Every cook seems to have a certain piece of cookware that they keep coming back to, day after day. It could be a trusty stainless steel sauté pan, a well-seasoned 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 28 of our favorite recipes, from kung pao chicken multiple 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 into the category of ding, a type of stir-fry made with diced chicken and vegetables. A ding also needs something crunchy, such as the nuts in the takeout classic cashew chicken. Jicama adds even more crunch, and we round out the assortment of vegetables with mushrooms, celery, and sweet bell pepper.
The most famous ding in America is almost certainly kung pao chicken—you'll find it on pretty much any Chinese-takeout menu in the country. Our version is made with bell peppers, celery, peanuts, and a mild sauce thickened with cornstarch. We use thigh meat for the diced chicken, which stands 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 we know by the same name in the United States. There are multiple ways to make it—you can try a funky, fiery version flavored with fermented bean paste, or this recipe, made with Sichuan peppercorns and dried red chilies, that's closer to how this dish is actually served in Chengdu. Cutting some of the more aggressive ingredients results in a simpler, more nuanced dish.
One of the secrets to making a restaurant-style stir-fry is water-velveting—marinating meat with egg white, wine, and cornstarch, then blanching it, allows it to achieve an almost unnatural level of silkiness. This recipe shows off the technique, pairing water-velveted chicken with savory oyster sauce and both fresh and rehydrated dried mushrooms.
General Tso's isn't technically a stir-fry, but with cashew chicken and kung pao chicken already on the list, it somehow felt wrong to leave it out. We keep the dish from getting 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.
Phat ka-phrao, a beef stir-fry flavored with garlic, shallots, fish sauce, and Thai bird chilies, can be found across Thailand. Re-creating the dish at home is tough because the ingredient that gives the dish its name—holy basil, or ka-phrao in Thai—is near 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—who wants a dish laden with bland, overcooked florets of Western broccoli? Our version of the dish replaces them with Chinese broccoli, which has a more complex, mildly bitter flavor. Once you've got that ingredient, the rest of the dish is simple—just shallots, garlic, marinated beef, and an oyster sauce–based sauce.
This recipe applies a Chinese technique to two decidedly Western ingredients, kale and frisée, with surprisingly good results. 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 this recipe super quick and leaves you with one fewer pot to clean.
Stir-frying is a very quick cooking technique, so it works well with thin cuts of meat. Skirt steak satisfies that requirement and brings the added benefit of a loose texture that's perfect for soaking up marinades. This stir-fry—which takes only 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 for a super-fast and flavorful dinner.
This Chinese-Peruvian dish combines ingredients from both cuisines with the deep, smoky flavor provided by stir-frying. Tender slices of beef are cooked over a high flame along with red onion, tomato, and a sauce of ginger, garlic, and soy sauce; allowing the contents of the wok to briefly catch fire (if you're daring enough!) will bring even more of that smoky wok hei flavor to your food. Serve the stir-fry with a mound of rice and a pile of crisp French fries.
Dry-frying is a technique in which vegetables or meat is fried in oil until much of its moisture has cooked off. Though you might imagine this would produce tough and dry beef, it actually provides a pleasingly chewy, crisp texture. Here, once the steak has finished cooking and most of the oil has been poured off, the meat is added back to the wok with garlic and spicy chilies, as well as sliced carrot and celery. The dish is finished with a dusting of numbing Sichuan peppercorns.
If you want a break from the usual white rice that goes alongside a stir-fry, try adding noodles 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 level to their taste.
If you only ever eat cucumbers raw or pickled, you aren't using the vegetable to its full potential. Salting and lightly cooking cucumbers tenderizes 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 use it to give the same silky texture to pork loin. That's how we start our take on sweet-and-sour pork, adding onion, bell pepper, and canned pineapple to complete the stir-fry. 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 turns out perfectly spiced.
To ensure the eggplant in this stir-fry comes out tender, we steam it before adding it to the wok. In the wok, the juicy slices of eggplant get mixed with ground pork, garlic, ginger, and spicy chilies in a sweet and tart sauce. After that, just turn down the flame and let the mixture simmer until the sauce has thickened and the eggplant has absorbed as much flavor as possible.
A wok is designed to allow you to flip and toss whatever you're cooking with ease, but fish isn't as sturdy as chicken or beef. The water-velveted cod in this recipe 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 of bright, colorful vegetables and tender chunks of fish.
Our kung pao fish takes its cues from the intense Sichuan version of the stir-fry, not the mild American-style takeout dish. That means lots of mouth-numbing Sichuan peppercorns and funky doubanjiang, or chili-bean sauce, plus 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 ready-made curry paste, nothing you'll get in a store compares to what you can make at home. For this Thai dry curry, we use a mix of fresh and dried chilies, galangal, garlic, shallots, lemongrass, and makrut lime leaves to make a chili paste, which we then 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 easily be 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 for Lunar New Year, Buddha's Delight is a vegetarian stir-fry packed with flavorful, filling ingredients. It contains plenty of veggies, but also soy- and wheat-based components 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 find them all online.
This vegetarian version of lo mein goes heavy on the vegetables—to make the dish more nutritious and more flavorful, we use almost as much cabbage, shiitake mushrooms, 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 packing your fried rice full of 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, you don't necessarily need to use day-old rice; fresh rice fries up just fine.
Looking for something more vegetable-heavy? This recipe is for you—it uses a half pound of green beans per two cups of rice, along with garlic, scallions, Thai chilies, tons of basil, and an egg. As with any other stir-fry, don't forget to cook everything in batches rather than all at once, to avoid steaming the ingredients instead of stir-frying them.
This take on fried rice looks to the sea for inspiration—we make the dish with fresh crab (if you can get it—use canned if you can't) and season it with fish sauce. We tend to prefer jasmine, medium-grain white, or sushi rice for this and all our fried rice recipes—long-grain rice works, but it doesn't get the same chewy-tender texture as shorter varieties.
Fried rice isn't just for 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. You can also sub out the sweet corn and shishito peppers for whatever you have on hand that sounds tasty.
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