Cooking Techniques: Tips for a Perfect Stir Fry Every Time

Teriyaki Tofu and Vegetable Stir Fry

Stir frying would seem to be a quick and easy technique to master. And it is.  But for a really first rate stir fry, there are a few things to consider. First, select interesting, but compatible ingredients. Choose foods with a variety of textures, colors and shapes–cut vegetables into similar sizes, but use a variety of cutting styles. Second, freshness and quality of ingredients count for so much because stir frying is a technique which reveals, rather than hides. Third, the brilliance of this method is that it cooks quickly at high heat, thus searing in flavor. Cook over the highest heat you can manage.  And don’t over crowd the wok.  You want to quickly fry the ingredients, not simmer them. Two or three quick, small batches are much better than one, slow one. Fourth, sauce and seasonings should be assertive enough to bring the various elements together, but not so strong as to mask individual flavors–be cautious in adding strong seasonings. Fifth, timing is crucial. So, have all your vegetables cut and ingredients assembled before you begin stir frying.  Also, have the other parts of the meal ready to go, rice or noodles cooked, condiments assembled. And, have your friends and family nearby and ready to eat.  Other than that, it’s a breeze.  Once you feel comfortable with it, stir frying is a technique you will use successfully again and again. Here’s my outline for making a tofu and vegetable stir fry…

Vegetables cut and ingredients assembled prior to stir frying



Obviously, you have free range to choose ingredients for a stir fry.  Just avoid being overly complicated. You could substitute shrimp or chicken for the tofu, but this is a really good use of tofu and I’d recommend giving it a try. The idea here is to cook more thoroughly the ingredients which give the flavor base, so we add the onions, garlic, ginger and mushrooms first.  Other vegetables which provide color and texture we add later and cook more quickly. Four servings.

sesame and/or canola oil (my preference would be toasted (dark) sesame oil, because it delivers by far the most flavor)

1 medium onion, peeled and thinly sliced

5-6 medium shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced (regular button mushroom will do, but will not add as much flavor)

2-3 cloves garlic, julienned (optional)

1-inch knob of ginger, peeled and julienned

6 ounces teriyaki (or similar) baked tofu, cut into bite-sized triangles

2 small, thin carrots, cut in half lengthwise and then in thin slices on the diagonal

1 medium zucchini, trimmed, cut in half lengthwise, and then into thin half rounds

6-7 stems of broccolini, trimmed into 3-inch lengths

20-25 snow peas, stem ends trimmed

2-3 green onions, trimmed and sliced thin on the diagonal

a little sprinkle of salt

a few cracks of freshly-ground black pepper (optional)

1/2 – 1 teaspoon soy sauce (to taste)

1 tablespoon mirin (optional, but good)

2 teaspoons arrowroot or corn starch dissolved in 1/3 cup water

1. Get your wok really hot, add a teaspoon or two of oil (two things to keep in mind–fat adds flavor, and a fair amount of the oil stays behind in the wok).

2. Add the onions and a little pinch of salt and stir fry for about 2 minutes.  Then add the mushrooms, garlic and ginger and fry a minute more, add the carrots and fry an additional minute.  Add the zucchinis and fry for a minute. Add a few cracks of black pepper, if using.

3. Add the broccolini, tofu and 1/4 cup water, cover and steam for 30 seconds.

4. Uncover and add the mirin and soy sauce, stir, then quickly add the arrowroot or corn starch dissolved in water. Stirring constantly, add the snow peas and continue stirring until everything is lightly coated with the sauce and the snow peas have turned a deeper green.

5. Turn out to a serving platter and garnish liberally with the green onions.

2 responses

    • Junilla, Thanks for catching my oversight. Add the tofu at step three. Since the tofu is already cooked, there’s no need to add it earlier. All it needs to do is warm up, and adding it later subjects it to less stirring which could cause it to break up.

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