This sounds like the sort of hyperbole you'd hear on a late-night infomercial, but when I got my first wok, it really did change the way I cook. Suddenly, virtually every meal I made was a stir-fry. Why? Well, a technique that's so easy and tasty, and so adaptable to a wide range of ingredients, is bound to hook you. There's nothing to stir-frying but chopping up meat and vegetables, blending a simple sauce, and tossing it all in a searing-hot wok—and if you don't have a wok (or have allowed yours to gather dust), hopefully the above selling points will spark your interest in this endlessly handy tool. If you need further convincing, this collection of weeknight-friendly stir-fry recipes—some authentic, some unapologetically American-Chinese copycats—might push you in the right direction.
Cashew Chicken Ding With Jicama, Celery, and Red Bell Pepper
A Chinese ding mixes cubes of chicken and vegetables with crunchy add-ins. Cashew chicken is a famous example—we make our version with mushrooms, celery, and bell pepper, plus jicama for an unusual bit of extra sweet crunch.
Stir-Fried Chicken With Mushrooms and Oyster Sauce
A technique called water-velveting—marinating meat in a mixture of egg white, wine, cornstarch, and seasonings, then blanching it in water with a little oil added—yields silky, tender meat that's perfect for stir-fries. We velvet chicken for this dish, then pair it with a variety of mushrooms and good old-fashioned oyster sauce for a hearty and quick stir-fried dinner.
Takeout-Style Kung Pao Chicken (Diced Chicken With Peppers and Peanuts)
With a wok and about half an hour of cook time, this beloved if less-than-authentic dish, made with diced chicken, bell peppers, celery, and roasted peanuts, can be yours for dinner. The mildly spicy sauce is a little gloppy in texture, but it wouldn't be American-style kung pao chicken without it.
The Best General Tso's Chicken
Speaking of American-Chinese food: This isn't exactly a stir-fry, true enough, but it's too delicious not to mention. When I was a kid, like most kids in this country, I reserved my greatest affection at Chinese restaurants for the deep-fried dishes. Of these, General Tso's is the undisputed king. This recipe tempers the typical candy-sweetness of the restaurant version with a healthy dose of vinegar, and adds vodka to the coating for a super-crunchy crust.
The Best Chinese Sesame Chicken
After General Tso's, my child self's favorite choice from the Chinese buffet was always sesame chicken. (Admittedly, this might be because it was basically just General Tso's dappled with sesame seeds.) The sauces for the two dishes are in fact very similar. Here, again, we reduce the sugar and use sesame oil in the sauce for extra nuttiness.
The Best Chinese Orange Chicken
If the sesame chicken of my youth consisted of General Tso's decorated with sesame seeds, the orange chicken was essentially General Tso's with a splash of orange juice and orange slices on top. In this updated version, we add some nuance and deepen the orange flavor by incorporating the fruit in three forms—dried peel, grated zest, and fresh juice.
Stir-Fried Beef With Chinese Broccoli
Real Chinese beef with broccoli uses mildly bitter gai lan, or Chinese broccoli, rather than Western broccoli florets, which lend a complex flavor that the American-Chinese staple tends to lack. Blanching the Chinese broccoli before stir-frying will help ensure that it cooks through but doesn't burn. A simple mix of oyster sauce, soy sauce, and sesame oil brings all the components of the dish together.
Stir-Fried Beef With Kale and Frisée in Black Bean Sauce
Kale and frisée are two decidedly Western greens, so, while this dish isn't authentically Chinese, it's not your typical fast-food joint offering, either. What it is is an experiment in applying the technique of stir-frying to hearty, leafy green vegetables that are similar to bok choy or broccoli rabe. There are plenty of Chinese notes in the dish, though, thanks to a powerfully flavored sauce made of fermented black beans, soy sauce, and sesame oil.
Stir-Fried Beef With Snap Peas and Oyster Sauce
Flank steak is a common choice for stir-fries, but we prefer skirt steak—it's thinner than flank (making it better for high-heat cooking in a wok) and has a looser texture (making it better at absorbing marinades). We add cornstarch and baking soda to the marinade for this dish to keep the beef nice and tender.
Stir-Fried Tripe With Pickled Mustard Greens and Fermented Black Beans
Offal isn't for everybody, but those who love it tend to really love it, and this dish is for those people. Washing the tripe in a mixture of rice wine and cornstarch before cooking helps to quiet the funky organ-meat flavors. The clean, strong flavors of ginger and scallion, added to the oil before the tripe goes in, help balance out the offalness (no pun intended, tripe fans!) even more.
Stir-Fried Cucumbers With Spicy Ground Pork
If you've never eaten cooked cucumbers before, you're missing out: A light stir-fry leaves them juicy, tender, and silky smooth. Salt the cucumbers before cooking to draw out some moisture, which will yield a meatier texture. Ground pork bulks up the dish, and a simple sauce of cornstarch, soy sauce, and sesame oil thickens up the liquid released by the cucumbers.
Korean Spicy Marinated Pork With Chilies and Kimchi (Jaeyook Kimchi Bokum)
Stir-fries feature prominently in Korean cuisine, and this is one of our favorites. Here, we flavor pork shoulder with a marinade of gochujang (Korean chili paste) and gochugaru (Korean dried chili powder), plus Asian pear to add some sweetness. Peppery, pungent kimchi helps to round out the flavors.
Stir-Fried Sweet and Sour Pork
Water-velveting works as well for tenderizing pork as it does for chicken, so we turn to it again for this easy, tasty sweet and sour pork made with onion, bell pepper, and canned pineapple. Cooking the pork loin almost all the way through during the velveting allows you to finish it quickly in the stir-fry, without overcooking the other ingredients.
Not to disappoint anyone, but it's unlikely that Singapore noodles—a dish of thin rice noodles mixed with roast pork, shrimp, and vegetables and seasoned with curry powder—actually comes from Singapore. But whatever its country of origin, we love it. Tossing the meat and vegetable mixture with curry powder, then the noodles separately, ensures that each component comes out well seasoned.
Stir-Fried Cod With Yellow Squash and Asparagus
One of the best parts of stir-frying is dramatically flinging the ingredients into the wok, then roughly agitating the vessel to make each piece skip and dance. When you're making this dish, though, try to exercise a little restraint: The cod needs to be turned gently to keep it from breaking up. The bright yellow squash and green asparagus, however, make a great show when you throw them in.
Kung Pao Fish With Dried Chilies and Sichuan Peppercorns
Rather than emulating the takeout version of kung pao chicken, this fried fish dish more closely resembles the Sichuan original. The big difference? The inclusion of Sichuan peppercorns, which give the stir-fry a tingling, mouth-numbing heat known as mala. The sauce also incorporates doubanjiang, a Chinese chili-and-bean paste you can order online.
Stir-Fried Shrimp With Eggs and Chinese Chives
This simple combination of shrimp, eggs, and Chinese chives is a Cantonese favorite. Soaking the shrimp in a baking soda solution before cooking gives them a crunchy, juicy pop. Add the garlic and ginger after the shrimp so that they don't scorch.
Buddha's Delight (Lo Hon Jai): Chinese Vegetarian Stir-Fry
Buddha's Delight is a popular Chinese holiday dish made with an array of vegetables, slender bean thread noodles, and a few more unusual ingredients, made from soybeans and wheat gluten, that add a variety of textures and flavors. Those last ingredients might be a little tricky to find—go online or turn to your local Asian market for tofu puffs (deep-fried tofu cubes) and chai pow yu (Chinese braised gluten).
Sichuan-Style Braised Eggplant With Pickled Chilies and Garlic (Yu Xiang Qie Zi)
Brining eggplant in salt water before cooking helps it start to break down, which allows it to char more quickly. You can buy the pickled Thai chilies in this recipe at Asian markets, but it also takes just a few minutes to pickle your own in white vinegar.
Stir-Fried Lo Mein With Charred Cabbage, Shiitake, and Chives
Most stir-fried lo mein dishes you get from takeout shops don't use more than a few vegetables, which seems like a wasted opportunity to add color and flavor. In this version, we throw in almost as many veggies as noodles—specifically, charred cabbage, shiitake mushrooms, and chives. Blanching the noodles first keeps them from clumping up in the stir-fry.
Stir-Fried Choy Sum With Minced Garlic
This isn't a meal unto itself, but instead works as a great side to accompany a range of main dishes, Asian or otherwise. Just blanch the choy sum in boiling water, then stir-fry it with soy sauce, sesame oil, and tons of garlic. To tame the garlic flavor a bit, stir-fry it on its own rather than adding it to the sauce.