Model for a Basic Stir-Fry

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


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By James Peterson

Published 1991

  • About

There are dozens of variations on this basic theme, and a couple of different approaches for incorporating the cornerstone ingredients of ginger, garlic, and cornstarch. Both the ginger and garlic can be left in thick slices, gently fried for a minute or two in hot oil, and fished out before other ingredients are added, or they can be peeled, finely chopped, and added to the stir-fry with the other ingredients. The cornstarch is combined with soy sauce (or another cool liquid) and used as a marinade, or the mixture may simply be added to the stir-fry near the end so the cornstarch thickens the sauce. Stir-fries require very high heat so that the ingredients will brown quickly without overcooking.


Main Ingredients
boneless chicken breasts, beef (a medium-tender cut such as flank steak or sirloin steak), boneless and skinless duck breast, shrimp, or scallops lb 675 g
green vegetables such as bok choy, broccoli (domestic or chinese), watercress, chard (weight after trimming) 1 lb 500 g
dark soy sauce 2 tbsp 30 ml
cornstarch 2 tsp 10 ml
dry sherry or chinese rice wine 2 tbsp 30 ml
Ingredients for Stir-Frying
peanut or vegetable oil 2 tbsp 30 ml
finely chopped fresh ginger 1 tsp 5 ml
finely chopped garlic 2 tsp 10 ml
chicken stock, seafood or fish stock, or water ¼ cup 60 ml
soy sauce (optional) to taste to taste


  1. Cut the poultry or meat into strips about 2⅜ inches (5 cm × 5 mm). Shellfish such as shrimp or scallops may be left whole or, if very large, cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm) sections or ½-inch-thick (1 cm) disks. Cut the vegetables into manageable pieces, but not so small that they lose their identity.
  2. Work the marinade ingredients together into a smooth paste and work the mixture into the meat or seafood. Marinate for 10 to 30 minutes.
  3. Heat the oil in a large wok or skillet over very high heat. When the oil begins to ripple, stir in the protein, leaving any excess marinade behind in the bowl—don’t throw it out. When the protein begins to brown, add the ginger, garlic, and vegetables.
  4. Quickly stir the protein with the vegetables until both are done, 3 to 6 minutes. Chicken strips should lose their flexibility and become stiff to the touch; duck and beef should remain rare or medium rare; shrimp should turn orange. If there is oil left in the bottom of the wok or skillet after stir-frying, spoon it out and discard it.
  5. Stir in the stock and simmer for 30 seconds more. If the stir-fry needs salt, add a teaspoon (5 milliliters) or more soy sauce. If the sauce is too runny, stir in a teaspoon or two (5 to 10 milliliters) of the marinade left in the bottom of the bowl. Stir while cooking for another 30 seconds, and serve.