Forget Chinese takeout: homemade stir-fries can be whipped up in about 30 minutes, with healthy ingredients and minimal mess. By focusing on fresh veggies and a few staple spices and sauces, stir-fries are a simple way to pack your meal with bright, zingy flavors and essential nutrients. You can make them from whatever’s in your kitchen, too: onions, frozen peas and chicken breasts? Sounds great! Celery, cherry tomatoes and green peppers? Delish! The combinations are literally endless.
Here are a few simple tips to help make your stir-fry as speedy as it can be.
Use fresh veggies. Sure, frozen peas and carrots are stir-fry standbys, but beyond that, most dinners will benefit from the crisp textures and bright colors of fresh veggies. Don’t be afraid to experiment: while traditional Asian stir-fries focus on ingredients like bok choy and scallions, you can also make a great meal using Brussels sprouts, parsnips and tomatoes.
Be prepared. Once the oil is sizzling in your pan, it’s too late to worry about chopping veggies or slicing chicken breasts. You know how the hosts of cooking shows have all their ingredients in small dishes? Copy that. Your ingredients don’t have to be in perfect glass bowls, but by prepping every element of the stir-fry ahead of time, you’ll make it easier to put it together. A good portion of burned stir-fries likely occur because someone is trying to slice carrots while the onions are cooking.
Use a wok or a large flat-bottomed skillet. Many chefs prefer a carbon-steel wok, as it conducts heat efficiently and its large, flat bottom makes more contact with the burner than a conventional skillet. If you do spring for a wok, look for one that’s carbon steel, with a long wooden handle. It’s safe at high heats, and when properly seasoned, is naturally nonstick. Still, there’s no reason you can’t use a large nonstick skillet instead.
Don’t crowd the pan. Remember that most of the magic of a stir-fry comes from the direct contact between your ingredients and the hot metal of your cooking pan. Put more than 12 ounces of meat in a stir-fry and it’ll start to pile up, touching other ingredients rather than the pan. That means some pieces will steam rather than sear.