How to improve stir-fry technique

BURNING QUESTIONS

May 14, 2008|By Erica Marcus | Erica Marcus,Newsday

Why are my vegetable stir-fries always watery? When I order stir-fries in Chinese restaurants, the vegetables are perfectly cooked, and there's no liquid at the bottom of the plate.

I'm guessing here, but I'll bet it's because you haven't got a professional range in your kitchen. At Chinese restaurants, chefs cook over burners that generate anywhere from 80,000 to 150,000 British thermal units of heat. The average home range musters 8,000 to 14,000 Btu.

There are, however, some techniques the home cook can use to help overcome this pitiable lack of heat. You should use the hottest burner you have for stir-fries and keep it turned up as high as it will go. Let your pan heat up for a couple of minutes before you start cooking. Heat it up dry and add the oil just before you add the food; otherwise, the oil will burn.

All pans are not equally fit for stir-frying. Grace Young, the Chinese cooking expert, suggests home cooks use a 14-inch flat-bottomed wok made of heavy-gauge carbon steel. I've found that a 12-inch cast-iron skillet also works well for stir-frying.

Don't try to stir-fry in nonstick pans (they can't take high heat) or in pans with high, narrow sides, because this will discourage evaporation. Make sure your vegetables are completely dry before you cook them; otherwise, they will steam in their own moisture. Spin them in a salad spinner, and then pat them dry with a towel.

Erica Marcus writes for Newsday.

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