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Jan 26, 2011 11:19 AM

Stir Frying Dilemmas

My Japanese friend suggested I post my dilemmas to your board to get some tips from all you stir frying experts! I made a chicken sweet-sour stir fry last night and it was just so blah. I find that I overcook the meat every time. I used organic chicken breasts, cut into cubes, cooked them in olive oil with onions until the meat was no longer pink, then threw in some veggies and sauce. Brought to a boil, lowered to simmer and cooked another 10-15 minutes. Veggies were cooked a little past crisp, but the meat was dry and tough. Not tasty. Thought it would go easier if I used thawed frozen Asian veggie mix from Bird's Eye, since using fresh veggies seems to take forever, like 20 minutes of constant frying, to get the veggies cooked through. Especially carrots - don't want hard, crunchy carrots taking over the stir fry! I'm using a Calphalon non stick wok on my induction stove.

Any suggestions for more juicy & tender meat, and fully cooked veggies would be appreciated!

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  1. I'm no expert, but I've found that cooking the chicken on its own works best - you don't want to boil it. Do the chicken first, then the veggies (using fresh is more appealing to me, frankly, and try using shredded carrots instead of sliced). Also, use sesame oil instead of olive oil.

    I don't know the intricacies of how this works though, so you'll probably get some more detailed responses....

    1 Reply
    1. re: Heatherb

      thanks for the grated carrots tip!

    2. That's not a stir-fry. The description of "brought to a boil, lowered to simmer and cooked another 10-15 minutes" = simmered dish.

      1. meat is generally cut into thin strips so that it cooks quickly. One technique is to partially cook the meat, then remove and add back to finish. You can also marinate the meat and "velvet" quickly in oil if you like. You're cooking the chicken *cubes* for at least 25-30 minutes.

      2. vegetables are cut into thin strips so that they too cook quickly

      3. use fresh if at all possible; thawed frozen vegetables have a different texture and can leech liquid which prevents proper cooking.

      2 Replies
      1. re: wattacetti

        I suspected as much - that's a lot of cooking for white meat chicken! I'm just so concerned with getting it fully cooked that I'm overdoing it. Sounds like the best thing to do is take the meat out while cooking the veggies.

        1. re: wattacetti

          The meat and/or vegetables can be cut into any shape: cubed, shredded, sliced etc.

        2. I agree that the chicken is dry because it is overcooked. I usually use fresh, don't have much experience with frozen--for carrots, use a peeler to cut them into ribbons, make matchsticks, par boil them first, or omit them. I often use a flat non stick, so I don't think the pan is the problem.

          here's a basic outline:

          cut raw chicken into thin strips or very small chunks and marinate in a 1 T each soy and sherry.

          cut veg into small pieces and categorize into fast and slow cooking. A good basic mix that i like is onion in slivers, some snow peas, also slivered, and bok choy.

          prepare aromatics for flavor--mince 2-3 cloves of garlic and 1/2 to 1 inch of fresh ginger. I like heat, so I would include fresh or dried chili. You could also include orange zest (or lemon zest) if you like those flavors).

          prepare sauce ingredients: I use about 1/4 c. of broth, and seasonings. for something sweet and spicy, I would use the chilis above, and some fresh hot pepper, and use orange juice.

          only after all your ingredients are prepared should you start cooking.

          get your pan good and hot--put it on high. after a couple minutes add peanut oil or veg oil (olive oil has a lower smoke point). add the chicken without the marinade. add in a single layer and don't move it for a minute or two; it should start to brown. then stir and fry for a few minutes--it could be a couple minutes total, or longer depending on heat of your stove. The chicken should be mostly but not all the way cooked through. remove chicken from pan.

          get heat back up, add a little more oil, and add the long cooking veg--onions, and stir fry for a few minutes, the snow peas. then make a space in the middle of your pan and add the aromatics. stir and fry about a minute. then add the bok choy and cook for a minute. then add the sauce ingredients and the chicken and finish cooking just 2-4 minutes. remove from heat and eat right away. I also like to add peanuts sometimes.

          this is a very basic outline that can be varied greatly for various ingredients and flavor profile as desired.

          1 Reply
          1. re: cocktailhour

            thanks so much for the outline, cocktail! I'm going to print this out to hang on the fridge & try again this weekend!

          2. I don't even know what you wrote here, but I know that some things stuck out as infinitely incorrect.
            Olive oil?
            Frozen vegetables?
            Non stick pan?
            20 minutes of frying?
            Brought to a boil and lowered to simmer for 10-15 minutes?
            Back to basics you need to get, young GingerG. I do not know what you created, but it was not stir fry. Stir fry does not involve "boiling and simmering for 10-15 minutes."

            I think maybe you are adding some kind of asian sauces to a boiling wok, and naming it "Stir Fry?"

            Seriously, if I were you, I'd
            1. Lose the non-stick wok if you can.
            2. Frozen vegetables if and only if you live somewhere that does not have fresh vegetables.
            3. Ditch the olive oil for stir frying.
            4. Use dark chicken meat, OR, be prepared to not cook white meat for so long.

            Prep all of your veggies and meat. have whatever you plan to use to create the sauce at the ready. Step one of stir fry is get your stuff ready to go.

            Get your wok on the heat source and let it sit there on high heat until it is SCREAMING hot. When it's hot, add your oil. Next, in goes your meat. The meat will probably naturally unstick itself once it's gotten a nice browning from the screaming hot pan. Mine usually does this. Flip the meat. Once it's browned on the other side, then start stirring it, so other sides can get browned, Stir, let it set, stir let it set. Remove the meat. The size you cube the meat will dictate when it's done in relation to the time it's cooked. You will need to guage this time for yourself. I do not cook it all the way through on this first past. Probably 3/4 of the way.

            Next, in go your veggies. You will need to guage which veggies need to go in first (if any.) This will depend on how you have prepped them, and which ones take longer to cook. I normally do mushrooms first if I am using them. I only like my mushrooms seared crisp, and not soggy. when you add other items to the wok that contain water (ie-veggies) then the contebnts of the wok will steam because of the water leeching out. Things like zucchini contain a lot of water, so, I would never do mushrooms and zucchini at the same time - only sep. Something you will also learn in your trials.

            When the veggies are together and about 1/2 way done, I add the meat back in, and toss everything around.. In the wok, I make a little space at the bottom, and I create my "sauce" there. Fresh garlic, ginger, chili garlic sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, and a bit of soy. I let that get to sizzling, and stir it while it's just sitting in the bottom of the pan keeping the veggies away from it. ONce the sauce componenets are warmed through, and mixed together, I will add a little rice wine to loosen the sauce mixture up. Form there, I'll vigorously flip and stir to get it all coated. It's done.
            Fresh broccoli can be given a quick steam in plastic wrap in the microwave.
            Carrots too hard? Don't use them!

            Please ask more questions for clarity. You are going to open up a whole new world of far better food for yourself from this thread. I guarantee it!

            12 Replies
            1. re: gordeaux

              I know! I need to get rid of that huge non-stick wok! And it was so expensive! Yes, I was using a bottled Asian sauce, and believe it or not, this was their cooking instructions! Thank you for the step by step. I would like to add some cubed tofu to the mix, when should I put that in?

              1. re: GingerG

                There is nothing wrong with using your huge non-stick wok, and your induction top should be able to get the thing up to temp if you let it preheat on max long enough.

                Everyone else has chimed in on the stir-fry but if you notice, it's almost all on technique than hardware.

                  1. re: GingerG

                    Read up on your non-stick cookware using high heat. Feel free to use it, but a well seasoned wok IS non-stick, so I don't care about the possible effects that high heat + non stick coatings might cause.

                    For tofu, It's gonna depend on your preferred style. I treat it like meat - add it back in near the end after browning it off. I usually fry it off in the grease left behind from the mea. If you want it smoother / softer, just add it in near the end without browning it off first.

                    1. re: gordeaux

                      I would avoid non stick woks/pans and pots at all costs.

                      1. re: scoopG

                        why? You cant get restaurant quality heat at home anyhow...

                        1. re: Chowrin

                          Yes you can, or close enough, with Bluestar ranges for one.

              2. re: gordeaux

                You can blanch the carrots ahead of time in boiling , then place in a ice bath to cool.

                1. re: gordeaux

                  isn't stir fry "bao"? in which case, all the adding things back in is unnecessary. Timing is crucial but there's no need to fling things out of the pot...

                  1. re: Chowrin

                    Carrots take much longer to cook and are actually not popular in Chinese stir-fries anyway. Stir-fry in Chinese is Chao 炒 .

                    1. re: scoopG

                      then what do you call the bao style of cooking?

                      How long do your carrots take to "cook"? mine take about two minutes, if that.

                      1. re: Chowrin

                        爆 or Bao. ("Explosion" or "Firecracker") It means quickly cooking in very hot oil (or water) then removing.

                        For carrots it depends on how you cut them and what size shape they end up being, since they take longer to cook than cucumbers or pea pods.

                2. Agreed with everyone. Just cook everything separately, including the sauce (doing that last, of course). Then just put everything together at the end to bring up to temperature and serve immediately. This is how most stir fries with sauces are made, wok or no wok.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: yfunk3

                    Agreed with everyone.
                    The meat was way overcooked. Most of my stir fry is done in a Caphalon nonstick wok except when I do for a large crowd, then I use a large steel wok.
                    Most of the time I use Green Giant Stir Fry packages, it has the sauce and the vegetables,
                    Just add the meat.I start with marinating the meat pork, or beef, or chicken or shrimps.
                    I also add more veggies and make some sauce to augment the one in the package.
                    First I ( undercook the meat in a very hot wok. remove the meat, use the juice to cook the veggies add the sauce and a couple of minutes before it is done I add the meat.
                    The meat is never cooked for more than four minutes.
                    I usually serve over rice, it takes about 20 minutes so I start it first. then I start with the meat and follow with the veggies. ( But everything is prepared in advance )
                    When the rice id done the stir fry is done also.

                    1. re: sgbigfive

                      thanks for the tip on the Green Giant! I'll check it out! :)