If you’ve fallen into the rut of turning on the stove and opening the ‘fridge to see what’s for dinner, then mastering the art of stir-fry may be just the thing you need to snap out of it! No time to check e-mails or answer the phone when the heat’s on, but you may find yourself eating better, losing weight, saving money and taking bows with this delightful Oriental cooking style. Here are the basic steps.
Being fresh is a good thing. Every chef knows the tastiest dishes begin with the freshest ingredients. Head for the produce aisle of your store, or better yet your backyard garden. In a pinch you can rely on frozen, but it’s just not the same.
Be prepared. It’s not only the Boy Scout motto, it also applies in the Asian kitchen. The basic tools are a Chinese knife (cleaver), one or two cutting blocks or boards, and an assortment of dishes to hold the prepared ingredients. Cut all of your ingredients into bite-size bits; try to make the pieces uniform. Have fun experimenting with different ways of slicing up each item. This is an art form all by itself.
Several basic seasonings and spices are mainstays of stir-fry cooking. They are salt, ginger, garlic, sugar, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and chili. Speaking of chili, did you know in America we have only four “tastes” whereas the Chinese traditionally have five? That’s right: salty, sweet, sour, bitter and HOT! (Don’t even get me started on “umami!”)
If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen. Once all your ingredients are prepared, take a deep breath and get cooking! You’ll need a wok, but you can also use a flat-bottom pan while you’re learning. You’ll also need a spatula for stirring. There are other utensils you can acquire later. These include long-handled forks, ladles and strainers.
Put the wok on the stove and turn it on high. Pour a little oil into the pan and watch for it to start to ripple with the heat. Toss in your densest ingredients first because they take the longest to cook. You’ll learn how to judge which ingredients take longer than others.
Although the Asian diet is probably more healthful than the standard American diet, chances are your family may object to radical changes at suppertime. So, try a few simple recipes at first. There are lots of recipes, videos and tips on the Internet to help you get started.