Stir frying is a Chinese cooking technique which means to fry food quickly over very high heat in an oiled pan. The term stir-fry was introduced into the English language by Buwei Yang Chao, in her book “How to Cook and Eat in Chinese”. A special slope-sided pan called a wok is designed for stir-frying. Cantonese restaurant patrons judge a chef’s ability to perform stir frying by the “wok hei” produced in the food. This in turn is believed to display their ability to bring out the qi of the wok.
Stir-frying is the classic Chinese cooking method; quick cook over high heat in a small amount of oil, toss and turn the food when it cooks. In stir-frying, the food should always be in motion. Spread it around the pan or up the sides of the wok, then toss it together again in the center and repeat. This method allows meats to stay juicy and flavorful, vegetables to come out tender-crisp.
There are variations, of course, but the basic pattern for many Chinese dishes is to pre-heat the pan or wok ( a drop of water will sizzle when it’s hot enough), add the oil and heat it, stir- fry the meat, remove it, stir-fry the vegetables, return the meat to the pan, add sauce and seasonings, thicken the sauce and serve. Since stir -frying is a last-minute operation, one or two stir -fry dishes in one meal is the rule.
Speed is essential in preparing many Chinese dishes. All ingredients should be on hand before stir. Frying is begun. Meat and vegetables should be thinly sliced or cut into small cubes. Before the oil is introduced the pan should be heated sufficiently so that the oil is free-flowing, and then the ingredients added, and stirred vigorously and continuously during the entire cooking period. The highest heat obtainable must be used, while constantly stirring, since chao dishes can be ruined in a matter of seconds. Burned spots in the pan should be wiped with a paper towel and the pan recoiled for further use. This rapid form of cooking leaves comparatively little sauce. Since stir-frying requires only a few minutes, such dishes are usually the last to be prepared; obviously, they are at their best when served immediately from the pan. Recommended cooking times are only approximate. Stir-frying preserves color, texture, and taste as well as nutritional values.