How To Stir Fry With a Chinese Wok

How To Stir Fry With a Chinese Wok

Wok Stir frying is the most well known Chinese cooking method.  Stir frying is quick and easy, it can create great aromatics if done correctly. In Chinese restaurants the chefs only stir fry in woks with very high temperatures to create an aroma the chinese call “wok hai”, the literate translation is wok air, meaning the flavor of the wok, it is similar to that of a BBQ grill char flavor. 

As a home cook, we do not have the same equipment as the Chinese restaurants but we can still use the same stir fry techniques to make great tasting dishes. If you have access to gas stoves, then you have nothing to worry about, you can get similar flavors as the restaurants. But if you are using electric stoves, then the “wok hai” flavors might not be as noticeable. Cooking with a wok is highly technical and there are many methods of stir frying with it. Proper Chinese cooking techniques are essential to great tasting dishes at home.  In Chinese cooking almost all cooking methods are done with a wok, including deep frying, braising, steaming and so on. It is a very versatile piece of equipment to have. 

Wok Stir Fry Cooking Utensils used

Most stir frying done uses an iron or carbon steel wok and a wok spatula or wok ladle over a gas stove. There are many different types and sizes of woks so buy one that best suits your cooking style. A non stick coated wok is not recommended for Chinese cooking because of the use of high temperatures, it can destroy your wok as well as it is bad for health with the non stick chemicals. A wok is best used on a gas stove as you want that high heat coming through the wok. 

If you are comfortable working with a wok already and like tossing your food instead of stirring, you can purchase a wok with a wood handle to make it easy for tossing. 

If you do not have access to these equipment. A Frying pan and Electric stove can be used, but you will need to preheat the pan on high before start cooking. The flavors might not be the same but it will still be delicious.  

Chinese Stir Frying Ingredients 

Chinese style stir frying is very versatile. You can use almost any ingredients but the trick is how you prepare it for cooking. In order to have the dish cooked evenly and fast, you would need to slice the meat thinly and vegetables needs to be uniform in size and also needs to be sliced either thinly, shredded or into small cubes. A sharp chef’s knife or a Chinese cleaver is best used for Chinese cooking. 

Cooking procedure:

All ingredients should be prepped and ready to use once the wok is heated up because Chinese stir frys are cooked on high heat and requires to be quick or else your food will have a burn flavor.

The cooking method should be in this order:

  1. Preheat the wok and make sure there is no moisture left on the wok 
  2. When the wok is hot and smoking, add a small amount of oil and swirl around the wok. This is so the ingredients won’t stick to the wok.
  3. Add the meat or seafood first, and quickly stir or toss until semi cooked. It is then removed from the wok or set aside before continuing. The idea here is just to sear the juices in. 
  4. If needed, you may add a small amount of oil then add the vegetables or tofu and quickly stir fried. 
  5. Once the vegetables are partial cooked, add back the meat or seafood.
  6. Add seasoning to the dish and stir till everything is cooked through. 
  7. If it is a saucy dish, you would add the sauce when the dish is almost done cooking and toss until it is evenly coated and thickened. 
  8. Chinese food is meant to be eaten fresh, so it should be served as soon as it is ready. 

There are many different ways to do a Chinese stir fry but this is the basic method.

If you want to use less oil and cook more healthy, instead of searing the meat with oil, you can simply blanch the meat and veggies and then toss in a wok, add water and thicken it to a sauce with cornstarch. 

You can also use the stir fry method to do a dry roast for your nuts, seeds and spices. You similar add a small amount of oil and then toss the nuts and season, stir till aromatic and done. 

Stir frying can be very simple and is absolutely delicious. 

I mention this above already but these three very important stir frying rules that you must follow:

  1. Always wait till the wok is hot enough before adding the oil to prevent sticking. You should give the oil a swirl around the wok to cover the area you will be cooking in. If your food sticks to the wok, then your dish will have burnt taste to it and will completely ruin it. 
  2. Do not cook in large batches, or else you lose all the “wok hai” flavor. This is why Chinese buffets never taste as good as a la carte restaurants. It also makes the vegetables and meat sweat more, which makes it less flavorful and watery. So try to cook in smaller batches, enough to serve on a single plate is best. 
  3. Pre-sear the meat and seafood with oil on high heat, then transfer out before cooking the vegetables or noodles. Add them after so the meat do not get over cooked. It also prevents the meat from sweating, which can make the dish watery and loose the “wok hai”. 

How to sear the meat properly for a stir fry. 

This method of searing meat is used in all the Chinese restaurants. It is almost like flash frying, you just need enough oil to cover the meat. 

  1. Heat the wok until it smokes on high, then add cooking oil
  2. Use your ladle and if the oil makes a popping sound or smoking, it is ready to sear the meat. Note* please do not let the oil heat too long or else it will catch on fire, although in some Chinese restaurants this is how it is done, this technique is not suitable for home use. 
  3. Add the meat, use the ladle to move the meat around and you can also pour oil on the meat, almost like basing it. This process is very brief, should be about 15 to 20 seconds. The whole point is just to sear the meat, not to fully cook it.

If you are planning on cooking for a large party and have several dishes on the go, the best way is to prep the food ahead of time and I’ll share with you a shortcut the Chinese restaurants use for their supper rush. 

  1. Sear your meat ahead of time and have it portion out for each dish. 
  2. Have your sauces pre-made and portion out for each dish. 
  3. Blanch all your vegetables so it doesn’t require as much time to cook through. 
  4. Keep everything at room temperature just before cooking. 

Follow these steps and your dishes will only take half the time to cook. You can get a stunning and delicious dish cooked in a matter of just minutes. 

If you don’t have a wok yet, take a look at this one, it has a wooden handle to provide great handling and tossing. Click on the image for more details.

These handmade wok spatula and ladle is very well made with wooden handles for easy grip and handling. Click on the image for more details.