Stir-fries just may be the perfect dish — they’re fast, they’re easy, they’re totally forgiving, and you can use pretty much any ingredient you have to make them. All you need is a pan, tongs or a spatula, and vegetables; in no time at all, you have a meal that’s exotic, delicious, and satisfying. If you think you can’t make a stir-fry that’s as good as the ones in restaurants, I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong. Here are my tips on how to make amazing stir-fries at home.
1. What You Need
It’s always fun to watch professionals make a stir-fry in a restaurant. They cook everything fast and furiously with that giant wok and the huge tongs – you may think there’s no way you can do it at home without the special equipment. Well, even though a wok is cool, you don’t need one to make a stir-fry. Any large skillet or deep saucepan will do. Just make sure the pan is large, because veggies release a lot of water while cooking and if the pan is too small, the food will steam and be mushy instead of crisp-tender. Go for the biggest pan you’ve got. The only other thing you need is a spatula or pair of tongs to toss the food around with. This Cast Iron Skillet Bibimbap shows exactly the kind of deliciousness you can make with just one pan.
When it comes to the ingredients, use whatever you like. Clean out the fridge. Go for veggies like broccoli, green beans, snap peas, mushrooms, asparagus, carrots, and bok choy. Add texture with water chestnuts, nuts, seeds, and scallions. There are no rules to a stir-fry. Make whatever combo makes your mouth water and your stomach growl.
2. Keep it Crispy
Have you ever gotten a stir-fry and wondered how they got the tofu or seitan so crispy and delicious? It’s easy; you just have to do a bit of work before making your stir-fry. Make sure you buy extra-firm tofu and press it well to get every last bit of moisture out. You can even freeze it in advance and then thaw and press it. Cut the tofu into cubes and pat them dry. If you want to make a stir-fry with tempeh and seitan, cut them into cubes or slices and pat those dry, too.
Put the tofu, tempeh, or seitan pieces into a large bowl or a plastic storage bag. Sprinkle a few spoons of arrowroot powder or cornstarch over the proteins. This is also your chance to season your tofu, tempeh, or seitan. I like to add kosher salt, black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and sometimes, Chinese 5-Spice Powder. Mix it up so the starch and the seasonings coat the proteins. Set aside until ready to cook.
Heat vegetable oil in the pan over high heat. Place the tofu, tempeh, or seitan into the pan and don’t move it. Let it cook and sear over the high heat for a few minutes until it gets browned and crispy. Flip the pieces and do the same until browned and crisp on all sides. I make sure it’s extra-crispy (but not burnt) because I know hot sauce is going to go over it, which will immediately soften it a bit. Transfer the crispy proteins to a plate lined with a paper towel and set it aside. Try not to eat a piece; I dare you. Ok, eat one piece for quality assurance. Then, step away from the crispy seitan. Read more in How to Make the Crispiest Tofu for All Your Dishes. Then, make my crispy General Tso’s Tofu, Crispy Seitan Fingers, and this Tempe Tumis Cabe Gendot: Indonesian Stir-Fry Habanero Tempeh.
3. Get Ready
When making a stir-fry, you should have all your ingredients prepped and ready to cook before you start. Stir-fries cook fast and if you keep cooking one veggie while chopping another, the first could get mushy and overcooked.
I would suggest preparing your aromatics first. That includes garlic, ginger, shallots, lemongrass, onions, and chili peppers. Chop them up and set them aside. Next, prep your veggies by cutting them into whatever shapes you like. Keep each type of vegetable separated since they each have different cooking times.
After all the aromatics and veggies are prepped, prepare your sauce or at least have all the bottles of sauce ingredients ready to use. These can be the basics: soy sauce or tamari, rice vinegar, Hoisin sauce, Sriracha, and broth. Learn all about making sauces later in the article. Finally, if your recipe requires a slurry for thickening, prepare that as well by mixing a teaspoon of cornstarch or arrowroot powder with a tablespoon of cold water. It will thicken by the time you’re ready to use it. Practice making stir-fries with a variety of ingredients like this Lo Han Jai: Buddha’s Delight, Sweet Chili Peanut Tofu, Vegetable and Grilled Pineapple Stir-Fry, and this Ultimate Teriyaki Stir-Fry. You can also make the veggies crispy, like in this Baby Corn Fritter and Spicy Bell Pepper Stir-Fry.
4. We’re Cooking Now
It’s time to make the stir-fry! Heat your pan over high heat — that’s how you get your veggies crisp, tender, and bright. Once the pan is hot, add the oil. If you don’t want to use oil, add some broth or water. In cooking, we usually add the aromatics first, but since the pan and oil are screaming hot, they would burn. Instead, they will be added after a few vegetables. In stir-fries, you don’t throw all the veggies in at once, but cook a couple at a time. Depending on the size of your pan and how many ingredients you are using, you can choose one of two methods. You can cook a couple of different veggies, transfer them to a plate, reheat the pan with more oil, cook more veggies, and combine everything at the end. Alternatively, you can add ingredients one at a time, but keep them all in the pan for the whole cooking process.
When the pan is hot, add the broccoli florets, carrots, or other hard veggies that can stand up to the heat. Cook, tossing often until the vegetable is tender, but still crisp and slightly browned in some areas. When the first vegetable is just about done, add the aromatics and stir to combine. Constant stirring will also keep them from burning. Continue in this manner until you have cooked all the veggies, reserving the ones that would wilt and turn too soft for the end. In no time at all, you’ll be enjoying stir-fries like this 10-Minute Veggie Stir-Fry.
When all the veggies are cooked, add the prepared sauce to the pan. Use just enough to coat the veggies and have a bit pooled at the bottom of the pan. Don’t drown the veggies in sauce; you can always heat up the sauce separately and serve it on the side. As soon as the sauce starts simmering, it’s time to add the slurry. Stir it again before adding it to the pan and pour it all around the pan into the sauce. Stir everything together and let the sauce thicken over the heat. You want it rich but not so thick it gets gummy. Garlic sauce is one of my favorites. Try my Steamed Vegetables With Garlic Sauce and this Szechuan Eggplant in Garlic Sauce. This Sweet and Sour Cauliflower has an amazing sauce as do these Japanese Pan Noodles With Healthier Homemade Teriyaki Sauce. You’ll go nuts for this Super Veggie Peanut Sauce Stir-Fry and your taste buds will dance when you taste this Shiitake Asparagus Stir-Fry With Wasabi Avocado Cream.
Find more with these 15 Vegan Versions of Your Favorite Saucy Asian Takeout Dishes. Asian sauces are delicious, but you can get as creative as you want. Check out these 10 Simple and Awesome Homemade Sauté Sauces for more ideas.
6. Finish It Up
When the sauce has thickened, I return the tofu, tempeh or seitan to the pan. I like to add it at the last minute so it stays crispy. Add it back to the pan and toss to coat it in the sauce and mix with the vegetables. When the proteins have warmed back up, remove the food from the heat and add a light drizzle of toasted sesame oil over the food.
For added texture, try adding toasted nuts or sesame seeds to the dish. Transfer the food to a serving bowl or platter. Garnish with scallion greens or more nuts and seeds. Polish off your chopsticks and dig in. This Easy Mushroom Stir-Fry is topped with chopped scallions while this Toasted Cashew Stir-Fry has crunchy nuts for texture.
Now that you know the basics of making a delicious stir-fry, it’s time to get cooking. We have tons of recipes you can make for dinner tonight. Don’t worry if you don’t have the exact ingredients; stir-fries let you use anything and everything. It’s a great meal choice when you need to use up leftovers or clear out the produce drawer in your fridge. Get your veggie fix with this Chinese Long Bean Stir-Fry, Balsamic Mushrooms and Green Beans With Coconut Bacon, Brussels Sprouts Stir-Fry, Snow Peas, and Mizuna Stir-Fry, and this unexpected Southern Okra, Pecan and Cherry Tomato Stir-Fry.
Fried rice and noodles are favorites and you can make these dishes at home too. Try this Cauliflower Rice Stir-Fry, Broccoli Cashew Fried Rice, Quick and Easy Fried Rice, and this Tofu Fried Rice. Noodle lovers will adore this Vegetable Udon Stir-Fry with Spicy Sauce, Shirataki Pad Thai, Peanut Noodle Stir-Fry with Vegetables, Easy Stir-Fried Vermicelli Noodles, Carrot and Courgette Noodle Stir-Fry and this Pancit: Filipino One-Pan Noodles.
It’s really easy to make your own stir-fries at home. You can mix and match ingredients and sauces to make an endless array of dishes. Now, there’s another reason to TGIF – Stir-Fridays!
Lead image source: Super Veggie Peanut Sauce Stir Fry
I am getting very tired of hearing soy and animal flesh referred to as "proteins".
Refer to them as what they actually are. "Proteins" is an overly technical term used in food service that does not translate well to the average kitchen. It sounds pretentious and overcompensating.