the food is cooked quickly. The food is stirred so that every part of it touches the high heat for short periods. The ingredients quickly form a sealed surface so that their flavours, juices and textures are locked in.
Vegetables are cooked on the outside, raw and crispy on the inside. Meat is seared golden-brown on the outside, moist and and cooked-through on the outside. Sauce coats both without penetrating the sealed surface, so that you get a wonderful interplay of textures and flavours with every bite.
Sogginess is the Enemy
At least, that’s the theory. Nearly every Stir-Fry made at home turns into a sort of stew or risotto or greasy collection of over and under-cooked ingredients. Call it Stotto. The juices escape and start boiling the vegetables. The meat sits on top of other ingredients and starts to poach and steam. The sauce finds its way into the ingredients to turn crispiness into sogginess. The oil collects at the bottom and tries to deep-fry whatever’s down there.
It Should Pop!
It will still be okay, but it won’t be Stir-Fry. This is what happens when you chew Stir-Fry:
- Poppop Crunch Pop Yum!
This is what happens when you chew Stotto:
- Squelch squelch squish.
The picture in this post is of Buwei Yang Chao, the person who introduced the term “Stir-Fry” to the English-speaking world in 1945. She published a cookbook called “How to Cook and Eat in Chinese”, in which she explained the philosophy and principles of the Stir-Fry. To make Stir-Fry like Buwei Yang Chao, follow these fundamentals:
- Do it in a real wok. Get the biggest one that will fit on your stove. The curves and metal thickness of a real wok allow for the best coverage and heat transmission you can get for Stir-Fry.
- Turn the heat up all the way. Some famous Chinese restaurants only start cooking when the wok is literally red-hot. Your food will not burn as long as you stir fast and continuously.
- Prepare everything before you start frying. Things get very busy really quickly when the first ingredient hits the oil so make sure that everything is ready to be tossed in. Turn off your phone and pre-warn the family before you start. You do not want to chit-chatting when the wok is hissing – leave that for later when you are poppop crunch popping!
- Go easy on the sauce. Less is more. Aim to coat, not drown.
- Do not serve your Stir-Fry in a bowl. Spread it out on a wide plate or platter so that the aroma rises and everything stays crisp.
With these principles in mind, here is a basic starter recipe for Beef Stir Fry. This serves one and delivers 266 calories and a whole lot of nutritious yum:
80g carrots, sliced
80g corn kernels
70g Bok Choy, sliced
100g red capsicums, sliced
1 teaspoon ginger, minced
1 teaspoon garlic, crushed
80g rump steak, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon oil
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon soya sauce
- Heat the oil until just before it starts to smoke
- Add garlic and ginger and stir fry until aromatic
- Add the beef and stir fry
- Add remaining ingredients and stir fry until cooked
- Serve immediately
When done properly, the Stir-Fry fast, tasty and wholesome. Minimal clean-up, minimal cook time with maximum flavour.