Stir-frying is a basic technique in Chinese cookery. It simply means that the food is cooked quickly in a wok or a skillet over high heat in a small amount of oil. Stir-frying is the most widely used of the Chinese cooking methods because it is the most economical. The wood and coal used as cooking fuels in China were scarce and costly so a very quick method of cooking was developed. Stir-frying has the added advantage off retaining most of the nutrients in food because the cooking time is so short.
Most kitchens have the basic equipment needed for stir-fry’s. A regular non-stick skillet can be used or a wok may be purchased. A wok is a round-bottomed pan. Its rounded shape distributes heat evenly so that all of the contents of the pan cook at an even rate. It lends itself easily to the constant stirring and mixing hat is a part of stir-frying. Because of its shape, the wok is less likely to burn and is easier to clean than conventionally shaped pans. A standard kitchen spoon or spatula may be used for the stirring and mixing of the ingredients as they cook. A heavy kitchen knife is also required for chopping and slicing the ingredients in preparation for the cooking process.
Some basic stir-fry principles to remember:
- To produce a pleasing appearance for the eye and a consistent texture for the palate, the Chinese usually use the same cutting style for all major ingredients in a recipe. If the recipe calls for the meant to be diced, the vegetables to be combined with it will also be diced in the same size cubes. If the meat is to be in strips, the vegetables will be in the strips too.
- A stir-fry recipe cannot be doubled or tripled and receive the same results—if there is too much food in the wok or skillet, it will not cook quickly. The vegetables will then be less crispy and the meat will become overdone.
- All ingredients should be prepared and lined up on a tray in the order in which they are to be used. This allows you to work quickly and efficiently.
- It is important that the wok or the skillet are hot before the oil is added, and then the oil is hot before the food is added so that the food does not absorb the oil. The food should sizzle when placed in the oil.
- While cooking, the food is stirred constantly and tossed with the spatula so that it cooks quickly and evenly.
- If vegetables and meat are to be combined, they are stir-fried separately. Usually the meat is cooked first, and then removed from the wok, and the vegetables are cooked. They are then combined with the sauce to complete the dish.