Need some stir-fry help

With some of the changes to my work schedule of late I’ve been doing more cooking at home and since I’ve always liked Asian food so thought it was time to give it a go in a more serious way than I have previously.

The thing is, I’m not getting the results I’d like and while the product is edible, the only thing it has in common with the food you’d get from an Asian restaurant is it’s stir-fried meat and vegies on a bed of rice.

I’m not trying to make anything too weird or complicated, just simple Mongolian Beef/Beef & Black Bean type stuff. I use fresh vegetables wherever I can but often have to make do with frozen ones, which I defrost in the microwave first and the sauces are from the supermarket or an Asian grocer (whichever one is more convenient at the time).

The main problem I’m having is my stir fries always seem to have a lot of liquid pooling at the bottom of the wok (being used on an electric stovetop) and it seems as if the meat isn’t frying so much as being boiled instead.

Have any of the chefs out there got any suggestions on how I can improve my stir-fries and make them closer to something I might actually want to share with friends?

Relevant thread from last week.

Make them as assemblies.

Cook all the parts separately and bring them together before serving.

Firstly my prejudices - I don’t like stir-fries with watery sauces and I am no great fan of either rice or noodles. My typical stir-fry is vast quantities of vegetables with a protein. I find that noodles and rice aren’t required but sometimes I chuck them in on a whim. Mostly I am cooking for one but even when I am not I follow the same principles. I use a little $20 Aldi turbo oven, a microwave and a wok.


Have a huge pile of ready to cook veges. Do not slice up the meat

I usually sear the meat that I am cooking in the wok in coconut oil and chuck it in the turbo oven to cook while I do the veges in the wok. Fry up onions and chili (I love chili) first, add the veges. Cook them for a few minutes - don’t lose the crunch. When they are nearly ready pull out the meat or chicken, slice it up, chuck it in, add the sauce, stir it through and serve.

What fucking sauce you are thinking.

If you like spicy food you are in luck. Go to Coles and buy some of the *Alana’s Pantry * sauces. You’ll work them out looking at the bottles. The Gourmet Garden fresh herb things found in the vege section are pretty useful too. The Lee Kum Kee vegetarian stir fry sauce is pretty handy and avoids the need for soy sauce.

My secret masterstroke for making sauces is baked butternut pumpkin. I usually have some in the fridge because I use it a lot in salads and middle eastern dishes. If you mash a little of it with some coconut milk and a squirt of the* Gourmet Garden * Thai spice mix you have a sauce of whatever consistency you desire.

Thanks don’t ask; I’ll have to try some of those and see if they help.

I’ve had success in the past with creamy almost curry-like stir fries (the Aldi Massaman and Vietnamese Coconut curries are really nice) but trying to make a simple beef & black bean has eluded me for too long. However, I do like spicy food but the issue I run into when buying it is that its either watered down blandness for boring roundeyes, or it’s molten lava which cannot be quenched with even the ice-coldest of lagers.

I usually use the pre-sliced stir fry beef strips you get from supermarkets and the butcher, since I don’t have a huge kitchen and having lots of things on the go at once gets a bit complicated and cluttered. Also, MORBO DEMANDS RICE OR NOODLES WITH HIS STIR-FRIES! :stuck_out_tongue:

  • Don’t use a wok; use a big skillet. I’m not a fan on woks on standard stoves; they simply don’t get hot enough.

  • As others have said, do it in stages. Like don’t ask says, cut everything up before you start cooking.

  • I do the meat first; sear it in some oil and when it’s good & done, take it out of the skilled. Then add the longest-cooking vegetable. Carrots or onions or whatever. When that vegetable is partially done, add the next longest-cooking. At the very end, throw in some chopped garlic. It takes a few times to get the timing of the veggies right, but you’ll figure it out.

  • add the meat back in with the sauce. Stir, adjust seasonings. Voila, you’re done.

Other minor notes:

Frozen veggies are difficult in a stir-fry. They’re always watery. I realize you might have to use them in a pinch and they’re better than fast food or frozen dinners, but they’re gonna be soggy.

Stir-fry sauce isn’t hard to make, but you do need ingredients. For a big stir-fry for two people, I aim for 1 - 1.5 cups of sauce. The base is some kind of stock, usually chicken, but you can use white wine in a pinch. Then some soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic. Some kind of acid: white wine, lemon juice, lime juice, vinegar. Can throw some orange juice or pineapple juice in as well. Hot chili paste or sriracha if you’re in the mood for hot. Szechuan peppercorns, 5-spice, curry, whatever. It’s very forgiving; just keep adding stuff you think would taste good until it does taste good.

Once it’s all mixed up and you like it, add 1 tsp of corn starch and whisk it in. Throw it in the cooked veggy/meat mixture and let it cook for 5 min or so until it’s as thick as you like. Yummy.

Marinade! It makes the meat have that velvety texture. (There are lots of recipes, some call for egg white - I like this one just fine.)

1-1/2 tbs corn starch
1/2 tsp baking soda
2-3 tbs peanut or canola oil
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbs apple cider vinegar or white wine
1 tbs soy sauce
1 tsp oyster sauce if you have it
1 tsp minced ginger
1 tsp minced garlic

Mix it well, and marinade your sliced meat for at least 15 minutes, up to an hour or two.

Get your pan screaming hot and sear the meat. Remove the meat, and stir-fry the veggies. Remove the veggies, and pour in a sauce made of 1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce, a dash of sesame oil, 1 tsp corn starch, 1/2 cup beef or chicken stock. Pour the sauce over your meat and veg, and serve with fried rice or noodles. (I don’t like to put the meat and veg into the sauce in the pan, because it continues to cook.)

Speaking of velvety texture, look up velveting meat for stir fries. It’s similar to what Dolores has in her marinade recipe, but the main ingredients are corn starch (and/or baking soda, but I use only corn starch), egg white, and wine (I use a bit of rice wine, and sometimes some soy sauce.) After the meat marinades for awhile, you have to parcook it either by poaching in water or in oil for it to be “velveted.”

It’s not used in all styles of Chinese cooking, but it is a common technique and it does give you more of that soft beefy texture you get from your local Chinese take-out. When I have the foresight and time, I especially like the technique on chicken breast, and even poached in water instead of oil it does just fine.

That said, it’s a bit of an “extra” technique, so I’d start with Dolores’s marinade and try out the velveting technique some time later when you have your basic stir fry down if you want to play around a bit and try out new things and textures. Most stir fries I do don’t even start with a marinade, just chopped up bits of protein in a hot pan. Like everyone else here has said, your wateriness problem will go away when you cook your food in stages and assemble together at the end.

If you must use frozen veg, don’t defrost them first, throw them frozen into the pan. And make sure your pan is hot enough! If your wok on the electric stove isn’t hot enough for you, maybe you have a ring/wok burner on your barbie? Or you could get a stand-alone one like this and hook it up to a gas cylinder.

My secret ingredients are siaoxing rice wine (add a splash while cooking) and a drizzle of sesame oil at the end. Don’t heat up the sesame oil, or you drive off all the flavour.

I can see I have a visit to make to the supermarket. Thanks for your help so far, everyone! :slight_smile:

My sauce:
4 tbs low-sodium soy sauce
1 tbs corn starch
1 tbs sesame oil (I like the chili infused stuff myself)
1 tsp rice vinegar
1/2 - 1 tsp sugar

After the protein is cooked (see all of the previous posts), I heat up a splash of peanut oil and cook a couple of tsp each of grated ginger and chopped garlic. Add the veggies and stir just long enough to coat with the garlic/ginger. Add 1/4 - 1/2 cup of stock or white wine and cover the pan to steam the veggies, about 2-3 minutes (just long enough to heat them, while keeping them crisp).

Add the sauce and stir until it begins to thicken, about 30 seconds to a minute. Add the meat and stir to coat. Remove from heat.

I agree with previous posters that fresh veggies are always preferred over frozen. Sugar snap peas or green beans, carrots (1/2" dice, or even the packaged shredded carrots are good), a bunch of green onions chopped into 1" slices. These all work pretty well and don’t bring much water to the mix in the short cooking time. Bell peppers, zucchini (or any kind of squash) are pretty water-rich, especially if you cook them for more than a few minutes…

I don’t do home stir-fries very often. Not because I mind the prep but because I hate the mess and the strong fried-in-oil smell that seems to linger for days. However, when the urge arises, I like for my protein to have some crunch to it.

Whether I use steak, chicken or extra firm tofu, after cutting it into bite size pieces, I coat them in a generous amount of corn starch and let them dry out a bit in a single layer on a dry cutting board or cookie sheet. Then do the rest of the prep. When ready to start cooking, I lightly coat the protein with a fresh dusting of corn starch and then into the hot oil they go. Don’t over-crowd. Cook in batches if necessary. Remove to rest while moving on to stir frying the vegetables. Put the protein back in at the very last minute to coat and heat through with the rest of the veg and sauce. Enjoy.

I take the meat, slice it thin and put it in a big bowl. I then add equal parts corn starch and soy sauce (maybe 3 Tbs each) and any other flavors I may want (garlic, ginger, etc.). I then toss it together with my fingers until everything is coated. Get the oil in the wok nice and hot… I’m lucky enough to have a nice gas cook top with a special center burner for woks… and quickly stir fry the meat. Remove it to a bowl and do the remaining items like others have said.

I agree that the problem is your stove doesn’t get the wok hot enough. One simple solution is to cook things in stages. Don’t put too much in the wok at a time - do it in batches, and remove each batch before adding the next. Let the wok come back up to temperature before you add eachbatch. If you like a lot of sauce, drain and save the liquid for each batch. If you like it dry, boil down the liquid before adding the next batch.

Be careful not to use too much oil when you cook this way. If you add oil for each batch, it’s easy to come up with a greasy mess. Use only enough oil for each batch to keep things from sticking.