Stir-frying is one of my favourite cooking techniques, and is the basis for a lot of my Marion’s Kitchen recipes you’ll find here on the site. From traditional pad Thai to tender, juicy meat (hello, Ultimate beef and broccoli!), it guarantees seriously good dishes. But have you ever wondered how to make stir-fry the best it can be? Unless you’re a fan of stewed meat, soggy veggies and off-balance flavours, there are several things you’ll want to avoid. Read on for the 10 most popular mistakes people make when stir-frying… and how to avoid them.
But first… what IS stir frying?
Stir frying is a way of quickly cooking food (usually in a wok) over a high heat, and with only a little oil. Because of this, it helps ingredients stay crunchy, colourful and downright delicious. Many reasons why you’ll want to master stir-frying and avoid these doozies…
#1: Using the wrong pan
My friend, it’s all about the wok when it comes to stir-frying – those deep, sloping sides really help concentrate the heat and cook food quicker. You can use a deep, wide frying pan or skillet in a pinch, but I personally reckon the wok is king here (ahem, have you met my very own MAKO wok yet?). I prefer carbon steel, as it gets better each time you use it and imparts a wonderful smoky flavour, or ‘wok hei’ to your food.
My MAKO wok… everything other woks aren’t.
#2: Slicing ingredients too large or thick
Each of your stir-fry components need to be cut into small, bite-sized chunks. This helps everything cook uniformly, quickly and evenly.
#3: Being unorganised
Stir-frying happens quickly – like, super quickly. Here’s the fundamental rule: always, ALWAYS get everything ready before you start cooking. Your prep is hands down one of the most important keys for stir-frying success. Read the recipe before you start to cook, then do all your chopping and slicing upfront. If possible, mix up your sauce in advance as well so you’re not faffing with multiple jars and bottles come crunch time.
#4: Not getting the wok hot enough
For anyone who’s watched some of my videos, you’ll know I say this a lot: you want your wok SCARY HOT, so crank up that heat. You want your wok absolutely searing, so that when your ingredients make contact with it, they’re going to be hitting it at the perfect temperature for fast and hard cooking.
#5: Adding the oil before the wok is hot
This is another big stir-frying no-no. You want to ensure you preheat your wok before you add your cooking oil. If you add oil to a cold wok, you risk your ingredients not cooking all the way through.
#6: Throwing every ingredient in at once
Some ingredients are going to take a bit longer than others (broccoli, for instance, is a bit hardier), so you’ll need to add things in stages rather than all at once. Why? Because when you overcrowd the pan, things start steaming rather than searing. Just like us people, ingredients need their personal space!
#7: Crowding the protein
Which leads me nicely on to this point: when it’s time to cook your meat, you want each piece to make contact with the wok. That way, you get a lovely char on the edges, and even cooking. Whether it’s minced, sliced or chunks, spread your protein out around the bottom of the wok, and leave it for a few moments. Trust me: this is essential stir-frying 101!
#8: Using a round spoon
Believe it or not, there is definitely a best utensil for stir-frying. And it is NOT a round spoon. Those bad boys aren’t going to let you get in there and scrape up all the golden goodness off the pan. Choose a spatula instead: wooden or silicone ones will protect the coating on a non-stick pan, while metal is fine for a stainless steel wok.
#9: Your sauce isn’t punchy enough
It’s how to make stir-fry 101: the sauce has to be rich and bold.
For maximum deliciousness, you want your sauce to be super concentrated and bold – you’ll often have juices and watery liquid coming out of the protein and/or vegetables anyway. (Just be sure to not overcrowd, otherwise you’ll encourage everything to get a bit soggy!) Making it from scratch is best.
#10: Using the wrong oil
Because stir-frying uses a very high heat, you want a cooking oil that has a high smoke point. Vegetable, canola or peanut oil are my trustee go-tos, and all have a neutral taste, so won’t affect flavour. Do not – I repeat, DO NOT – use butter!
And there you have it, 10 common mistakes to avoid when stir-frying. Now it’s time to practise your skills… let’s fry!