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Summer is a time when I want to spend as many hours out of doors as possible. It’s also a time when no matter how much I crank the AC, it’s not enough to temper the heat from turning on my oven. In short, summer is a time when less cooking is better.
But less cooking doesn’t mean more take-out in my book, it just means depending on dishes with shorter cooking times or more raw components. Salads, grilled foods, cheese and veggie plates — they’re all great choices when it’s too hot for stewing or braising. Another favorite of mine is stir-frying. It takes some prep time, but the benefits are that you can use pretty much any ingredient, the stove is only on for 10 minutes, and the results are fresh tasting.
1. Cut Ingredients into Evenly Sized Pieces
All cooking benefits from having ingredients cut into similar-sized pieces: Nobody wants half their dish overdone and the other half raw. For something as fast cooking as a stir-fry, this consistency is even more important. The Cooking School has a handy Cooking Fundamentals course with a knife skills section that defines what is meant by terms like mince, chop, or dice and how to use proper cutting technique to make even pieces without spending hours on prep.
2. Plan Ahead and Set Up Your Workspace Carefully
One of the joys of stir-frying is the speed of the cooking process. Only 30 minutes between you and dinner. However, this benefit is also a potential stumbling block, because once you start cooking there’s no time to recover if you screw up. Prepping all of your ingredients before you heat the pan and having them neatly laid out in mise-en-place bowls is a great way to avoid mid-fry panic and burnt broccoli.
3. Cook with a neutral-tasting oil
You need a neutral tasting oil with a high smoke point (above 400 degrees). When I first got obsessed with stir-frying I loaded up on things like toasted sesame oil, spicy chile oil, and unrefined peanut oil thinking that it would infuse my stir-fries with flavor. Instead I created lots of very expensive smoke. Stir-frying is hot and fast, which means you need an oil that can take high temperatures without going up in flames and creating burnt, off flavors in your food. Save the fancy stuff for drizzling over the dish at the last minute and use some cheap vegetable or refined peanut oil for the main cooking.
4. Memorize the Basics
One of my favorite things about stir-frying is that once you know the rules you can easily create dozens of variations on the theme. Here’s a basic stir-fry formula:
3/4 pound sliced protein (beef, pork, chicken, shrimp, or tofu)
1 cup stir-fry sauce
1 pound prepared vegetables
1/4 cup aromatics
You can already see how this would lead to infinite variations by combining differed proteins and vegetables, but the different stir-fry sauces are really where it’s at. You can make your own stir-fry sauce in less than five minutes — the only real rule is to use about 2 teaspoons of cornstarch. Any less and your sauce will be thin, any more and it will be gloppy.
A few stir-fry sauces to tickle your taste buds
A classic combination is chicken broth, dry sherry, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, cornstarch, and sesame oil. Or you could go hot and sour with rice vinegar, chicken broth, dry sherry, soy sauce, sriracha, toasted sesame oil, sugar and cornstarch. Or why not celebrate the heat with a combo of orange juice, hoisin sauce, cornstarch, and red pepper flakes?