As a technique in Chinese cooking, stir-frying came later than boiling, steaming, stewing, and roasting on a spit. Yet it is this ingenious technique that has captured the imagination of the whole world, so much so that many people regard it as synonymous with Chinese cuisine.
The technique consists of adding cut-up ingredients to an intensely heated wok containing a small amount of oil, then turning and tossing them around the curved sides until they are cooked just to a turn, with most of the vitamins still intact. This method can be used for cooking any foodstuff, be it vegetable, meat, seafood, rice, or noodles. Vegetables stir-fried are crisp and crunchy, meat and seafood are tender and juicy, but above all, they are impregnated down to the last morsel with a special fragrance the Chinese unashamedly term “wok fragrance.”
How to achieve the best stir-fried results? A closer look at the process reveals the clues. The ingredients are always cut up into more or less uniform sizes so that they are cooked at the same time. Pieces of meat more often than not are marinated so that the mixed flavors, interacting with the oil and the condiments, permeate each morsel. The wok itself is always heated until it is red-hot before oil is poured in and swirled around. The oil is then seasoned by one or two if not all three of the basic condiments—ginger, garlic, and scallions—sometimes known as the Chinese family trinity in the kitchen. Speed, instant control of heat, and dexterous turning and tossing of the ingredients in the wok, if not actually tossing them in mid-air as so dramatically performed by the professional male Chinese chefs, are the next essential steps so that the ingredients can be cooked quickly without becoming tough or soggy. Although not absolutely necessary, the splashing in of a small amount of alcohol enhances the fragrance as the food sizzles in the wok. The addition of a simple sauce, usually soy sauce-based with a tiny amount of dissolved thickening, completes the operation. And we have a healthy, delicious, and fragrant dish to eat!