The Secrets to Perfect Stir Frying, According to a Chinese Restaurant Chef
Lucas Sin shares tips that will improve your stir fries, no matter your skill level.
Beef and broccoli. Bacon and shrimp fried rice. Many of our favorite Chinese and Chinese American dishes result from the same beloved method: stir-fry. This Chinese cooking technique, done over high heat with a small amount of oil, is known for the way it melds the flavors of vegetables and proteins together. Think of it as sauteeing on another level, with blistering heat and faster action.
“Maybe 10 years ago in America, people would think of stir-fry as a medley of vegetables with some type of meat, but that’s not necessarily what stir-fry is,” says Lucas Sin, the culinary director of Junzi Kitchen in New York and Connecticut. “It’s a more inclusive term for how we cook inside a pan. Stir frying is quick, but maintains a lot of texture, something that Chinese cuisine prizes.”
While most stir-fries don’t take longer than five minutes to cook, beginners can be intimidated by the amount of ingredients and rapid pace. No matter your skill level or what recipes you’re using, here are five of Sin’s best practices to improve your stir-frying game.
Buy the Right Pan and Keep It Sizzling Hot
Think of stir frying, and you probably picture a wok. But it might not be the best tool to use if you have an electric or induction stove at home.
“The problem with many woks is that the flat bottom is very small, so that’s the only place that actually gets hot when you put it on an electric or induction stove,” says Sin. “Because you should always stir fry at a very, very high heat, you actually need a carbon or stainless steel pan with a flat, wide bottom that can stay in contact with your heat source.”
“I much prefer carbon steel because that’s the same material that a wok is made out of. The great thing about carbon steel is the heat comes up really quickly and it holds that heat almost like cast iron, but it’s less heavy so it’s easier to move.”
In a restaurant, it’s not unusual for a wok’s cooking temperature to be at least 700 degrees Fahrenheit. To create a similar environment at home, crank up the stovetop as high as it will go. To control heat, move the pan further away or closer to the stove.
Prep, Prep and Prep Some More
The secret to successful stir-fry: prep work. First off, cut vegetables into consistent sizes for even cooking. Meat should be thinly sliced or in small, uniform chunks so you can control their temperature.
To make timing even easier, Sin suggests blanching all vegetables – except for delicate ones like pea shoots and spinach – beforehand. This surefire technique helps preserve texture and makes sure that ingredients get cooked all the way through, regardless of their shape.
“That way you’re not concerned with cooking the vegetable,” says Sin. “You’re concerned with incorporating the flavors of the other ingredients.”
The same idea lies behind par-cooking meat before starting up your stir-fry (a common trick in traditional Chinese restaurants, says Sin). Here, the partial cook is key. Sin doesn’t recommend fully cooking meat in advance, setting it aside and adding it to the wok when it’s ready to serve.
“The meat is going to lose a ton of juices and you want that flavor in your vegetables.”
Add the Ingredients That Take the Longest to Cook First
When stir frying, timing is key. The ingredients that take the longest to cook or tenderize should go in first to give them more time.
“Very broadly, the order should be aromatics, meat, hearty vegetables, soft vegetables and seasoning,” says Sin. “A great example is a classic Chinese American dish like beef and broccoli. Because beef cooks longer than broccoli, you’d cook the beef first, add the broccoli in once the beef has changed color and finish it with a sauce.”
Cook Eggs in Advance
Making a dish with eggs? Because they stir fry so quickly (think 10 to 20 seconds) Sin suggests preparing them before everything else. Allow them to reach a soft scramble, set aside, stir fry your other ingredients and when they’re almost ready, mix the eggs back in.
But if you’re making fried rice, you’ll have to do things a little differently. “Fried rice is in its own special category,” says Sin. “When making fried rice or golden fried rice, incorporate egg yolks into the rice before you cook it. The fat in the egg yolk will lubricate the grains of rice and keep them nice and separate and help prevent burning.”
Finally, Don’t Go Overboard on the Sauce
“Most stir-fries don’t have a puddle of sauce at the bottom,” says Sin. “Take, for example, one of my favorite dishes, Hunanese cauliflower and bacon. Instead of cooking the bacon and cauliflower and pouring soy sauce and chili sauce all over them, I add the liquid seasoning during the later stages of cooking and keep tossing the ingredients together.”
This helps preserve texture and incorporates all the different flavors in the stir-fry. You want to complement; not cover.