As a certified health and wellness coach, I love discussing food, health benefits, and how to keep weight in check.
The main dish is often the star of the meal. Like any star, it needs to possess qualities befitting a star—looks, taste and substance. Chicken comes to mind. It is great source of protein (67%), vitamin B3 (72%), tryptophan, selenium and phosphorus. In addition, it is also relatively low in fat. But unlike most stars, chicken doesn’t need to be fussed over, in order to bring out the star qualities. It is very versatile and with a little cooking ingenuity, this star can shine on any meal occasion. And what’s more, this star doesn’t need a lot of preparation time either. Stir-fry fits the bill perfectly.
Stir-fry is an Asian way of cooking, where heat and speed comes together to bring out the flavor of the food. Similar to sautéing, stir-fry usually requires a wok or any pan, deep enough to toss food around. Usually a little oil is used to coat the pan and then a little wait is necessary to make sure the oil is properly heated up. You should hear a sizzle when you next add the fresh seasoning—usually chopped garlic and ginger. Fry until fragrant to bring out the flavor and then add meat. Once meat is seared, add vegetables and seasonings. Toss to mix ingredients thoroughly and dish it out. If you see fire flaring up in the wok in Chinese restaurants, it is because the chef usually adds wine before dishing it out to add even more flavor. This is not necessary at home, unless you’re quite skill in the art of fire control.
An ingenious Peking man is believed to have created stir-fry with his use of fire to make his cuisine. Other accounts traced its beginning to the Chinese Stone Age, when rice and noodles became staples in the Chinese diet. However, it was Buwei Yang Chao (coincidently her last name, chao, means fry in Chinese) who coined the word “stir-fry” in her book How to Cook and Eat in Chinese.
Stir-fry has endured through generations and is increasingly becoming popular in the western world. There are good reasons for this growing trend:
- Speed—Stir-fry is a quick process. This can be a good thing when hungry mouths are waiting and you need to produce something fast, so nobody gets hurt. A hungry person can be angry. Another trick to cut down preparation time— you can grill, bake meat before hand and cut them into strips, ready to be toss in stir-fry when you get home from work.
- Nutritious—The high heat and speed of stir-frying seal in flavor and since the cooking process is not stretched out as in baking, boiling or stewing, the nutritious value of food can be preserved. This is especially helpful when stir-frying vegetables, where prolonged cooking can destroy nutrients and vitamins.
- Portion Control—There is much talk about using portion control to keep weight down. Stir-fry has a natural built-in capacity for that. How so? Often meat is sliced, diced, julienne even minced, so a little meat goes a long way. Instead of eating a slab of thick steak, this same piece can be sliced and tossed with lots of vegetables to produce a meal, enough to feed more than one person.
- Complete Meal—Imagine fixing a complete meal in a short time—stir-fry can be paired with rice (white, brown, jasmine, basmati), noodles, couscous, quinoa or any whole grains to make a satisfying healthy meal.
- Creative—You can really get creative with stir-fry by varying sauces used. Permutating sauces with the choices of meat or vegetables can give rise to interesting creations.
Basic Chicken Stir-fry
- 2 chicken breasts, sliced thinly or diced into cubes
- 3 stalks of green scallions, cut into 2 inch lengths
- 1 thumb of ginger, chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 1 tablespoon of oyster sauce
- 1 teaspoon of soy sauce
- ½ teaspoon of brown sugar
- Salt and pepper to taste
- A pinch of cornstarch to thicken sauce
Combine all the above seasonings in a bowl and set aside.
- Use enough oil to coat your work
- Heat up oil and add chopped garlic and ginger
- Fry until fragrant escapes
- Add sliced chicken and sautee until done
- Add combined seasonings and toss to coat chicken evenly
- Add scallions and mix well.
Dish out and serve with rice or dish it over pasta.
Read More From Delishably
So, you just made a very basic chicken stir-fry. The process is easy—the stir-fry takes no more than 10 to 15 minutes. Add another 10 minutes of preparation and the main dish is ready in half an hour tops.
Basic Chicken Stir-Fry
Now, basic chicken stir-fry is like the little black dress—stunning and classy in its own rights. But this star quality can be accentuated (very much like accessorizing the little black dress) by adding some spunk and character. The effect can be totally arresting. Now, just how can you add more spunk? Here are some variations to dress it up:
Usually sesame oil is used in traditional Asian stir-fry but canola, peanut and corn oil will do as well. How about olive oil? Since olive oil disintegrates at a high temperature, it is not normally used in stir-fry.
Other Fresh Chopped Seasonings to Consider:
- Red dried chilies
- White part of scallions
- Lemon grass
- Dried orange rind or freshly thinly slices of orange rind
Possibilities limited by creativity... so go ahead and experiment.
Variation: Chicken Stir-Fry With Broccoli
Beef, shrimp, seafood, tofu (the other protein), pork are all good candidates.
In traditional Asian cooking, meat is often sliced or diced and marinated with soy sauce, salt, pepper and sherry with a little corn flour for added flavor. It is believed that corn flour makes the meat more tender.
Any vegetables can be used for stir-fry. Some vegetables, especially the denser kinds like radishes, cabbages, potatoes require more stir-frying and you may need to add a little water to soften them. Traditional Asian vegetables used include Bak choy, baby kalian, broccoli, green beans, snow peas, bean sprouts and spinach.
Yes, you can add fruits too! Popular fruits include pineapple, apples, longans, lycees, dried goji berries, mango amongst others.
Herbs and Spices
Any herbs can be used. Dried herb seasonings can be used too, especially if you’re on a short time leash. You can also consider spices such as curry powder, chili powder or flakes, five spice powder, coriander, cinnamon and star anise.
- Hoisin sauce
- Shao hsing wine or sherry
- Satay sauce
- Chili paste
- Dark soy sauce
- a little corn flour is added to thicken sauce
Often sauce is premixed as stir-fry is a quick process and leaves no time for fumbling. Now, let's go play in the kitchen and try out some variations:
Chili Parsley Diced Stir-Fry Chicken
This simple chicken stir-fry is easy to make, especially if you're on a time crunch and need to whip out something healthy and delicious in a short time. All you need is some dried herbs. Even though, I've used Korean chili flakes and dried parsley flakes in this particular dish, feel free to use your favorite dried herbs or spices.
- 2 chicken breasts, diced into bite-size pieces
- 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 1 scallion, finely diced for garnishing (skip this if you're on an even tighter schedule)
- Juice of 1/2 a lime
- 1 tablespoon of dried parsley
- 1 teaspoon of Korean chili flakes or any chili powder
- 1 teaspoon of brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon of corn flour
- More salt if needed
- Marinate diced chicken with all the above seasonings in a large bowl.
- Coat wok with oil and sautee chopped garlic until golden brown.
- Add marinated chicken and cook until done,
- Season with more salt and sugar if needed
- Add a splash of sherry just before dishing it out
Dish it on plate, squeeze half a lime over the chicken. Garnish with scallion and serve.
Stir-Fry Chicken With Tofu
If you love "pottering" around in the kitchen and time is not a factor, this dish will give you the opportunity to do just that. It is definitely more involved and more time consuming, but the result is totally worth the effort. Your dish will be so delicious and easy on the eyes, P.F. Chang may even be envious.
- 2 chicken breasts, dice and marinate with some salt, pepper and sherry
- 1 slab of firm tofu, cut into brick-like shapes
- 1 thumb of ginger, sliced
- 4 cloves of garlic, sliced or chopped
- 5 to 6 dried red chili pods
- 3 scallions, cut into 2" lengths
- 2 carrots, sliced
- 1/2 a large yellow onion, diced
- 3 tablespoons of oyster sauce
- 1 tablespoon of light soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon of dark soy sauce (optional)
- 1 tablespoon of brown sugar
- 2 tablespoon of sherry or Shao hsing wine
- 1/2 teaspoon of corn flour
- Salt and sugar to taste
Mix all the above ingredients in a bowl and set aside.
- Coat diced marinated chicken in corn flour. Make sure it's evenly coated.
- Fill pan with just enough oil to pan fry until chicken turns golden brown.
- Dish out and set aside
- Pan fry tofu bricks in enough oil to brown them on both sides.
- Dish out and set aside
- Coat pan with oil
- Add chopped garlic, ginger, red chili pods and sautee until fragrant
- Add fried chicken, tofu, carrots
- Lower heat and add combined seasonings
- Toss to mix well.
- Add more salt and sugar if needed.
- Add scallion and mix well.
Dish it out and serve.