Beware of These Stir Fry Recipe Mistakes
One of the things that draws people to stir-frying is the beautiful recipes. Page through cookbooks, magazines, or websites and you’ll eventually run into plenty of very tasty looking stir-fry dishes.
As you dig into the recipes, you will probably pick a few to try. However, I must warn you that not all stir-fry recipes, even delicious ones, are totally correct. I know everyone who cooks has their own methods, but when it comes to certain stir-fry techniques and ingredients, you have to follow a few rules. Let’s take a look at some things you should watch out for in a stir-fry recipe.
1. Non-Stick Cookware
Any non-stick surface, whether on a wok or a skillet, is a no-no when it comes to stir-frying. This is largely due to the fact that the surface cannot be heated as hot as you need to stir-fry successfully. The non-stick surface actually breaks down at high temperatures. Use a wok or skillet that is carbon steel, stainless steel, or cast iron for your stir-fry. The correct oil, temperature, and seasoning of the pan will create a natural non-stick surface.
2. Medium Heat
I suspect recipes call for using medium heat so the cook doesn’t panic. But, if you set your wok over medium heat, the moment you add the ingredients, the wok will cool and you’ll be ‘boiling’ your food in oil and moisture. Get the heat up to medium-high to high heat before you start cooking. Yes, there will be sizzling and steam rising, but that’s part of the stir-fry process.
3. Olive Oil
There is some debate over the ‘smoke point’ of olive oil. Some say you can successfully heat olive oil to 450 degrees or over. The fact is, if you are buying extra-virgin olive oil, you are buying olive oil that is very nearly unrefined. This is an excellent choice for salad dressings because the oil is loaded with nutrients and very tasty. However, this is not good for frying as it has a low smoke point and the nutrients break down in the heat. If you buy olive oil that says it’s good for stir-frying, it’s because it is a blend of refined olive oil and usually canola oil or corn oil. Just buy canola oil, corn oil, rice bran oil, peanut oil, or other high heat oil and save your olive oil for salads.
4. Sesame Oil
If a recipe calls for sesame oil, it should be added when the frying is done, preferably in one of the last steps. Sesame oil adds a fantastic flavor, but it does not stand up well to high heat. A sprinkle of sesame oil just before removing from the wok is nice, but added before that it will burn and leave an unpleasant taste and sticky residue to the wok. The wonderful flavor of sesame oil is a very nice touch to many stir-fry dishes, but only when used properly.
5. Too Much Oil
When you use the right oil in the right pan at the right heat, you won’t need much oil to get a good stir-fry going. Be sure to use a high-heat, high smoke point oil, then heat the wok first, add the oil, and swirl the oil around to coat the surface, letting it start to fall back into the bottom of the wok before adding your ingredients. You can add a bit more oil if you need to as you add more ingredients, but don’t get carried away. Remember to expect some sizzle and pop and a bit of steam when you stir-fry. If you keep needing to use more oil, your pan may not be hot enough, or you may be using the wrong oil.
6. Garlic Too Soon
I have read many stir-fry (and other skillet dishes) that call for the addition of garlic in the initial frying process. This results in scorched garlic that tastes bitter, and makes the rest of the dish taste bitter, too. Minced garlic should be added toward the end of the process, or at least in the later steps. However, if you are using whole garlic cloves to infuse flavor into the cooking oil, then add the cloves in the oil as it heats, stir just until the garlic becomes fragrant and light golden in color, then immediately remove the cloves with a slotted spoon. Now you have garlic flavored oil. You may still add minced garlic during the last minute of cooking time.
7. Frozen Vegetables
Throwing a bag of frozen broccoli into your wok will put a halt to the cooking process and you’ll end up with soggy veggies. If you use frozen vegetables, be sure to thaw and drain them well. They will take a little less time to get tender than their fresh counterparts, so just arrange your stir-fry procedure accordingly. With that said, a handful of peas won’t significantly cool the wok. Just use your judgment.
8. Mix Up
Unless you’re very skilled at judging cooking times, don’t try to make the entire meal in the wok at the same time. Stir-fry the meat or other protein first, remove it, and continue with the most dense vegetables, remove, add more delicate vegetables, remove, etc. Then when you are done, everything can go back in for a quick reheat and for any sauces and seasonings you want to add. You may want to put the lid on for just a minute to get all those flavors blended. As you become more familiar with stir-frying, you can push one ingredient aside (up the side of the wok), then add another, stir, push up the side, etc., but this takes some skill. Learn the process first, then you can work on a more advanced technique.
I recommend you read any stir-fry recipe through first before you begin. Then, with an eye to the mistakes I’ve listed here, tweak the recipe to more accurately suit a proper stir-fry. You can always perfect your own method once you learn the basics. Have fun with your stir-fry and enjoy the tasty results!