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Super-Easy Stir-Fry

There's a reason most Chinese takeout restaurants thrive: after a long day, most of us don't feel like tackling a lengthy stir-fry recipe. Even though it cooks lightning-fast, preparing the ingredients can be overwhelming.




To help you understand stir-fry and free you from recipes, I've developed a simple formula that will get dinner for four on the table in as little as 30 minutes. And because our home stovetops don't get as hot as restaurant woks, I'll explain my work-around method for getting food nicely seared.


    1. Heat your pan

    As soon as you walk into the kitchen, set a 12-inch non-stick or cast-iron skillet over low heat.

    2. Prepare protein


    Prep one pound of the following proteins: peeled raw medium shrimp, bay or sea scallops (halve large sea scallops crosswise); boneless skinless chicken breasts or thighs cut into bite-size strips; firm tofu cut in 3/4-inch chunks; or red meat thinly sliced across the grain (try pork tenderloin, sirloin, rib-eye, tenderloin, or flank or skirt steak).

    3. Marinate protein


    Use 1 Tbsp each soy sauce and dry or sweet sherry. The protein doesn't need to marinate long--just make sure you do it soon after putting the skillet over low heat.


      4. Prepare produce

      First cut a peeled medium-large onion in half (pole-to-pole), then cut each half into about 8 wedges. Set aside. Then select two of the vegetables listed below, totaling 1 pound.

      There are no "wrong" combinations. I've picked these particular vegetables because they can be bought ready to use, or they can be prepared and stir-fried quickly. They'll be added to the pan at different times, so keep the two vegetables separated on a plate.

      Super-fast fresh produce might include

      • Shredded carrots
      • Coleslaw mix
      • Bite-sized pineapple chunks (for sweet and sour only)
      • Sliced mushrooms and bell peppers or stringed snow peas--all of which can be purchased packaged or prepared yourself.

      Other good choices: celery, scallions, fresh bean sprouts (avoid canned), haricots verts (thin French green beans), pencil-thin asparagus, zucchini or yellow squash in 1/2-inch-thick rounds or eggplant in 3/4-inch cubes. And don't forget drained water chestnuts or baby corn, drained (calculate drained weight to determine amounts needed).


        5. Prepare aromatics


        Mince 1 Tbsp each of fresh garlic and ginger root. Bottled ginger and garlic taste strong and distinct, so they muddy the stir-fry's otherwise fresh, clear flavors. Stick with fresh.


          6. Make a quick stir-fry sauce and glaze


          I give four stir-fry sauce recipes here. You'll also need to make a glaze to ensure a nice body and glossy sheen. Just mix 2 tsp cornstarch with 2 Tbsp chicken broth or water. A few minutes before you're ready to stir-fry, turn on the exhaust fan and turn up the heat under the skillet to high. Make sure all your ingredients are close at hand.


            7. Add 1 Tbsp of oil, then half the protein, to the pan


            Stir-fry until well-browned and cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a clean bowl and repeat stir-frying with remaining protein. Most home stoves don't have the power to stir-fry a large quantity of protein at the same time, so cook it in batches--otherwise the skillet will cool down, and the food will stew instead.


              8. Drizzle another 2 Tbsp oil into the hot skillet


              Add the onion and stir-fry until browned but still crisp, about 1 minute. Add the minced garlic and ginger next so they'll have a chance to flavor the entire dish. (If you add them to the pan any sooner, they'll burn.) Next, immediately add the vegetable you think will take longer to cook. If it's not obvious, just pick a vegetable and start--you're not going to ruin the stir-fry. Staggering vegetables is more about keeping the skillet hot. After stir-frying the first vegetable for a few minutes, add the second and continue to stir-fry until all vegetables are tender-crisp, 1 to 2 minute longer.


                9. Return protein to pan and stir in your flavoring sauce


                Make sure all the ingredients are well coated with the sauce. Finally, stir in the cornstarch mixture until juices become saucy and glossy. If the wok juices look too thick at this point, thin with a few more tablespoons of chicken broth or water, then serve the stir-fry immediately with noodles or steamed rice.


                  Copyright 2004 USA Weekend and columnist Pam Anderson. All rights reserved.


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                      Comments
                      marjorie 
                      Jul. 18, 2009 5:40 am
                      when i stir fry especially some chinese vegetables, i always add sesame oil to the vegetables and to the meat to make it glossy and more aromatic.
                       
                      Jul. 28, 2009 4:56 pm
                      Usually my stir fry turns into soup. But with these guidelines, it came out perfect! Now I want to stir fry all the time!
                       
                      leilaj 
                      Aug. 1, 2009 5:58 am
                      I am so grateful that there are explanations to accompany why certain steps are done in a specific way. If she hadn't explained why only half the meat should be placed in the pan at a time, I probably would have put in the whole thing. I had no idea it is so important to have a HOT pan the whole entire time--thanks for revealing this! Now I am going to Chinatown to buy a heavy duty wok! Thanks Pam!
                       
                      Aug. 19, 2009 9:49 pm
                      I too am very grateful to have such good directions for each step. I can see why my past attempts have been less than I had hoped for. Keeping the pan hot has probably been my downfall. THANKS Pam
                       
                      dianajoy 
                      Aug. 20, 2009 2:48 am
                      Thank you so much for all that information. Its only 10.10am here in Ireland so I will have to wait a few hours to try to create my master piece with the help of this article.
                       
                      bzyarb2@gmail.com 
                      Aug. 22, 2009 5:22 pm
                      I tried this receipe and it was wonderful. Very easy to make and tasty.
                       
                      Aug. 30, 2009 5:08 pm
                      The glaze, created by the corn starch and chicken broth, is really great to completely cover the other ingredients. It's a great point! This is one of the best recipes we've used.
                       
                      Aug. 31, 2009 8:54 pm
                      I had never made a stir-fry before and using this recipe it was both easy and delicious!
                       
                      Oct. 6, 2009 2:49 pm
                      I made this for dinner tonight and used the soy-sesame sauce. My fiance said I needed to be SLAPPED because it was SOOOO GOOD! The aromatics really took it up a notch! What an improvement to me usual stirfry! Superb job Pam! :)
                       
                      Ann C. 
                      Oct. 12, 2009 6:13 pm
                      I made this for dinner tonight, and it was excellent!! (I used the sweet & sour sauce) My husband loved it so much, he actually said, "This is better than any food I've had from a Chinese restaurant. It's light and not greasy, I'm impressed Honey!" I was a little flustered when preparing it, but now that I have done it once, it will be easier next time. Thanks for posting Pam!
                       
                      Oct. 21, 2009 11:49 am
                      Thank You.
                       
                      Debs 
                      Nov. 3, 2009 8:53 am
                      I always put the garlic in first, I'll try doing it this way to see the difference. Great tips!
                       
                      Dawn L. 
                      Nov. 20, 2009 11:04 am
                      LOVE IT!! (***** - 5 Stars) I didn't know I could make a meal like this that tastes like it came from a high end restaurant. My husband was very pleased! It was his idea to find a stir fry recipe. I made the Soy-Sesame sauce. Used my cast iron skillet. Worked very well. I have a wok, but didn’t want to go downstairs to get it. I will be making this again for sure!! Thank you for posting this recipe and all the steps for stir fry newbies.
                       
                      Jan. 13, 2010 7:20 am
                      I like stir frys and this recipe has several nice sauces to choose from which brings a lot of variety into it. Thanks for sharing!
                       
                      Jan. 20, 2010 2:12 pm
                      This is the first time I've read 'techniques' for stir fry and using it I made the best stir fry ever. Thanks.
                       
                      Delia 
                      Jan. 29, 2010 6:23 pm
                      Great recipe! Thanks for all of the instructions and explanations. It makes such a difference in helping me remember it. I made it tonight with the fresh herb sauce and it was delicious. Can't wait to try all the other sauces and different vegetable variations. This is a great recipe!!
                       
                      annalea 
                      Feb. 15, 2010 3:15 am
                      looking for a recipe that the chinese restraunts fix, they claim it is bean sprouts it looks like spaghetti and soy sauce does anyone have the recipe for this would love to know,, love eating it. thanks
                       
                      emjade 
                      Mar. 1, 2010 9:29 pm
                      love the recipe , can't figure out how to add it to my recipe box which I am just starting.....ah well, copy, paste and print I guess....
                       
                      Linda 
                      Mar. 7, 2010 6:45 am
                      This is just what I have been looking for. I am going to take the shrimp out of the freezer right now. Thank you ever so much.
                       
                      gloria 
                      Mar. 14, 2010 11:55 am
                      works for me every time.
                       
                      mintexas 
                      Mar. 31, 2010 3:57 pm
                      Genius.
                       
                      Donna K 
                      Apr. 1, 2010 3:55 pm
                      This is GREAT advice! How do I print this article or save it to "My Recipes?" I don't want to lose this priceless information now that I've found it!
                       
                      jessika 
                      Apr. 9, 2010 7:30 pm
                      I'd like to save this to my recipes also!
                       
                      FERGYLA 
                      Apr. 10, 2010 12:38 pm
                      looks great! I just highlighted it all and copy pasted it to my email and then printed it from there.
                       
                      Mess 
                      May 5, 2010 2:34 pm
                      Great page, I'd love to put it in my recipes too!
                       
                      kv 
                      May 16, 2010 9:46 am
                      love the step by step. was really helppful. thank you so much!
                       
                      MsCarol 
                      May 24, 2010 4:56 pm
                      I tried the lemon stir fry and it was delicious.
                       
                      Sue Stearns 
                      May 31, 2010 5:47 pm
                      Fantastic! I tried the herb one using cilantro and it was better than Chinese Restaurant food. I also tried the lemon one -- it was okay but I didn't quite have enough lemon so I'll have to try it again with the right amount, or a little more, of lemon juice. Thanks for posting!!!
                       
                      Lareman 
                      Jun. 7, 2010 6:17 pm
                      Pam...excellent article. You have my sincere appreciation! I just need to figure out what type of noodles to use! Thanks again!
                       
                      MplsCook 
                      Jun. 22, 2010 4:28 pm
                      YUMMY!
                       
                      Jun. 25, 2010 3:29 pm
                      I love this recipe, thank you so much!
                       
                      sammysam 
                      Jul. 2, 2010 10:46 am
                      i tried the lemon chicken stir fry. i found the sauce to be very watery and it was not flavourful. i will not be making this again
                       
                      mattg 
                      Jul. 13, 2010 10:59 am
                      I would love to save this info,?
                       
                      Aug. 4, 2010 1:52 am
                      I did the sweet and sour sauce and made the stir-fry my different way,a dn My family loved it, thank you so much
                       
                      Aug. 10, 2010 7:54 am
                      This article is what I needed all along. My favorite thing to eat is stir-fry and I knew I wasn't preparing it right. I prepared it this way using the sweet & spicy sauce and it was BANGIN'!! I'm always going to follow these guidelines for now on.
                       
                      Joey 
                      Aug. 15, 2010 1:19 am
                      I just started cooking. When I do a few batches of chicken I get char in the pan by the time I'm ready to get the vegetables going and it flakes off in the mix - what can I do to prevent that? Any suggestions?
                       
                      Docartemis 
                      Sep. 5, 2010 8:18 pm
                      Joey You are probably not stirring the chicken fast enough. Also, what I occassionally do is scrape the sides of the pan, it's easier in a wok, to incorporate the congealed juices into the cooking food to add flavor. This also prevents them rom burning and becoming charred. Good luck
                       
                      schulzey 
                      Sep. 7, 2010 4:29 pm
                      SUPER easy? I could go with Easy, but for SUPER easy, we're talking soy sauce, frozen veggies, protein, cooked rice, all tossed together at various intervals. That's 10-15 minutes from prep to completion without shopping. That's SUPER Easy. Otherwise, helpful article.
                       
                      ChineseGuy 
                      Sep. 19, 2010 12:17 am
                      This is NOT real chinese food. There are some very helpful tips but this is not close to real chinese food or chinese fast-food. a few minor helpful tidbits - marinades should be made 3 different ways. 1) beef - soy sauce, wine, sugar, and green onions/scallions. 2) seafood - wine, salt cornstarch 3) chicken and pork - soy sauce and sugar. wine in beef is used to help tenderize while in seafood it is used to help eliminate "stenches". Also right before cooking proteins be sure to put some corn starch on the meat themselves. make sure each part is covered but not caked on like you would bread something. This cornstarch is NOT used to thicken up the sauce. In fact this cornstarch is used to make sure the meat stays tender. The traditional chinese way to cook protiens is actually to deep fry for 3 seconds in very very hot oil. This way the meat is not raw but the meat stays soft juicy and tender. the cornstarch actually helps when stirfrying in 2 ways. first i
                       
                      Oct. 21, 2010 4:40 pm
                      I always used to dump veggies in a wok with oil, stir, and put soy sauce on to taste. It was never as good a restaurant. Who knew that adding a few simple other ingredients would bring the vegetables to life. This is a keeper!
                       
                      Nov. 7, 2010 10:05 am
                      I tried the sweet and sour marinade with chicken last night. The marinade was just OK. I didn't have ginger, so maybe that would have made a difference.
                       
                      Glenda 
                      Nov. 8, 2010 9:24 pm
                      This is how you add this page to your recipe box. Copy "http//" address, go to recipe box and click on "weblink" and follow directions from there.
                       
                      Gene S. 
                      Jan. 7, 2011 5:56 pm
                      I tried to save this to my recipe box but it did not take .Why??
                       
                      Jan. 10, 2011 5:37 am
                      Was looking for recipes to put my new electric wok to use. I made this with venison, broccoli,carrots,peapods and onion as that's what I had on hand. Made the Soy Sesame sauce with beef broth - it was already opened in the fridge. Super tasty and fantastic over brown rice. I packaged in containers for work, a great healthy option! I saved this for future refrence as Its a keeper for sure!!
                       
                      Jan. 13, 2011 2:56 am
                      I've always made stir-fries with fresh ingredients that turned out "just ok", tonight I'm making a chicken & shrimp stir-fry and will follow the tips in this article and use one of the sauces...will post my results later!
                       
                      Jan. 14, 2011 7:04 am
                      Ok - used the tips and made the sweet and sour sauce, but after taste testing, followed Chinese Guy's advice and added pineapple juice to the mix...wow, turned out perfect!! This dish was superb!! I will definitely be making lots of stir-fries and trying all of the different sauces.
                       
                      charliedontsurf 
                      Feb. 20, 2011 12:58 am
                      Yeah I live in China so this kind of doesn't apply since the home stoves here have amazing flames.
                       
                      Feb. 23, 2011 2:10 pm
                      My only concern is putting my non-stick pan on a burner with nothing in it as the heat might warp the pan (according to instructions that came with it).
                       
                      Feb. 23, 2011 3:16 pm
                      I tried the sweet & sour sauce using red peppers, onions, mushroom and celery. Absolutely delicious!!
                       
                      vegmomfeedsmeateaters 
                      Mar. 4, 2011 8:28 am
                      I always stir fry with olive oil, it adds and unique flavor and is very healthy
                       
                      freemak 
                      Mar. 6, 2011 8:08 am
                      I have never cooked (or bought) sherry. Any suggestions? Does this mean cooking sherry?
                       
                      Nature Girl 
                      Mar. 8, 2011 8:14 pm
                      This was a great recipe, easy to follow. Turned out perfect. I added carrots,snow peas,celery,mushrooms, bell pepper, broccoli & pineapple. I always double the sauce, but not the corn starch the extra sauce is always nice..served it over organic quinoa
                       
                      RickS 
                      Mar. 15, 2011 5:36 am
                      freemak: "Cooking" sherry is full of salt and most say don't use it. You want "dry" sherry, a fortified wine, sold in liquor stores. The cheap stuff works fine. For a non-alcoholic substitute see http://www.gourmetsleuth.com/Articles/Wine-and-Alcohol-644/alcohol-substitutes.aspx.
                       
                      rongreen 
                      Mar. 16, 2011 8:05 pm
                      I made beef and brocoli dish with the soy - sesame stir fry sauce, which I added a lot of hot pepper flakes to. Loved it! Like above, better than a restaurant meal, especially the ones that have sat out on a buffet for 30-60 minutes. Thanks to the author!! (Next time I'll remember to make the rice!) PS, its real good without the rice. :)
                       
                      BoiseNoise 
                      Jun. 23, 2011 7:23 pm
                      I used beef, carrots, broccoli, and the soy-sesame sauce. Thought I followed all the instructions exactly, but the steps were a lot more tedious to follow than my normal toss-it-in-and-fry-it methods, and the results were mediocre at best. I see that the rest of you got good results, so it must just be me!
                       
                      jnm3079 
                      Sep. 20, 2011 6:01 pm
                      I used olive oil to make the sesame-soy sauce instead of sesame oil because I didn't have it and it tasted delicious. For veggies I used a red onion, cabbage, spinach, yellow and orange peppers, scallions, and tossed in chines noodles at the end. For the protein I used shrimp- outrageous. I think I'm a pretty good cook but the step by step instructions were so right on and took my skills to the next level. I also love the 4 sauce options.
                       
                      GrannyB 
                      Oct. 4, 2011 4:27 pm
                      I have never made a stir fry to suit my 9 yr old grandson until we tried the lemon sauce on this page - he loves it and asks for it all the time.
                       
                      kathryn 
                      Oct. 10, 2011 5:09 pm
                      I made the stir fry with chicken and the sweet and sour sauce. These directions made it super easy and I will make again. Thanks!
                       
                      illwill 
                      Nov. 16, 2011 4:38 pm
                      Just made this using half lb of chicken breast and half lb of stir fry beef for the protein. For veggies I went with summer squash and zucchini and for the stir fry sauce i picked the sesame soy. Amazing. This was fantastic!
                       
                      Napster 
                      Nov. 20, 2011 3:31 pm
                      Chinese Guy. In your last sentence, you say there are dishes that do not have sauce added at the end. When do you add the sauce to these dishes??? Does any know?
                       
                      Dawn in Colorado 
                      Dec. 23, 2011 3:55 am
                      Boy...Chinese Guy sure had alot to say...wonder if his turned out good. Seemed like everyone else love the directions : )
                       
                      Laretta 
                      Jan. 26, 2012 6:14 am
                      I love stir fry it's super easy and delicious. You can make it from almost anything (different seasoning blends, sauces and mixed vegetables)!
                       
                      LuciaB 
                      Feb. 13, 2012 6:40 pm
                      This recipe is great, super easy and fool proof! I just made the sweet and sour stir fry only with vegetables: broccoli, coliflower, carrot, celery, and pinapple chunks and it rocked! Thankyou for his post.
                       
                      got 
                      Mar. 6, 2012 2:52 pm
                      Thanks! great that there are several sauce choices!
                       
                      AArnett1984 
                      May 26, 2012 10:52 am
                      This is the most awesome recipe/s for stir fry that I've ever tried. Will go down in the family archives for stir fry . Easy and reliable. Thanks so much for sharing the process that in the end was so successful.
                       
                      MaryY 
                      Jun. 9, 2012 6:05 pm
                      I sauteed half of a red pepper and half of a yellow pepper sliced along with 5 or 6 scallions. After a few minutes I added about a cup of sliced mushrooms and one zucchini sliced and continued to cook. When all was tender I added a mixture of 2 T ckn both, 1 T soy sauce, 1 T cider vinegar and about 2 tsp. brn sugar. When veggies were glazed I mixed remaining sauce to which I had added a T of corn starch. Very Good
                       
                      Soozy59 
                      Jul. 24, 2012 5:49 pm
                      Soy sesame sauce was great. Added cilantro. Next time I'd like to try basil.
                       
                      stantond 
                      Jul. 25, 2012 7:03 pm
                      Perfect! First time I've tried to make this and it turned out delicious. Thanks for all the tips, could not of done it with out them.
                       
                      missyv 
                      Aug. 2, 2012 7:20 pm
                      Great article! I just made my first stir fry (with beet, zucchini and beef, and it was delicious.
                       
                      yikyak 
                      Oct. 30, 2012 6:28 am
                      very helpful Thank You!
                       
                      Lyn 
                      Jan. 24, 2013 4:21 pm
                      This recipe was amazing and I loved how there was many different sauces to chose from. This was the first time I have made stir fry and I definitly recommend this recipe since it is sooo easy to follow.
                       
                      Amber 
                      Apr. 1, 2013 6:02 pm
                      Wow! Thank you so much for posting this. Following these guidelines made stir-frying easy and quick. We had this for dinner today and it turned out so well. Keeping the pan hot is essential along with using fresh veggies and aromatics. We will definitely be cooking this again soon!
                       
                      burntaters 
                      Apr. 4, 2013 4:50 pm
                      Outstanding guide! I followed this guid, and my stir fry was even better then any of my local chinese restaurants for sure! I did however add a heaping tsp. oyster sauce in my Soy-Sesame Stir-Fry Sauce mix. Oyster sauce really seems to impart an authentic flavor to any dish IMO. Thanks
                       
                      cheriK 
                      May 22, 2013 2:47 pm
                      I made this tonight using Italian sausage and rice noodles with the Soy-Sesame sauce. Very good. But you do need to have everything ready as the high heat does not allow you to stop and mix the sauce.
                       
                      Natalie A 
                      Aug. 18, 2013 2:41 pm
                      Delicious - I used to just toss meant and veggies in a pan and cover it in soy sauce, I never understood why it didn't taste great. I made this dish with beef, peppers, snap peas and the sweet and sour sauce, and it was incredible. The corn starch glaze really makes the dish. This will be a new staple at our house.
                       
                      Heychas 
                      Oct. 26, 2013 6:05 am
                      I appreciate the author explained each step and the rationale behind it. I find this very helpful when cooking so I can make small adjustments as needed. Very well done!
                       
                      shelley 
                      Nov. 18, 2013 4:21 pm
                      Just made the sweet and sour sauce, the family called it a keeper. I liked the step by step explanation, since I never get smooth cornstarch sauce, I followed the steps and it turned out great. Will definitely keep the recipes for more stir fry.
                       
                      Joyce 
                      Nov. 20, 2013 12:42 pm
                      Just started "woking around" but found something that makes stir fry super easy. In the soup section of the (by canned stock) grocery there is concentrated "stock" made by Knorr. Each little "plastic" tub makes 3 cups of stock. Available, in chicken, beef and vegetable. You get 6 in a pack and they don't have to be refrigerated. Because there is only 2 of us (husband & I) .. I make a batch and freeze 1/2 for later use. This is a great time saver and forget about canned stock. Use it in any of your stir fry sauce recipes where stock is called for ... it's GREAT!
                       
                      L Tetreault 
                      Feb. 9, 2014 4:48 am
                      Never prepared Chinese food before. Let's see how this goes!!!!!! I'm planning it for this Friday. Wish me luck.
                       
                       
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