In this post, I will share the “secrets” on how to cook authentic Chinese stir fry. If you have tried all the right sauces, but your stir fries are still soggy and taste nothing like you thought, this guide is for you.
The first time my Chinese-American husband complimented my stir fry, I figured he was just being nice. It must have made him happy I cared enough to learn. But when my father-in-law stated at the dinner table that my food tasted “authentic”, I knew my years of observation had paid off. I had learned the techniques my husband and Chinese mother-in-law use to achieve the right texture, flavor and level of doneness that makes their food taste authentic. Now I am going to share them with you.
Chinese cuisine is as diverse as the provinces of China they hail from, and as rich as the country’s old culture. So, this post is not a tell all of Chinese cuisine, only specific tips on how to cook authentic Chinese stir fry.
- You will need a wok. Stir fries are cooked on high heat. Woks can withstand the heat and are big enough to hold and stir large amounts of meats, noodles and vegetables. Hence their popularity in Chinese and other Asian cuisines where stir fries are common.
- Don’t be shy with the oil. When cooking on high heat, having enough oil is important so that your food does not get burned. Use oils with a high smoke point, such as canola or peanut oil.
- Use fresh garlic and ginger. Ginger is a versatile root that adds warmth, mild spiciness and sweetness to dishes. It pairs well with many ingredients making it desirable in stir fries and dipping sauces. Garlic is also widely used with meats and vegetables and in soups and sauces. Slice thinly and do not overcook.
- Slice meats and vegetables thinly. Slice with a short cooking period in mind for both meats and vegetables. Slice meats in thin (no more than 1/4 inch), bite size pieces that can be cooked thoroughly in less than five minutes. Cut meat at an angle against its natural grain. This will make for a more tender piece of meat.
- Cook meat and vegetables separately and add the meat back at the end. When making stir fries, cook the meat first, adding little to no seasoning and set aside. Re-oil the wok and cook the vegetables, adding back the meat and adding the seasonings at the end.
- Do not overcook the vegetables. You will want to cook denser vegetables for two to three minutes and high moisture vegetables for one to two minutes until you achieve a soft but crisp texture. Add denser vegetables to the wok first (such as carrots and turnips). Cook covered for two minutes and then add the rest, stirring as you go. If your broccoli is not crunchy to the taste, you have overcooked it. Likewise if your bell peppers are soggy. The next tip explains further how to avoid over-cooking.
- Add little to no water. Allow vegetables and meat to release their own juices. If cooking dense vegetables, add only enough water to allow the vegetable to release its own. 1/4 cup of water is all it takes in most cases. Add a little less if you are using soy sauce.
- More than soy sauce. It takes more than soy sauce to make a dish taste “Chinese”. A combination of ginger, garlic, sugar (1 teaspoon) and soy sauce makes a great basic sauce for most stir fries. Rice cooking wine, hot pepper corns, chili peppers, sesame seeds, black bean sauce and oyster sauce – among others – can enhance the taste of certain dishes or add extra color when needed. Visit your local Asian market and experiment!
- Sesame oil. Sesame oil is a great addition to already cooked dishes before serving. It gives stir fries a distinct Asian flavor and will make your rice dishes and vegetables more enticing.
- Serve immediately and do not cover stir fry once done. As with most “fried” dishes, you will want to eat your stir fry before it gets cold. Covering the serving dish will make your vegetables soggy and the meat dry. Serve with plain rice and enjoy!