Stir-fries are the original fast food. If you are allowed into a Chinese restaurant’s kitchen, do visit, if only to marvel at the satellite-dish sized woks that shoot out flames to the ceiling when in use. The acreage of a wok and its ability to heat up in seconds mean food can be seared and cooked in minutes, retaining freshness and flavor.
This recipe is an old standby for its tastiness and versatility. You probably have all the ingredients right now in your pantry and refrigerator. The classic take would be to buy 5 Hong Kong dollars’ worth of deep-fried pork at the corner charcuterie, use that as seasoning for a boatload of vegetables, and have a feast. Think of its possibilities for leftover rotisserie chicken and veg.
The Only Stir-Fry Recipe You’ll Ever Need
1/3 cup stock
3 tablespoons oyster sauce (available in most groceries)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
A squeeze of lemon juice or a tablespoon of cooking wine (I use Xiaoxing but you can also use sherry)
1/4 to 1/3 cup protein (see notes below), chopped into bite-size pieces
Two or 3 cloves of garlic, minced
3-4 cups leafy vegetables. chopped
Optional: Chili, ginger
Combine the stock with the oyster sauce, soy sauce, lemon juice or cooking wine in a medium bowl. Coat your wok with oil and turn up the heat to maximum. Once the oil is shimmering, toss in the chicken, pork or beef and stir-fry furiously until their surfaces turn white. Carefully lift out the meat and dump it into the bowl with the stock solution.
Tip in the garlic (with the chili and ginger if using) and stir-fry rapidly. Add the vegetables and stir-fry until the leaves turn a brilliant green. Return the meat to the wok, including the stock solution. Clap on the wok’s lid and let the mixture steam for a minute or two. Uncover the wok and dribble sesame oil; toss to coat. Serve.
Any protein will do for this recipe but there are differences in when they’re added. I normally use two cubed chicken thighs. When using pork and beef, slice them into chopstick-appropriate strips and only add them after the vegetables, not before. Otherwise they’ll overcook.
Delicate seafood like fish might fall apart in this recipe. You can sub prawns or squid.
If you’re using tofu, opt for extra-firm tofu and fry the cubes first until they develop a nice, brown crust.
This recipe is best for leafy vegetables like bok choi, baby bok choi (my favorite), Napa cabbage, even romaine lettuce. You can also substitute broccoli or cauliflower. Fleshy vegetables like eggplant and squash require more time for cooking so you’ll need to adapt the timing as needed.
Feel free to combine vegetables. I’ve used asparagus and bell peppers with success.
Experiment with the seasonings. I’ve mentioned chili and ginger, but you could add grated lemongrass and cilantro for a Thai-inspired touch. You can also sprinkle fried garlic or onions for added crunch.
Wok cooking and maintenance
Have all the ingredients ready before you even start cooking. Stir-frying is maniacal and there’s no time to step back from the hob to chop or mix.
The number one reason for wok fails: It wasn’t heated up enough. When it’s devilishly hot, the wok sears the food, locking in the juices so it becomes tender. A namby-pamby temperature means the ingredients absorb the oil instead of getting cooked in a flash.
Don’t have a wok? Pass up a non-stick wok. It heats up poorly and is a lot more expensive than a traditional carbon steel wok. The latter is a workhorse and will last you many years with the right maintenance.
Season your carbon steel wok to make it non-stick. After cooking, don’t leave food for long periods in the wok. Wash the wok, dry it, heat it up on the stove and coat it with oil using a wadded up paper towel and tongs.