How to make a stir fry

February 4, 2020 at 9:39 pm (B plus (3 stars, like a lot), Cooking tips, Derek's faves, East and SE Asia, Monthly menu plan, Other)


I’ve always been terrible at stir-frying. You can see many of my previous stir-fry posts for evidence. When I try to wing it, it just doesn’t taste right. And when I try to follow a recipe, most of the time the result is disastrous. I’ve tried many recipes for “stir-fry sauces” over the years and they are almost always terrible, or full of processed store-bought sauces with very strange unpronounceable ingredients. So when one of Derek’s students made us a pretty yummy stir-fry , I asked him to come over and show me how to make it. It was a while ago now, so I’ve probably forgotten part of what I learned, but I’m going to try to record my lessons here.

  1. Tofu: He had me boil the tofu briefly, and it made the texture spongier and more absorbent, a bit more like frozen tofu.  He also had me cut the tofu into huge cubes, but Derek said I should cut them smaller next time. I just pan-fried them in my cast iron skillet the same way I usually do.
  2. Seasoning: We minced a lot of garlic and added some thinly sliced shallots. We also chopped up some cilantro, although I got some grief for getting the wrong (apparently not so flavorful) kind. That was it for seasoning, other than salt and soy sauce. We started by heating my 12-inch stainless steel skillet on high (as high as my oven goes, on the largest burner). When quite hot, we added quite a small amount of oil (1 tsp?) to it, then immediately threw in most (but not all) of the garlic and scallions. After a few seconds we added the slowest cooking vegetable (in our case carrots).
  3. Amounts and timing: We had to make two batches to have enough for all four of us (3 adults + Alma). But I was surprised at how quick it was to make the second batch, especially since we used all the carrots (the slowest veggie) in the first batch. The second batch (with pre-steamed broccoli and other quick cooking vegetables) just took a couple of minutes to make. I think if I was just cooking for Derek and Alma and myself, I could make one batch for dinner and a second batch to have “leftovers” for lunch the next day.
  4. Carrots: We had to add water to the pan in small amounts to get the carrots to cook not burn. Whenever the pan started to brown a bit we added some water.
  5. Broccoli: He said broccoli is a bit tricky, so we steamed it first, until it was almost cooked, and then we added it once the carrots were almost done cooking. That worked well and the final texture came out pretty good.
  6. Mushrooms: He said that the criminis I got weren’t so good for stir-fry, and shiitakes would be better. I think we added the mushrooms too soon, as they ended up a tad overcooked. I think they actually take less time than bell peppers.
  7. Bell peppers: These we cut into quite large pieces and added around the same time as the broccoli.
  8. Salt and soy sauce: We seasoned a bit as we went. I thought the soy sauce would burn since the pan was so hot but it didn’t seem to. He wanted me to taste it as we went for seasoning, but I didn’t want to. I hate tasting food before it’s done. I know, bad, bad cook.
  9. Final seasoning: When all the veggies were just about cooked we threw in the cooked tofu and the rest of the garlic/scallion mixture, along with the chopped cilantro. I was surprised at how tasty it ended up given that there was almost no oil and essentially no sauce.
  10. Cashews: He said they never put cashews in stir-fry, but we like them so I threw a bunch in the oven on low before we started cooking. They were nicely browned by the time the stirfry was ready, and Derek and Alma and I all thought they made a very tasty addition.
  11. Ginger and chilies: There was no ginger in our stirfry, but I missed it. The next time I made a stirfy I julienned some ginger into very thin batons and added them with the garlic and scallions. That way Alma could pick them out. I also ate my stir-fry with some Sambal Olek. I missed some spice.

Other veggies to try: bok choy, bean sprouts, snow peas, green beans, ???

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