By Claire Tansey
In the panoply of fast weeknight dinners, stir-fries are up there with the greats.
What could be better than a meal in one pan that’s fresh, packed with veggies and protein and slathered in a flavourful sauce? Funny then, that so many of my readers and students tell me they “can’t make stir-fries” or that their stir-fries always turn out wrong. Well, let’s take a look, step by step, at how to make a great stir-fry every time.
Smart cooks use stir-fries to cook from the pantry and crisper.
Stir-fries are also a perfect way to eat local throughout the year.
Whether it’s August and the markets are brimming with fresh corn, beans, peppers and squash or it’s February and we’re surviving on celery, cabbage and carrots, there’s a tasty stir-fry to be made.
When it comes to protein, you can use almost anything imaginable:
Because stir-fries are so quick to cook, you’ve got to have all the ingredients prepped before turning on the pan. I like to flavour the protein with a quick marinade, so that’s always my first step. Next, I start the rice, grains or noodles that I’m going to serve alongside to soak up all the delicious sauce.
When prepping the vegetables, choose ones that cook in roughly the same amount of time or chop them into pieces that cook in an equal time. For example, carrot coins take much longer to cook than chopped peppers, so grate the carrots instead.
Finally, I get the aromatics chopped and the sauce all mixed, and place everything within easy reach of the stove. Now—it’s time to start cooking!
Stir-frying is a Chinese technique that’s typically made in a large, blisteringly hot wok. But since I don’t use an industrial Chinese restaurant stove (!), I substitute my widest non-stick frying pan. It has tons of surface area, so the ingredients cook quickly without being steamed. Make sure the pan is well-preheated on high before starting, and then you’re off to the races.
A fantastic stir-fry is one that’s packed with tons of crisp vegetables, tender meat (or vegetarian alternative) and a sweet, spicy, salty, tangy sauce that clings to each bite without being gluey. Here is one of my all-time favourites. It’s an easy sauce that is great with these ingredients but also delicious with any number of vegetable-protein combinations.
Spicy and Sweet Chicken Cashew Stir Fry
- 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- ¼ cup chicken broth
- ¼ cup dry white wine (or water)
- 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 to 3 teaspoons sriracha
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
- 1 red pepper, cubed
- Handful thin green beans, cut in half
- 1 teaspoon finely minced ginger
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/3 cup roasted cashews or peanuts
- Rice or lettuce wraps, to serve
- Combine the chicken and the sesame oil in a medium bowl. Stir well to coat. Reserve.
- Stir the sauce ingredients together in a measuring cup. Reserve.
- Heat a large non-stick frying pan over high. Add the canola oil, then add the reserved chicken. Cook 2 minutes, then make a space in the centre of the pan. Add the onions and cook 30 seconds. Add the peppers and green beans. Cook, stirring, 3 to 4 minutes or until the chicken is almost totally cooked. Add the ginger and garlic and continue stir-frying until the chicken is cooked.
- Stir sauce, then add all it at once. Stir constantly until the sauce thickens. Sprinkle with the nuts. Serve over rice or in lettuce wraps.
Serves: 2 – 3