Every cook has that piece of cookware—the one they keep coming back to day after day. That could be a stainless steel sauté pan, a cast iron skillet, or an enameled cast iron Dutch oven, but for me it's unquestionably my wok. I've been using the same cheap carbon steel wok for years, and it's one of the most important tools in my kitchen.
The beauty of the wok is that you can use it for all sorts of techniques, but its real purpose in life is stir-frying. I usually eat several stir-fries in any given week—I don't know of any other dish that can top its convenience, versatility, or pure deliciousness. No matter what the contents of my fridge look like, I know that I can have an awesome stir-fry on the table in virtually no time. We've rounded up 25 of our favorite recipes, from kung pao chicken two ways and crab fried rice to vegetarian lo mein and Korean-style pork, to illustrate the incredible variety that's just a wok away.
While you might not know the name, you've probably eaten lots of dishes that fall under the category of ding, which refers to stir-fries made with diced chicken and vegetables. A ding also needs something crunchy, such as the nuts in the takeout classic cashew chicken. Jicama adds extra crunch, and for the vegetables we go with earthy mushrooms, vegetal celery, and sweet bell pepper.
The most famous ding in America is almost certainly kung pao chicken—you'll find it on basically any Chinese takeout menu in the country. Our version is made with bell peppers, celery, peanuts, and a mild sauce thickened with cornstarch. We make the dish with chicken thighs, which stand up to the heat of the wok better than white meat.
The kung pao chicken you'll find in China is more intense than the dish as we know it in the United States. There are multiple ways to make it—you can try a funky, fiery version, or go with this simpler recipe flavored with Sichuan peppercorns and dried red chilies. By cutting some of the more aggressive ingredients you end up with a more nuanced dish.
One of the secrets to making a restaurant-style stir-fry is water-velveting—by marinating meat with egg white, wine, and cornstarch and then blanching it you can give it an almost unnatural-seeming silkiness. This recipe lets you show off the technique by pairing water-velveted chicken with oyster sauce and mushrooms.
General Tso's isn't actually a stir-fry, but with cashew chicken and kung pao chicken on the list it felt wrong to leave it out. We keep the dish from being as cloying as it sometimes can be by balancing the sweetness of the sauce with dried red chilies and acidic rice vinegar. Spiking the fry batter with vodka gives the chicken a shatteringly crisp crust.
Across Thailand you can find phat ka-phrao, a beef stir-fry flavored with garlic, shallots, fish sauce, and Thai bird chilies. Recreating the dish at home is tough because the ingredient that gives the dish its name—holy basil, or ka-phrao in Thai—is basically impossible to get in the States. Fortunately, you can make something equally delicious with easier-to-find purple basil.
Beef with broccoli is usually the worst offering at a Chinese buffet—I am not interested in bland, overcooked Western broccoli florets. Our version of the dish replaces them with Chinese broccoli, which has a more complex, mildly bitter flavor. Once you've got the right broccoli, the rest of the dish is simple—just shallots, garlic, marinated beef, and an oyster-sauce based sauce.
This recipe takes a Chinese technique and applies it to two Western ingredients: kale and frisée. We cook them like any other hearty greens—adding the stems to a hot wok, followed by the leaves. There's no need for blanching, which makes the recipe super quick and means one less pot to clean.
Stir-frying is all about cooking quickly, so it works well with thin cuts of meat. Skirt steak satisfies that requirement and has the added benefit of having a loose texture perfect for soaking up marinades. This stir-fry—which only takes half an hour including the marinating time—pairs the beef with snap peas, oyster sauce, chicken broth, Shaoxing wine, sugar, sesame oil, and soy sauce.
If you don't feel like cooking rice, trying adding noodles to your stir-fry to make it a complete meal. Here that means lo mein, which we mix up with boneless pork ribs, purple cabbage, Chinese broccoli, carrots, and a variety of aromatics. Serving it with sambal oelek on the side lets each eater customize the spiciness to their taste.
If you only ever eat cucumbers raw or pickled, you aren't using the vegetable to its full potential. By salting and lightly cooking cucumbers you can tenderize them, turning their crunch into a meaty bite. One of our favorite ways to cook cucumbers is in this easy stir-fry seasoned with marinated ground pork, soy sauce, and sesame oil.
They don't always get as much attention as the noodles, stews, or barbecue, but stir-fries are a major part of Korean cuisine. If you need an introduction to Korean stir-fries, try this spicy-sweet dish made with pork shoulder marinated in gochujang (Korean chili paste) and gochugaru (Korean dried-chili powder).
Water-velveting isn't just for chicken—you can also use it to give the same silky texture to pork loin. That's how we start our take on sweet and sour pork, which is made with onion, bell pepper, and canned pineapple. We use pineapple juice in the sauce, but balance it out with acidic rice vinegar and aromatic sesame oil.
The history of Singapore noodles is unclear—they probably aren't actually Singaporean—but we are confident about how to make the tastiest version. Most of the seasoning comes from curry powder, which we add to the noodles and vegetables separately so that everything is perfectly spiced.
The shape of a wok practically begs you to flip whatever you're cooking through the air, but fish isn't as sturdy as chicken or beef. Water-velveted cod needs to be treated more gently—turn each piece carefully so it doesn't fall apart. For your restraint you'll be rewarded with a light, elegant dinner.
Our kung pao fish takes its cues from the intense Sichuan version of the stir-fry, not the mild takeout dish. That means lots of mouth-numbing Sichuan peppercorns and funky chili-bean sauce, which we cook with garlic, scallions, and peanuts. Go with a firm white fish like catfish or tilapia for this recipe.
This homestyle Cantonese dish pairs scrambled eggs and shrimp with ginger, garlic, and Chinese chives—a classic flavor base in Chinese cooking. Brining the shrimp with baking soda helps keep them plump and tender. Not in the mood for shrimp? You could easily make the dish with roast pork or no meat at all.
As tempting as it can be to reach for a jar of curry paste, nothing you will get in a store compares to what you can make at home. For this Thai dry curry we go with a mix of fresh and dried chilies, galangal, garlic, shallots, lemongrass, and makrut lime leaves, which we use to flavor crispy tofu and blistered green beans.
Leafy greens like bok choy, gai lan, and Chinese spinach have a fresh, vegetal flavor that can be easily overshadowed. Cooking them quickly and simply is the best way to preserve that flavor—here we use a handful of aromatics and subtle seasonings to highlight the bok choy.
Traditionally served on Chinese New Year, Buddha's Delight is a vegetarian stir-fry packed with flavorful, filling ingredients. It has plenty of veggies, but also soy- and wheat-based ingredients that give it extra heft: tofu puffs, bean curd sticks, and Chinese braised gluten. If you don't live near a good Asian grocery some of those might be less accessible, but you can get them all online.
This vegetarian version of lo mein goes heavy on the vegetables—to make the dish healthier and more flavorful we use almost as much cabbage, shiitake, and chives as we do noodles. It's important to blanch the noodles before tossing them into the wok, or else they can clump up.
There's nothing wrong with fried rice packed with other ingredients, but we typically prefer to keep the focus on the rice itself. That means going easy on the mix-ins (in this case peas, carrot, onion, and scallion) and seasoning with just a teaspoon each of soy sauce and sesame oil. Despite what you might have heard about needing to use day-old rice, fresh rice fries up just fine.
If you'd rather go with something more vegetable-heavy, this recipe is for you—we use a half pound of green beans for two cups of rice. We also add garlic, scallions, Thai chilies, tons of basil, and an egg. As with other stir-fries, don't forget to cook everything in batches rather than all at once.
This take on fried rice looks to the sea for inspiration—we make the dish with fresh crab (if you can get it; you can use canned, too) and season it with fish sauce. When it comes to picking rice, we tend to prefer Jasmine, medium-grain white, or sushi rice. Long grain rice works, but it doesn't get the same chewy-tender texture as shorter varieties.
Fried rice isn't just about using up day-old rice, it's also great for repurposing other leftovers in your fridge. We came up with this recipe with pork tenderloin in mind, but basically any meat you find yourself with would be appropriate. We cook the meat with sweet corn and shishitos, but those can also be subbed out with whatever you have on hand.
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