How to Build the Perfect Stir Fry

How to Build the Perfect Stir Fry

Let’s face it, cooking is complicated. The first Martha Stewart recipe I ever tried led me down the rabbit hole of holding a blow-torch to a red pepper to get that “perfect char” look. Right…

Everyone says eating-in is “healthier” than eating-out, but not when the only thing in your arsenal of recipes consists almost exclusively of cheese and pasta. Enter in the master of healthy cooking, the most versatile way to eat vegetables, and the simplest dish to learn – the Stir Fry.

So I used to be one of those people who’d just toss things in a pan, heat it up, and hope for the best. Macros were macros and it didn’t bother my stomach, so who cared if it tasted good, right? Oh, how wrong I was.

So after I realized how easy it was to do a stir-fry and do it right, I started to actually enjoy cooking and even better, enjoy eating. So follow this simple procedure and you’ll start enjoying vegetables as much (okay, not as much) as me.

Step 1.
Add meat to lightly oiled pan or wok, tossing in your desired seasoning
Step 2.
Chop, rinse, and prep your vegetables
Step 3.
Toss in your vegetables... in the right order
Step 4.
Add in your spices, seasonings, and flavor

Why the oil is oh so worth it...

Add oil to your pan or wok (preferably a wok). Sure, you could spritz a bit of of non-stick spray, and you may save some fat macros by limiting the oil you use, but you’re not gonna be able to get a crisp, browned crust on the outside of your veggies, and as we shall see the crispiness is key.

For those out there sensitive to fructans (e.g. garlic, onions, other stir-fry-elevating-foods), the oil is a great way to add in flavor. You can infused spices, garlic, and/or onion flavoring into the oil that you use. You can either make your own or buy some pre-made versions, but trust me, this extra step is worth it.

But you don’t need much, a tbsp is fine.

Step 1. The Meat

Start off the stir fry with the most flavor-packed item: the meat.

Obviously, I’m going to suggest chicken breast because the macros are insane, but any meat will do.

Depending on how lazy you are, you can opt for ground meat (lazy) or for breast meat (less lazy), it doesn’t really matter, so long as it’s cooked all the way.

Now the key here is to wait – and this is going to be a theme here.  Leave the meat to sizzle for a few minutes before turning it over. This will leave your meat with a nice thin crispy crust packed with flavor. Yum.

Once your meat is cooked (and you can tell by cutting into the thickest part of the flesh and checking that no raw pink coloring persists), put the meat aside on a plate and don’t toss the juices.

Step 2. The Chop

Chop, rinse, and prep your vegetables while your meat is cooking. 

Now somewhere out there, a chef is cringing. You’re supposed to chop and prep all the vegetables before the pan gets close to the flame. But I’d like to think I’ve gained a bit of efficiency as a chemist. And if I can save time chopping vegetables while my meat cooks, you bet that is exactly what I’m going to do.

...the key to the perfect stir-fry is to ...

Step 3. The Toss

Toss in your vegetables… selectively.

Here’s the semi-tricky part. You have to add in vegetable groups based on how long they’re meant to be cooking. Not too tricky once you get a feel for things, but until you intuitively know how to get the perfect char on your red peppers, I’ve added a quick, FODMAP-approved cheat-sheet for which vegetables go in first.

First Group

  • Carrots
  • Broccoli (heads only)
  • Broccolini (stem only)
  • Cabbage
  • Eggplant
  • Green Beans
  • Potatoes
  • Raddish
  • Rutabaga
  • Spaghetti Squash
  • Yam

Second Group

  • Edamame
  • Kale
  • Peppers (red only)

Third Group

  • Bean Sprouts
  • Greens (chard, choy sum, spinach, etc)

Of course, the size that you cut your vegetables is also a factor…

  • If you make thin slices, it’ll take less time. 
  • If you like your vegetables chunky, it’ll take longer.

Add in your vegetables according to how long they take to cook. Cook the first group vegetables until they’re browned but not too soft before adding in the second group vegetables. Cook until the veggies are done to your liking (I prefer to keep mine a bit al dente to let their individual flavors come through). Then you add in the third group vegetables, which should only need ~2 min to complete.

Now the key to the perfect stir-fry is to wait after tossing them in. Don’t obsessively stir the vegetables. As long as you’re keeping an attentive eye on the pan and you *cough* use enough oil *cough* they shouldn’t burn. If you leave the veggies to sit for a minute, you’ll end up with a beautiful crispy masterpiece.

Step 4. The Flavor

The options are endless… within the confines of FODMAPs of course. 

But seriously, there’s a ton of versatility here, and it starts with the meat juices. Since you’ve left the meat to sit, it’s produced a ton of juices (read: flavor). Go ahead and drizzle that on top of your vegetables *sizzle*.

While there are a bunch of sauces you can add on top, many aren’t reliably FODMAP-friendly (looking at you every salsa with garlic and onion powder). It’s usually safer to add herbs and spices – and more fun too.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll be starting your own kitchen-counter herb garden with a basil plant named “baz”. The only “rule” is to add in dry spices while the veggies are frying towards the beginning and add fresh spices (e.g. basil leaves, cilantro, etc.) towards the end.

Some FODMAP-friendly suggestions…

  • All spice
  • Basil
  • Bay Leaves
  • Cardamom
  • Cinnamon**
  • Coriander
  • Chili (red)
  • Chives
  • Cumin
  • Curry Powder
  • Dill
  • Ginger
  • Mint
  • Mustard Seeds
  • Nutmeg
  • Oregano
  • Paprika
  • Pepper (Black)
  • Pesto (check ingredients for onion or garlic/make your own)
  • Sage
  • Rosemary
  • Tumeric
  • Tomato paste
  • Thyme
  • Tarragon
  • Soy sauce
  • Vanilla
  • Vinegar
  • Wasabi

**Don’t knock adding cinnamon to your stir fries until you do. I’m never going back to the dark ages when I thought cinnamon was a “sweet-only” spice.

And as a final touch, you can top it off with…

  • Capers
  • Crushed peanuts
  • Salsa (check ingredients for onion or garlic/ make your own)
  • Sesame Seeds
  • Spring Onion (tops only)

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