Food & Drink

Get everything ready, then you're set to go

It's important to have all of the ingredients ready to go before you begin stir-frying. You'll find that once you start, cooking goes too quickly to prepare ingredients between cooking steps.

Start by slicing all of the ingredients, combining the sauce ingredients, and cooking the rice or pasta. Arrange all ingredients in dishes near the skillet or wok so you can reach them easily.

When everything is ready, add the cooking oil to the large skillet. Lift and tilt the skillet to evenly distribute the oil over the bottom. Preheat the skillet over medium-high heat about 1 minute. To test the hotness of the oil, add a single piece of vegetable to the hot skillet. If it sizzles, proceed with cooking the seasonings, vegetables and meats as directed in the recipe.

You might need to add oil during stir-frying to prevent the food from sticking. The amount of oil needed for stir-frying depends on the skillet's surface. A skillet with a non-stick surface probably will need less oil than a wok with a steel surface. If you need to add more cooking oil, add a small amount at a time, and bring the oil to frying temperature before proceeding.

Seasonings, such as minced garlic and grated ginger root, generally are stir-fried first for 15 seconds so their distinctive flavors season the oil. Just stir the seasoning into the hot oil, keeping it in constant motion. Because the amount you will be stir-frying at one time is so small, it's important to keep the seasonings moving the entire time so they don't burn.

Now you're ready to stir-fry the vegetables. Begin with the vegetables that take the longest to cook, then follow with those that cook more quickly. Use a long-handled spatula or wooden spoon to gently lift and turn the pieces of food with a folding motion. This ensures that the food will cook evenly. To prevent scorching, remember to keep the food moving at all times. Remove the vegetables from the skillet after stir-frying.

Stir-fry the meat, poultry or fish. Since overloading the skillet or wok with food will slow cooking, stir-fry no more than 12 ounces of protein at one time. This means that for most recipes, you'll begin by stir-frying only half of the protein until it is done, then remove it from the skillet. Then you'll stir-fry the remaining half. Return all of the cooked protein to the skillet.

To thicken the sauce, push the cooked meat from the center of the skillet. If the sauce ingredients you've already mixed contain cornstarch, you'll need to restir first. Then pour the sauce into the center of the skillet and cook, stirring constantly, until it thickens and bubbles over the entire surface.

The final step of stir-frying is to return all of the stir-fried ingredients to the center of the skillet. Stir everything together to coat with the sauce. Then, cook and stir the mixture as directed in the recipe until heated through. To assure that your stir-fry is piping hot, serve immediately.

It pays to be quick

■ Cooking food fast is the key to good stir-frying.

■ Cutting the food into small, thin pieces and cooking small amounts at one time make the quick cooking possible.

■ When cooked quickly, vegetables keep their crispness and color, and meats stay tender and juicy.

Source: Better Homesand Gardens

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