Tuesday, February 17, 2009

It's Stir Fry Stupid, Not Sit Fry.

Much like James Bond 007 declares, "I've got an itch on my bum." Of course, it's not literal (at least not this moment), but what I mean to say is that there is a cooking-related pet peeve that really chaps my ass. And, I realized this weekend that pet peeve happens to involve stir frying.

I really enjoy stir frying, but often enough, it is excruciatingly painful to watch many others do so. For some reason, this happens much too frequently because so many people simply have no understanding of the basic concepts of stir frying. I've been to dinners with friends and watched in horror as chicken, beef, shrimp, fish or pork sit overcooked and stewing in a wok/pan of sauce. The meat has already been slaughtered, please, SHOW MERCY.

Having grown up in a very classic Chinese family-style-oriented cooking, I will offer and show you a few basic rules to successful stir fry.

Some basic rules:

-DO NOT FEAR USING OIL, it is the most necessary and essential part of stir frying. There are no cutting corners with using oil.
-Do not be stupid and use extra virgin olive oil, they do not make that in China and I do not want the taste of burnt rancid olive oil in my Chinese cuisine. Veggie, peanut, corn or canola please.

-Mis en place, mis en place, mis en place. Yes, even the Chinese have this very basic and all encompassing concept. Just because you are cooking in a style from another hemisphere, it doesn't mean your brain should go there as well. Be setup to go. That means, make your cuts, set your sauce, marinade your meat, blanche your big veggies.

-Listen to your wok/pan, love your wok/pan. You can hear the stir fry happening, it's an intense ocean rumble and sizzle.
-Account for the right proportions for the items comprised in your final dish. This means that you probably shouldn't have 3 times the amount of broccoli than beef. Also, it is very important to understand how much sauce will be needed to completely and properly season/coat the dish. Rookies often season improperly.
-Under no circumstance, do not throw everything into the pot in one session and let it sit in a pan of sauce. That is a sit fry, not a stir fry. Cook items of different cut sizes separately as necessary and combine them in the proper order at the end to finish the dish.

-There is no need to flip the wok ten million times. You only need to do so when you are trying to distribute heat, coat or mix the food. You can always use a wok shovel or chopsticks to do the same thing. Constant flipping will just cool off your wok/pan.

-When everything has been thoroughly stir-fried or seared, add the sauce and incorporate the blanched veggies. This final step should take no more than a minute or two at most. What you see is a dry stir fry finish. You can always add more sauce by reserving some, thinning it with water, adjusting seasoning and thickening with a starch slurry. This all goes into a sauce-pot (or the wok after you are done with your cooking) and heated, then ladled on top of the finished dish. Chinese cooking also does not incorporate the usage of a roux, so don't bother with that.



  1. Oh you make me laugh. So true. I love this how-to. One question: if your including meat, that goes first right? Then the noodles, then veggies?

  2. Meat/Veg in and out, then noodles, then everything and sauce in to finish.

  3. I actually needed this instruction since I am guilty of the "sit fry." Bad Asian!