We first invested in an electric non-stick wok, which my Mom still uses today. You can also use a stovetop version or just a skillet works well too, especially if you are only cooking for one or two people. To me there are two main keys to making good stir-fried dishes.
First, make sure that you have everything ready before you begin cooking. Cut up the meat and vegetables, crush the garlic, mince the ginger root, make the sauce, etc. The cooking is fairly quick so you want to have things ready to go into the pan.
The general order of cooking Chinese is to cook the meat just until done or slightly underdone, remove to a bowl and then add your aromatic flavorings like red pepper flakes, garlic and/or ginger root until you can smell it. Then you add the vegetables.
When the vegetables are done to your liking, add the meat back and the sauce and stir until thickened.
Make sure when you are cutting your meat that the pieces are all the same size. You don't want one cube done while the other is still raw inside.
Vegetables too, all need to be cut to the same size so they cook uniformly. If you have several types of vegetables, put the ones that take the longest to cook in first and then add in order of cooking time. Carrots, for example, take a little longer to cook so add them first.
The second key is to have your pan hot so that the food sears and fries rather than braises as it releases its juices.
When stir frying, you want to use an oil with a high smoking point. This means that the oil can get hotter without burning. Peanut oil has a really high smoking point as well as canola oil. You don't want to use olive oil because it will start to burn at a lower temperature. Sesame oil is often called for in recipes but this oil has a very distinct flavor and is used for seasoning instead of frying.
Heat your oil until it just starts to smoke and then add your food, stirring to keep it moving and cooking on all sides. The temperature will drop when you add the food so be careful not to add too much at one time. No more than one pound of meat is recommended, and I would suggest doing it in batches if you're cooking for a larger group.
A really handy tool is a Chinese spider. A spider is a round wire mesh like strainer on a wooden handle and allows you to remove the chunks of food from the oil easily.
My favorite recipe for Kung Pao Chicken follows. It is a little spicy (you can use less red pepper flakes if you wish) and is great over sticky Chinese rice.
One thing that keeps the chicken really tender is to coat it in the egg and cornstarch mixture -- you can do this for any chicken stir fry to keep the chicken from getting tough. The hoisin sauce is readily available at local stores in the Asian section. The brown (or you can use black bean) sauce is a little harder to find but most larger grocery stores will have it in the Asian section as well. Both of these will last a long time in the refrigerator. My favorite part is the peanuts -- skinless cocktail peanuts work well. My sister-in-law often adds broccoli to this and sometimes I add mushrooms.
Enjoy your take out at home tonight!
1 egg white
2 teaspoons cornstarch
3/4 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into half-inch pieces
2 tablespoons brown bean sauce
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons sherry
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup cocktail peanuts
White rice, cooked (medium grain preferred)
In a bowl, whisk egg white and cornstarch together. Add chicken and set aside. In another small bowl combine the brown bean sauce, hoisin sauce, sugar, sherry, rice wine vinegar and water.
In wok, heat peanut oil to smoking point. Add chicken. Cook and stir until no longer pink inside. Remove chicken to serving bowl.
Drain off all but a tablespoon of oil from wok and heat. Add garlic and red pepper for a second. Return chicken and add sauce and peanuts. Cook for a minute or so until heated. Serve over rice.
-- Whitney Danhof is Bedford County's University of Tennessee Extension Agent. She may be reached at 684-5971.