It's easy to think preparing a stir fry on busy weeknights isn't worth the bother. But the actual act of stir frying takes only five to ten minutes - it's preparing the ingredients that can be so time consuming. These simple tips will help you turn out quick and easy stir fries:
1. Prepare the Meat and Vegetables Ahead of TimeCutting meat and vegetables is not something you want to do while rushed or distracted, particularly in stir fry dishes, where it's important that the pieces of food are a uniform size. Before leaving for work in the morning, cut the meat, cover with plastic wrap and leave in the refrigerator until you come home from work. With vegetables, wash, drain, cut and refrigerate, covered. That way, when you return home in the evening, most of the work is already done!
2. Use Pre-seasoned OilYou can purchase pre-seasoned oil, or use this handy method from Deh-Ta Hsiung's Chinese Cookery Secrets - "just add 2 - 3 pieces of ginger to heated oil, and cook until the ginger rises to the surface and turns brown. Cool the oil and store. The oil can be reused several times."
3. Peel Ginger Ahead of TimeGinger is one of the key ingredients in Chinese cooking. Peeling ginger takes time, but you can peel it ahead of time and store in the refrigerator. Place in a jar, cover with sherry, and seal - as the flavor of the ginger fades you have the sherry taste to compensate.
4. Use Favorite Sauce or Marinade Combinations in More than One Recipe.That way, you won't be experimenting with new ingredients or different combinations of familiar ingredients every time you cook dinner.
5. Or, Try a Ready Made Stir-fry Sauce or MarinadeMany local supermarkets carry a selection of stir-fry sauces and marinades. Most can be used with meat, seafood or vegetable dishes.
6. Use Canned or Pre-packaged Broth Instead of Homemade StockThere is nothing like homemade stock, but chicken broth works fine in a pinch, as in this recipe for Egg Drop or Egg Flower Soup. Calorie Counting tip: substitute low-fat chicken broth where water is called for in stir-fries to add extra flavor. (Vegetarians can add soaking liquid from vegetables such as dried mushrooms)
7. Use Frozen or Canned VegetablesAnother option if you can't prepare vegetables ahead of time. Many frozen food manufacturers offer stir-fry blends, containing an assortment of Asian vegetables. Just toss them in the heated wok with oil and stir-fry. Canned Chinese bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, and straw mushrooms are widely available. Just rinse in warm water to remove any "tinny" taste and drain.
8. Use Instant Noodles
They're quick and easy to prepare. Better still, the flavor packet can be used as a sauce, as in this recipe for Beef Lo Mein
, where the flavor packet from the Ramen noodles is combined with oyster sauce to lend flavor to marinated beef and broccoli. Alternately, you can discard the flavor packet and stir-fry the noodles with a sauce.
9. Use Your MicrowaveA microwave saves you having to wait for water to boil when you need to blanch vegetables or boil noodles.
10. A Busy Cook's Mecca - the Asian marketThe convenience section of most Asian markets has exploded in recent years. You'll find a wide assortment of sauces, marinades, dry seasonings, curry mixes and soup bases, all designed to help you create your favorite dishes on busy weeknights. For example, Asian Home Gourmet has a dry chili stir-fry for Kung Pao Chicken - just add chicken, nuts and sherry. But go find out for yourself!
11. When All Else Fails, Simplify the RecipeAs a poster on my forum once noted, just because a recipe calls for shredded pork with ginger doesn't mean you can't serve sliced pork with ginger instead. Also, on nights like these it pays to stick to ingredients that will pass muster with family members - this is not the time to discover that your son thinks sesame seeds are gross, or that your husband shares the widely-held view that cilantro tastes like soap. For best results, stick with the tried and true.