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The Joy of Stir-Fry

The Joy of Stir-Fry

Quick, creative, healthful, and fun -- stir-fries are the perfect family supper!

By FamilyTime

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If you have a wok, deep skillet, or a large sauté pan, time to cut ingredients into small pieces, and the small amount of patience required to stir food as it cooks, you can make a stir-fry. Chances are, you'll quickly adopt this cooking technique and make stir-fries once or twice a week.

Your family will thank you!

The Stir-Fry Advantage
Stir-fries are mélanges of poultry, meat, or fish and vegetables, all cut into bite-sized pieces, cooked quickly in oil over very high heat, and then spooned over hot brown or white rice or pasta, or consumed without the carbohydrate.

Just as most of us easily recognize stir-fries, most of us really like them, too. And why not? They're generally bursting with flavor, packed with crisp-tender vegetables and morsels of tender, tasty meat.

Best yet: Stir-fries are easy to eat. No cutting at the table required.

Even better: Stir-fries are easy to serve. No side dishes required.

And best of all: Stir-fries are good for you because they are packed with veggies, lean meat, poultry, or seafood and require very little fat! Stir-fries are a delicious and sensible part of a healthful diet. 

Stir-Fry Savvy
The most tedious part of stir frying is the prep. You must cut the vegetables and the protein (poultry, meat, fish, tofu) into sizes of equal thickness and length so that they cook evenly.

This means dicing or slicing the food so that it's about one-half to one-and-a-half inches wide or long.

Meat should be cut against the grain; chicken and fish into strips or dice; tofu into dice. Leave small shrimp whole and halve larger ones.

Marinate the protein for about 10 or 20 minutes in a soy-based bath. Add a little grated fresh ginger, sliced scallions, chopped garlic, sherry, or slivered lemongrass.

Cut long, slender vegetables such as beans and asparagus on the diagonal; broccoli and cauliflower into small florets; carrots, bell peppers, squash, and celery into matchsticks. Slice mushrooms very thin.

Once everything is prepped, arrange the food in individual bowls or dishes near the stove so that you can easily reach it during cooking.

Stir-Fry Technique
Heat the wok or skillet over the highest heat your stove emits. Most home stoves cannot get as hot as restaurant ranges, but if you make sure the pan is extremely hot before you begin, you'll have the best luck.

Pour a little vegetable oil into the hot wok. Canola and peanut oil are the best choices as they withstand high temperatures far better than olive oil or blended oils.

Tilt the pan and as it heats, the oil will spread over the blistering hot surface in radiating waves. The oil should shimmer, which signals it's good and hot and it's time to toss the first ingredients into the pan.

Start with the meat, poultry, fish, or tofu. Lift these from their marinade and stir-fry them over the heat for one to two minutes until they begin to cook. Remove them from the wok.

At this point, start cooking the vegetables. Add a little more oil and some stock or water to the wok. From this point onward, add stock or water when you need to moisten the food.

Begin with the firmest veggies, such as carrots, onions, or broccoli. Stir fry them for up to three or four minutes, push them up on the sides of the wok and add more tender ingredients, such as bell peppers and zucchini. These might need only a minute or two of stir frying.

Very tender vegetables, such as snow peas, sprouts, and mushrooms may need only 30 to 60 seconds. Cook these last.

Use copious amounts of garlic, ginger, scallions, and other redolent foods to flavor the stir-fry.

Finally, return the protein to the wok, push all the ingredients to the center and stir fry for another minute or so until cooked to the desired degree of doneness. Err on the side of undercooking. You can always return the food to the pan.

Finishing Touches
During the final stage of stir frying, add soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and other flavorings to the pan to make a light sauce.

Cornstarch thickens the sauce a little but shouldn't be added until the very end. Dissolve the cornstarch in a little water to make a slurry before adding it to the wok.

Finally, adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper (you may not need salt if you've used soy sauce), red pepper flakes, and anything else you like.

Spoon the stir fry over steaming hot rice or pasta. We suggest brown rice or whole wheat pasta for the health benefits. What a great family supper!


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