Stir frying seems simple enough. Toss everything into a pan and stir it around until it’s cooked through. But there are quite a few key components to getting that perfect stir fry the traditional chinese way.
1. Choosing the Right Wok.
No, you can’t use that frying pan NOR that soup pot. It’ll still do the job for sure but the final taste and texture of the dish will be much different from the fragrant stir fries you’d normally get from restaurants. Most Chinese swear by cast iron or carbon steel woks and they make an appearance in every single kitchen, from small suburban apartments to large-scale restaurants. You also want a well-seasoned wok, over years of cooking the oil and fat from all the stir frying will develop a layer on the wok and making it non-stick as well as adding flavor. The larger your wok the better as well. This is because you don’t want to overcrowd your wok with ingredients when stir frying as it may result in partial steaming or braising. One way to go about this is to separate your stir fry into two batches if cooking for more people. Keep in mind that the taste will most likely be inconsistent in doing so.
2. Prep Everything Beforehand
When stir-frying, everything goes by fast. Heat and Speed are the two key elements here and not being prepared beforehand can slow the entire process down and result in a frazzled cook. To avoid this, prep all the necessary ingredients before you even turn on the stove. Dice the aromatics, slice the vegetables and marinate the meat in whatever seasonings and starch you’re using. Speaking of meat, when stir frying your meat on high heat, remember to coat the strips in starch such as cornstarch slurry to lock in the moisture and ensure it comes out tender and moist.
3. Turn the Heat up!
Have you ever been behind the scenes of a chinese restaurant? The blazing fire underneath the wok seems to envelop the entire contraption and it’s a wonder the cook’s arms aren’t burnt to bits. Speak not of induction stovetops, fire is crucial for a good aromatic stir fry. The larger, the better. Why all the heat? You want to impart “wok hei” into your stir fry. Wok hei translates to “breath of the wok” and takes your dish to another level thanks to the caramelization of sugars, smoking oil and maillard reaction.
This vegetable stir fry recipe is a classic dish during slightly higher end dinners here in Malaysia. Feel free to add or omit any vegetables you fancy but the choices of carrots, snow peas, black fungus and celery make up the classic dish and I do recommend you to follow the recipe to taste the dish in its original form before playing around with the ingredient selections. This stir fry is light, refreshing and crunchy. As you can see, each vegetable imparts a different crunch to the dish and is a good recipe to test your stir frying skills with as the end result should still showcase the crispness of each individual vegetable.
Crisp Lotus Root and Mixed Veg Stir-Fry
- Half a lotus root thinly sliced
- Small handful of snow peas
- Half a carrot sliced thinly
- 3-4 stalks of celery sliced diagonally
- 1 cup of black fungus rinsed and soaked.
- 4-5 cloves of garlic
- ¼ cup of nuts preferably macadamia
- ½ cup of chicken broth
- 3 tablespoons of cornstarch slurry
- 2 tablespoons of oyster sauce
- 2 tablespoons of light soy sauce
Slice the vegetables
Toast the nuts
Fry the garlic
Add in the lotus root, carrots and celery. Add a little pinch of salt. Stir fry these for 2-3 minutes until the colors have brightened.
Add in the softer vegetables
Pour in chicken broth
Season the dish
Thicken the corn starch
Add in the nuts and serve
STEP ONE – SLICE THE VEGETABLES
As mentioned, it’s important to prep all the ingredients before you start. After rinsing the vegetables and black fungus, slice the lotus root thinly then peel and cut the carrots diagonally and into halves if your carrots are slightly larger. Instead of mincing the garlic, slice those thinly as well. As for the snow peas, chop off the ends and peel off the fibrous strand at the bottom. Using a vegetable peeler, gingerly peel off the topmost layer of the celery to remove the fibrous strands and provide a better mouthfeel. Slice those diagonally as well. Tear the black fungus into smaller pieces.
STEP TWO – TOAST THE NUTS
In a dry wok, begin to toast the nuts on a low heat. To stay true to the recipe, stick to macadamia nuts because though made fully from vegetables, this dish is rather luxurious and the creaminess of macadamia nuts go well with the freshness of the vegetables. Many places also substitute them with pine nuts. Constantly move them around in the wok until aromatic and lightly golden brown. Set aside to cool and crisp up.
STEP THREE – FRY THE GARLIC
Now we can turn on the heat! Turn the heat up to as high as it will go and add in a couple tablespoons of vegetable/canola oil only AFTER the wok has heated up. Add in the garlic and fry for just a few seconds until just slightly aromatic. This step should be fast as garlic can burn easily.
STEP FOUR – ADD IN THE HARDIER VEGETABLES
Add in the lotus root, carrots and celery. Add a little pinch of salt. Stir fry these for 2-3 minutes until the colors have brightened. Remember to constantly move and toss them around.
STEP FIVE – ADD IN THE SOFTER VEGETABLES
At this point you can add in the vegetables that cook faster. In this case, snow peas and black fungus. Stir fry for another 2 minutes or so.
STEP SIX – POUR IN CHICKEN BROTH
For most stir-fries, a sauce will have to be added at the very end. For this one, the sauce is a light one and starts off with chicken broth. Simply pour it in and continue stirring the vegetables around until the broth just starts to heat up and simmer.
STEP SEVEN – SEASONING THE DISH
As we haven’t added much in terms of flavor up until this point, remember to add in the oyster sauce and soy sauce. In Chinese cuisine, oyster sauce is commonly used to season vegetable dishes.
STEP EIGHT – THICKEN WITH CORNSTARCH
Finally, add in the premade cornstarch slurry you’ve prepared beforehand. Slowly pour it in and dish out the vegetables immediately once the broth has thickened up into a sauce. The addition of cornstarch is important to make the vegetables glisten and look even more appetizing.
STEP NINE – FOLD IN THE NUTS AND SERVE
The previously toasted nuts are now to be briefly folded into the vegetables. Sprinkle a few more at the top for presentation purposes and serve with hot, steaming rice!
To make this dish vegetarian, substitute the chicken stock with anchovy stock. To make it vegan, use vegetable stock or even better, the umami-filled water leftover from soaking dried shiitake mushrooms.Just make sure the mushrooms have been rinsed well before they were soaked!
Do you enjoy vegetables cooked this way? Or are you not a vegetable person and prefer them hidden into the recipe like our Rustic Pinto Bean Chili recipe?