Basics of stir frying

It’s hard to be original in the foodblog world.. I had the idea to share the basics of stir frying, if you know these basics you can stir fry million combinations of Chinese dishes. But then I see a post of a Serious Eats on Facebook with an update of Wok Skills 101. Noooo, there goes my ‘original’ idea. I will first write down my story and then read the Wok 101 post to compare whether I learned the same basics.

Let’s start.

The trick to stir frying is knowing how long you have to stir fry each ingredient in the dish. The time also depends on how you cut the ingredient. For example if you take a carrot and cut it in big blocks, you might need to wok 5-10 minutes to create a soft bite. But if you cut the carrot in thin slices, it might only take 1 minute to make it soft.

basics of stir frying

You can use big blocks of carrot in a stew, since you will cook it for a long time and you don’t want to let the carrot dissolve in the stew. Thinly slices carrot are better for stir frying shortly in a veggies dish.


Fire is also an important variable when stir frying. It’s best to use real fire than induction or electric heating/stove. Fire can heat the whole wok, which is better for searing the ingredients quickly. This way the juices stay in the meat and vegetables. A wok is usually rounded at the bottom, not flat like a pan. The roundness makes it easier to toss the ingredients around, so that every side of the ingredient is heated equally within the same time. Or else you will get half raw, half seared meat.

Wok Hei

If you have a gas stove, you are lucky, I have induction. With the biggest fire you can create a taste which you can’t create with induction or an electric stove. People called it Wok Hei, breath of the wok. It is a fragrant delicious taste around the ingredient. When you eat the food, you smell it sort of in your mouth. Chinese people would call it Xiang 香 (=fragrant, delicious, wanting more of it). A word which has no translation in Dutch or English.


basics of stir frying

Meat, vegetable and spring onion or garlic are the main ingredients. You can use different meats, vegetables or taste makers combinations to create different dishes. Then you have the salt makers. I usually use soy sauce to marinate the meat. Add oyster sauce when stir frying the vegetables and at the end add salt if it is still not tasty enough.

Below is a recipe to show you the steps of stir frying.

Cut all the ingredients in equal sizes, so it will fit in your mouth. That’s why chopsticks are enough, you can put everything in your mouth without cutting.

I usually cut the taste makers and vegetables first. Then I cut the meat with the same knife, because it doesn’t matter to have vegetable juices on the meat. But it does matter if the vegetables get meat juices on them. (Don’t ask why.)

Marinate the meat with soy sauce, about two table spoons? {Also add corn starch to the meat to keep the juices inside}

{Heat the wok and add oil.} Add half of the spring onions and garlic to the meat. Stir fry the meat equally till about 80% done. Try not to have big chunks of pink in the meat.

{Add a bit of oil again.} Add the rest of the spring onions and garlic. Stir fry vegetables till soft, but crunchy.
Add the meat to the dish. Stir fry till the meat is not pink anymore. Add salt to taste. In this example I also added leftover rice. You can ignore that. Now you can serve your professionally stir fried dish. Enjoy!

Here is a time table showing when to stir fry what ingredient.

basics of stir frying

I was talking to my parents about this basic method I learned and apparently my uncles don’t take out the meat. They stir fry the meat first, maybe till 50%? Add vegetables and then stir fry till all is done. If you look at the time table that sounds logical. Meat and paprika time is about the same, so you could put them together. But then you have less control about making the meat equally non-pink. If there are a lot of ingredients in your wok, it harder to let every piece touch the side of the wok. I guess that’s why my parents take out the meat. More control about the tenderness of the meat.

After reading Wok 101

I forgot to talk about the oil. You need oil for stir frying, this can be sunflower oil, sesame oil or olive oil. Sesame oil is very fragrant, I also use this to marinate the meat. I use olive oil for stir frying. The taste makers (spring onion, garlic) are creating the fragrance in the oil.

I forgot to talk about maizena (corn starch). Add corn starch when marinating the meat. This will also keep the juices inside.

Okay, this is really the basics of stir frying. These days I use a lot of other ingredients in the meat marinating part, like black pepper, grinded sichuan pepper, sugar, curry powder etc. I learned about these ingredients from Korean and Thai recipes. It’s really fun to experiment with ingredients. It always tastes different.

If you have any questions, let me know 🙂

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