Once you realise you don't need a recipe for everything, you may find yourself cooking a lot more often. Stir-fry is a perfect example — the steps stay the same, and you can use whatever is in the fridge.
Image remixed from bonchan (Shutterstock).
There are a few technical issues that are really the key to stir-fry success. You need to get your pan hot enough, but a non-stick frying pan will do what you need it to do perfectly.
The other misstep is when you try to cram too many ingredients into the wrong-sized pan — this is my most common stir-fry failure. Easily solvable, with a little thing called patience.
The Six Steps
1. Stir-fries cook quickly so act like a scout and be prepared. Cut all vegetables small enough that they'll cook fast and line up all ingredients next to the stove in the order they'll go into the pan. Always dilute soy sauce in a ratio of one part soy to one part water — when it hits the hot pan it will reduce, gaining back its strength.
2. Choose your noodle. I find all noodles are good noodles as long as they're long. Cook them to al dente and cool them — I like to steep rice noodles instead of boiling them, which only takes about 10 minutes.
3. Cook the protein first, adding half the diluted soy after the protein has caramelised. Remove the protein to a plate, wipe out the pan and reheat it.
4. Sear the vegetables until tender. Be sure to add the vegetables that take the longest to cook to the pan first. Carrots first, ginger and garlic last.
5. Combine everything in the pan and toss just till it's warmed through, adding the remaining diluted soy sauce last.
6. Add the garnish — here, chives and spring onions — which in Asian food isn't optional. It's an actual ingredient that needs to be added for flavour.
Still want a recipe? Here are a few for inspiration:
- Shredded Pork and Chinese Celery Lo Mein
- Spicy Grilled Chicken Salad with Noodles
- Thai Curry Noodles with Prawns
Tom Hirschfeld is a contributor at Food52. He's a stay-at-home dad and a trained chef. He taught at the local culinary school for five years and has a small farm where he gardens, and raises chickens, turkeys, geese and ducks. He talks about small farm life at www.bonafidefarmfood.com.