Interesting fact: The Chinese word for stir-fry, “chǎo,” also means “leftovers.” Okay, I made that up, but the fact remains that stir-fries are ideal for using up leftover vegetables, meats, rice, noodles, and just about anything else that has recently been dined upon and stored in your fridge.
I consider myself something of a stir-fry expert. I’ve been whipping them up in less than 15 minutes for years now – they have become a fixture in my frantic after-work culinary repertoire – and have reduced food waste, saved money, nourished my ravenous brood, and deeply impressed (and possibly aroused?) my spouse in the process.
The first rule of stir-fry mastery: Make sure the leftovers are good to go in your wok or flat-bottomed frying pan (either works fine). Stir-fries are quick and convenient, but digestive distress is neither.
Rule No. 2: A medium-high stove-top temperature works well as it grills nicely and seals in flavour. Let the pan heat up for a minute or two before adding enough vegetable, sesame or peanut oil to lightly coat the ingredients, and then let the oil heat before proceeding.
Rule No. 3: There very few rules when it comes to the ingredients you can use. Chicken, fish, beef, shrimp, pork and every type of mushroom and non-leafy vegetable are good to go. Heck, even leafy kale can be stirred in. You can also add nuts, sesame seeds, and dried and firm fruits such as apple slices. Sauces are similarly varied: There are myriad store-bought versions, or you can blend honey, Dijon mustard and soy sauce; vinegar, brown sugar and pineapple juice…the list goes on.
Rule No. 4: While the list of viable ingredients is long, your list of actual ingredients should be short. The best stir-fries incorporate no more than a single meat and no more than two or three veggies etc., plus the sauce of your choosing. Don’t overdo it!
Rule No. 5: It’s a good idea to have all your bite-sized ingredients chopped and near the pan, as you’ll be adding them in quick succession. You can finish chopping while the pan and oil are heating, and while any raw meat is cooking. (Fry the latter first, and set it aside once it’s on the rare side.) If you’re using raw or undercooked veggies put those in next, and remember that carrots and broccoli, for example, take longer to cook than minced garlic, mushrooms or onions. When all the veggies are al dente – a taste test is the way to go here – add any extra items and your sauce of choice, followed by the pre-cooked or leftover meat. Then give it all a final two-minute fry.
Rule No. 6: Keep the ingredients moving in the pan with a wooden spoon or spatula.
Rule No. 7: Stir-fries are typically served atop rice. If you want to keep it healthy, go for brown rice. Leftovers can be revitalized by frying for a couple of minutes in the empty pan with a tablespoon of oil.
Rule No. 8: Always serve your dish ASAP, as the bite-sized pieces cool quickly. If you’re dining with company make sure they’re at the table, and if you’re dining with a significant other try to impersonate Jamie Oliver as best you can…
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About Adam: Adam Bisby is a Toronto-based freelance writer who has covered health and wellness for publications such as the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star and Canadian Family magazine. He’s married, has two young daughters, and is doing his best to live a healthier life.