Stir up your stir-fry game

The perfect student staple; quick and easy, but still flavourful.


The stir-fry. The perfect student staple; quick and easy, but still flavourful. It’s the ideal thing to whip up when you have 20 mins mid-essay to spare to make yourself a dinner that is vastly more healthy and satisfying than a pot noodle.  It’s also a great way to use up fresh produce that is about to go off, because you can put practically anything in them and easily cater to your tastes.

However, whilst the stir-fry should be simple enough, it has various pitfalls that can turn something that should be fresh, healthy, crisp and fragrant into a bland, soggy mess that is a far cry from classic Asian takeaway fare. Here are a few tips to get them right every time.

1.         Heat up your wok – this may sound obvious, but the secret to a great stir-fry is to have a searing hot wok/frying pan. To get this right, add your oil (preferably peanut oil, coconut oil or sesame oil) to your pan and wait until the oil starts to smoke before adding your ingredients. This ensures the pan is hot enough to crisp up your vegetables, as opposed to slowly softening them.

2.         Flavouring the oil – The first things that should go into the pan are your flavour enhancers. Any combination of chilies (be sure to use a careful hand, you can always add more but its hard to reduce the heat of a dish), garlic, onions and ginger will work. Garlic works best when ground to a paste to avoid getting burnt, blackened pieces of garlic throughout your food. Or, add the pieces of garlic and remove just before they are about to burn and before you add the bulk of your stir-fry, to flavour the oil. Tesco stocks tubes of fresh ground garlic, ginger and chilies that make flavouring your food a cinch.

3.         The meat – Of course your stir-fry can be wholly vegetarian, however, if you are adding meat, I would recommend rolling your chosen variety in corn flour to give it an added bite. Your meat goes into the pan first to give it time to cook, unless you are adding prawns or other seafood such as scallops, in which case they go in last.

4.         Authentic flavouring – Do you find yourself always reaching for the soy sauce and not much else to lend your dish an Asian flavour? Whilst soy sauce is key, try adding various combinations of the following ingredients to really pep things up: A drizzle of toasted sesame oil, coconut milk (for a Thai twist), honey (because most Asian food is a combination of sweet, salty, sour and spicy), fish sauce (whilst it sounds disgusting, this Thai staple added in moderation to food adds a savoury depth or ‘umami’ that is undetectable as being fish flavoured), oyster sauce, or grated lemon/orange rinds (this goes particularly well in Chinese dishes, especially with chicken or duck.)

These quick additions are far tastier, healthier and cheaper than purchasing those supermarket stir-fry sauces which often contain high levels of salt, sugar, flavourings, colourings and preservatives. Steer clear.

5.         Seasoning – Try your food before you serve, and add the right amount of salt/sweetener/acidity/heat to taste. This is the beauty of the stir-fry; it can easily be tweaked and altered during the cooking process.

6.         Don’t overcook! – You want your meat to be tender, not dehydrated, and your vegetables to still have bite. If things start to burn whilst others are undercooked, add a touch of water to the pan.

7.         Garnishing – For another flavour dimension, add a garnish. Coriander (cilantro), spring onions (scallions) or chopped basil work well. Or perhaps try adding a sprinkle of roasted peanuts or cashews for added crunch. Serve with rice or noodles and a wedge of lemon/lime.

So dust off your woks and wok on!