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Dec 12, 2010 03:14 PM

chicken and broccoli stir fry: need technique help

i made a (passable) chicken and broccoli stir fry tonite in my wok. my questions are about marinade and cooking in a wok.
i marinated the chicken pieces in a mixture of chicken stock, sesame oil, a touch of garlic/chili and soy sauce and a tablespoon of corn starch.
i loosely followed a recipe i found (i'm always loosely following recipes!) and my goal was to have a stir fry that had some slightly thickened sauce. i've made a great dry sautee string bean with minced pork before but, as you can imagine, no sauce.

i separated the chicken from the marinade and cooked it and then removed it. then i did the aromatics and then the broccolli and after a few minutes i added the rest of the marinade back into the work. of course, the moment i did this i thought: you idiot. you know better than to ever put raw poultry marinade onto somethng that's cooked. duhhhh. so i (hope i) got around it by giving everything a few good tosses and then simmering it all in the wok so that the marinade def. boiled for at least 3 full minutes and then added the cooked chicken back in and tossed another minute or two.
the dish was good (i have to go get some oyster sauce and some rice wine and some dark soy for my pantry to make it great) and - well, i guess we'll know soon if i poisoned the three of us - but i felt it was overcooked - espec. the broccoli which i like very snappy crisp and coated with some sauce.

so.....should i have made a separate dish of cornstarch-infused marinade and used that on the back end as the bulk of the liquid/sauce??

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  1. I always marinade the meat, no cornstarch in the marinade, reserving a bit (usually make double the marinade) then stir fry the meat, then the veggies, etc. I stir about two tablespoons of liquid with a teaspoon or so of cornstarch, add everything back into the wok, pour in the reserved marinade and let it heat for a few while stirring then add in the cornstarch slurry and stir like crazy till everything is coated, the veggies stay crisp and the marinade retains it's freshness. Hope that helps!

    1. In a Chinese Kitchen, many will steam/blanch the vegetables first, remove them from the wok and hold in a Spyder, Strainer or Colander type holder. They would then add both the chicken and marinade into the wok with any additional aromatics or seasonings. The question for you is to ask if you want a thick or thin sauce. If you want a thick sauce, you would add any additional stock or water and a cornstarch slurry. The cornstarch needs to cook out, so depending on the size of your cut chicken pieces, you need to decide if they should be removed or not, while the sauce binds, thick or thin. Add both chicken and vegetables back into the wok to coat with sauce, check for taste, adjust or add any additional seasonings and remove.

      2 Replies
      1. re: fourunder

        thanks. but i'm worried about adding back into the wok marinade that raw chicken has been sitting in?

        1. re: redgirl

          If you marinate the chicken over night for use the next day, I would toss the marinade, as it has probably become very watered down.....

          Most Chinese marinades for stir frys only require the meat and poultry to sit in the marinade for a short amount of time......20-30 minutes typically, but I would have no problem using all the marinade used in the mixing bowl when I would brown the meat.....unless I felt the marinade was too salty or sweet, which could possibly affect the outcome of the dish.....When making the sauce, most will add water or stock to marinade and pour off into the wok.....or add cornstarch to the vessel with cold water to make a slurry and add to the liquid in the wok.

      2. Skip the chicken stock in your marinade. It is just moisture that you don't want when you put your chicken in a hot wok. Liquid, other than oil, makes everything just stem. Add a little chicken stock after your chicken is nice and browned. I would also blanch the broccoli to help with the timing. Add them to the almost cooked chicken. If you want to skip the blanching part. You might want to remove the chicken from the wok; cook the broccoli in the same wok with a little chicken stock then add the chicken back and heat through. Thicken the finish sauce with a little cornstarch/water or stock mixture at the end. I wouldn't worry about food poisoning if your marinade come up to a rolling boil and some.

        1. I've been doing stirfries since the early 1970's, & have a large collection of Asian cookbooks as well.

          When your meat goes into your properly heated wok, it goes in with all its marinade as well. Since Asian "marinades", such as they are, don't contain a whole lot of liquid, this doesn't present a problem. And even if you've been a bit over-zealous with your marinade, in a properly hot wok, by the time your meat is cooked, your "marinade/sauce" will be as well.

          Oh - & edited to add that when I use tough vegetables like carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, etc., in stirfries, I like to blanch them first for just 2 minutes before adding them to the wok. Makes for a much nicer crisp-tender end product.

          1. I've been cooking Asian food for over 20 years and can testify that getting it right requires really precise timing and sequencing that I've never truly mastered. A Chinese-American friend nails this effortlessly, probably as the result of having seen her father cook since she was a child. Every main ingredient requires a different amount of time in the wok, and many recipes require that each main ingredient be cooked separately - but just to a precise level of almost-doneness, so that they will all finish at the same time when mixed together at the end. The wok cannot be overloaded with food, even briefly (this becomes much more difficult when cooking on a regular gas burner or, god forbid, electric burner). And I agree that liquids should only be added at the very end to keep the food from steaming. So, I'd suggest that you focus more on the "parts", and less on the "whole", as the finished product is more likely to turn out right if each "part" is cooked just right. One can produce "pretty good" Chinese food without too much time and effort, but nailing a recipe perfectly can take years to master.

            4 Replies
            1. re: Pzz

              Now, now - I'm an electric-range-only girl & have been turning out some pretty darn fabulous Asian dishes for over well over 30 years. You just have to adapt yourself to the situation - something the Chinese have been doing for centuries - lol! My electric range can turn my lovely authentic 30-year-old carbon-steel wok red hot if necessary, & the range ring keeps it steady.

              Sorry - but anyone that claims lovely, authentic, beautifully cooked wok-cooked dishes can only be done on a gas range just doesn't have the experience or know-how on how to do it otherwise.

              1. re: Breezychow

                I agree. My family and I have cooked in restaurant woks (with 50K BTUs) and on home woks with gas and electric stoves, and obviously the two are different. But at home, you don't need 50K BTUs or whatever. A gas or electric stove are just fine as long as you get the wok nice and hot and keep the heat on high, keep an eye on things. It always perplexed me whenever someone says to cook outside with a propane heater in order to "properly" cook with a wok. A stove, proper ventilation and proper technique is just fine for home cooking.

                1. re: Breezychow

                  FYI, I used a carbon steel wok over electric burners for a decade. I never said you couldn't cook "lovely, authentic, beautifully cooked wok-cooked dishes" without a gas range. It's just that the lower BTU output of electric burners significantly reduces the amount of food you can cook at a time and the slower response time presents some challenges as well. Yes, experience can compensate for these limitations, but there is a reason why every Chinese restaurant I've ever seen (both here and in Asia) uses gas burners.

                2. re: Pzz

                  I like Pzz's theory. "Focus on the "parts," and less on the "whole." Timing and never overloaded your wok is very important for stir fry dishes. Less is more after all.

                  I never marinate the chicken for stir fry chicken and broccoli. I definitely agree with blenching the broccoli and set it aside first. I usually use garlic, a little bit of rice vinegar, kikoman soy sauce, white pepper, a little bit of fish sauce, and sugar on my chicken and broccoli. Sometime I add fermented soybeans or salted black beans. These are plenty of ingredients to make your dish flavorful, I don't see the need to marinate the chicken. I brown the garlic in vegetable oil or olive oil first, add the chicken, and all the flavorings. Put a top on would help the chicken cook faster and don't dry it too much. Rice vinegar would help tenderize the chicken. Add your previously blenched broccoli. Lastly, I thicken the sauce with tapioca powder by mixing it in a cold water before you add it on the pan.

                  I make this dish almost every week. Its quick and easy once you get use to it. I hope this help in some ways.