The Best Way to Stir-Fry, According to a 'Wok Therapist'

Grace Young shares her tips for smarter stir-fries.
By Kelsey Youngman
May 18, 2021
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Grace Young has literally written the book on wok cooking. (Make that two; her second, Stir-Frying to the Sky's Edge, won a James Beard Award.) Known in certain circles as the "Wok Therapist," Young wants you to rethink everything you know about stir-frying, starting with the word itself.

According to Young, the essence of stir-fry has been lost in translation. In the original Cantonese, the word for stir-fry, chau, refers to a motion more akin to tumbling. "The goal is to continually toss bite-size ingredients in a small amount of oil in a wok over high heat so that each morsel is constantly exposed to the hot wok," Young says. "The result is a light searing of ingredients that allows them to cook both quickly and uniformly, without burning or charring." It's less about stirring and more about excited movement and interaction with the hot wok's surface. (A wok spatula, with its shovel shape, is great for this, but any metal spatula will do.)

Here, Young shares three recipes to expand upon the fundamentals of stir-frying. In a "simple" stir-fry, showcased in her Chicken Fricassee Stir-Fry, ingredients are continually added to the wok, layering flavor as each cooks perfectly. A "dry" stir-fry, like her Dry-Fried Sichuan-Style Green Beans with Shrimp, uses only a tablespoon of liquid in the entire recipe, illustrating how the heat and movement within the wok concentrate and intensify flavors. Finally, her Stir-Fried Garlicky Snow Pea Shoots is an example of a "clear" stir-fry that uses very few ingredients, focusing on a pure translation of simple flavors—in this case, sweet, tender snow pea shoots that shine through mellow garlic and just a touch of red jalapeño.

Working with a new, unseasoned wok? Young's favorite way to season a wok quickly is to make popcorn. The high-heat frying and even spray of oil from the bursting kernels helps fortify the patina of a wok, resulting in both a snack and a well-seasoned pan.

How to Stir-Fy

1. Prepare Wok

How To Stir-Fry
Credit: Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Torie Cox / Prop Styling by Missy Neville Crawford

Heat wok or skillet over high until a drop of water evaporates in 1 to 2 seconds; swirl in 1 tablespoon oil.

2. Add Chicken

How To Stir-Fry
Credit: Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Torie Cox / Prop Styling by Missy Neville Crawford

Add seasoned chicken to wok; cook, undisturbed, 1 minute. Cook, stirring and tossing constantly, until chicken is no longer pink, about 1 minute.

3. Add Vegetables

How To Stir-Fry
Credit: Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Torie Cox / Prop Styling by Missy Neville Crawford

Swirl in 1 tablespoon oil; add asparagus, carrots, thyme, and ½ teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring contantly, 1 minute and 30 seconds.

4. Stir in Liquid

How To Stir-Fry
Credit: Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Torie Cox / Prop Styling by Missy Neville Crawford

Whisk broth mixture; add to wok. Cook, stirring and tossing constantly, until well combined, about 30 seconds.

5. Cover and Simmer

How To Stir-Fry
Credit: Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Torie Cox / Prop Styling by Missy Neville Crawford

Cover wok with a baking sheet or wok lid. Cook, undisturbed, until sauce comes to a boil and thickens, about 1 minute.

6. Finish Cooking

How To Stir-Fry
Credit: Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Torie Cox / Prop Styling by Missy Neville Crawford

Uncover wok; add scallions and parsley. Cook, stir-frying constantly, until chicken is cooked through, 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Chicken Fricassee Stir-Fry with Asparagus

Chicken Fricassee Stir Fry
Credit: Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Torie Cox / Prop Styling by Missy Neville Crawford

"Once you understand the basics of stir- frying, you don't have to limit yourself to Asian flavors," Young says. Here, she uses white wine in place of rice wine, garlic instead of ginger, and cream to enrich the sauce.

Dry-Fried Sichuan-Style Green Beans with Shrimp

Dry-Fried Sichuan Style Green Beans with Shrimp
Credit: Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Torie Cox / Prop Styling by Missy Neville Crawford

Instead of leaning on a sauce, "dry" stir-fries like this recipe use a small amount of liquid (in this case, fish sauce), relying on heat and movement in the wok to intensify each ingredient's flavors. To ensure that the beans blister, dry them thoroughly with a kitchen towel before cooking. Pickled sushi ginger adds mild, well-balanced sweetness and a hint of spice.

Stir-Fried Garlicky Snow Pea Shoots

Stir-Fried Garlicky Snow Pea Shoots
Credit: Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Torie Cox / Prop Styling by Missy Neville Crawford

This "clear" stir-fry has a stripped-down ingredient list, letting each individual fla- vor and texture shine. Here, white pepper perfumes delicate snow pea shoots with its mild heat and fragrant floral notes. If using a skillet, cook the pea shoots in two batches to avoid crowding the pan.