A stir fry dinner is my go to meal at least once a week because it is quick and easy to put together. Often when I look in the produce drawer of my refrigerator and find lots of bits and pieces, I think stir fry. And even when starting from scratch, a stir fry offers the luxury of browsing the produce aisle, then choosing only what looks freshest at that time. Add a protein and a sauce, then serve over rice or pasta and dinner is ready in a flash!

Stir fry basics

The art of stir frying dates back to ancient Chinese cuisine. Just how far back is debatable and seems to vary with where you look. Most closely related to the Western technique of sauteeing, in the Chao technique a wok is heated to a high temperature. A small amount of cooking oil is added along with garlic or ginger. Almost immediately, the protein is added and seared, followed by vegetables and a sauce. The food is stirred and tossed out very quickly. If any ingredients require a longer amount of cooking time, a small amount of water can be added, the wok covered and the food allowed to steam.

A good stir fry starts with three basic components: a protein, vegetables and some type of sauce.

To serve 3-4 people, start with the following:

Protein (use about one pound)

Choose boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs, pork tenderloin, sirloin tip steak, shrimp or tofu. You will want to slice the meat into thin strips so it cooks quickly.

Veggies (use about one pound total)

Try to cut everything to a uniform size so that it all cooks evenly.

• Broccoli, carrots, snap peas or cauliflower need longer cooking times, 3 to 7 minutes.

• Softer vegetables like mushrooms, onions, snow peas, bell peppers, summer squash or asparagus need only about 1 to 3 minutes of cooking time.

• Smaller, more tender vegetables such as frozen peas, scallion greens, water chestnuts, tomatoes, bean sprouts, garlic, ginger or greens like spinach only need 30 to 60 seconds.


There are many commercially prepared sauces available. You may also want to create your own flavor combinations or try one of these:

1/2 cup chicken broth, 3 tablespoons hoisin sauce, 2 tablespoon soy sauce, 2 teaspoons cornstarch,

1/3 cup soy sauce, 1/4 cup beef broth, 3 tablespoons brown sugar, 2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 cup orange juice, 1 tablespoon cornstarch, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

If you’re making your own sauce, whisk all the ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside. Heat a large, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons of oil and heat until just smoking. Add half of your protein pieces, breaking up any clumps, sauté until browned, about 3 minutes. Transfer the protein to a bowl and cover it to keep it warm. Repeat the process with another 1 1/2 teaspoons of oil and the remainder of the protein. Add another 2 teaspoons of oil to the pan. Add one vegetable and cook until seared, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the skillet and repeat with each vegetable. Add all vegetables and protein back to the skillet and toss. Whisk the sauce to recombine, then add it to the skillet and toss constantly until the liquid is thickened, about 30 seconds. Pour the stir fry into a serving bowl and serve with rice or pasta.

Do you have a topic you’d like reading about or a question about stir frying? Email chef Karen at karen@letkarencook.com or comment at Everyday Gourmet Aiken on Facebook and your suggestion may be featured in her next article!

Karen Tempel, an aspiring chef since she could reach the countertops, has been delighting friends and family with tempting treats for most of her life. She is the owner of Everyday Gourmet, a custom caterer in the Aiken area. Visit her website at www.LetKarenCook.com or email her at Karen@LetKarenCook.com.

Stir fry tofu with vegetables

Serves 2-3

1/2 pound extra firm tofu (substitute chicken or pork if you prefer)

1/2 cup thinly sliced carrots

1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion

1/2 cup green beans, cut into bite sized pieces

1 yellow squash, sliced

1/2 cup mushrooms, sliced

1/2 red bell pepper, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon canola oil

1/2 cup chicken broth

3 tablespoons hoisin sauce

2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce

2 teaspoons cornstarch

Remove tofu from package and press between layers of paper towels for 15 minutes to remove excess moisture. Meanwhile, combine chicken broth, hoisin sauce and soy sauce. Cut tofu into cubes, place in sauce and allow to marinate for 15 minutes.

Heat heavy bottom skillet or wok over medium high heat until hot. Add 1 teaspoon oil and carrots, red onion and green beans. Saute for 3-4 minutes or until vegetables begin to brown and soften. Remove to bowl. Add another teaspoon oil and squash, mushrooms and bell pepper. Saute for 2-3 minutes or until vegetables begin to brown and soften. Remove to bowl.

Add last teaspoon of oil to pan. Remove tofu from sauce and add to pan. Saute until heated. Meanwhile, add cornstarch to sauce and stir to combine. Add sauce and reserved vegetables back to pan. Cook until heated through and sauce thickens, about 1 minute longer.

Serve stir fry over rice or pasta.

More Stir Fry Tips

• While it is nice to have a wok it certainly isn’t necessary to have one to make a good stir fry. You actually have more surface area for searing in a flat bottomed skillet and may get better results at home with the skillet because more of the pan comes in contact with the stove top.

• Don’t overcrowd the skillet or wok or you will end up steaming your food instead of searing. Take the time to cook in small batches, each batch will cook quicker when the pan is not full.

• You don’t have to fully cook your ingredients during the searing process. You are going to put everything back into the pan with the sauce at the end and can finish the cooking at that point. Just be careful not to cross contaminate with the bowl that contained the partially cooked meat!

• Avoid the urge to stir too much. I know its called a stir fry but you want to give the ingredients time to brown in the bottom of the pan. You will be rewarded with great flavor if you’re patient.