8 Secrets for a Better Chicken Stir-Fry
By following a few key techniques, you can turn any chicken stir-fry into a restaurant-worthy dish.
1. Have everything prepped
Mise-en-place—what chefs call having all of your your ingredients in place and ready to go—extra important when stir-frying because this cooking technique moves fast.
2. Cut everything properly
Cut chicken pieces the same size so they cook evenly. When chopping vegetables, make tougher veggies, like broccoli and carrots smaller than, say, snow peas, so they can be added at the same time and cooked at the same rate.
3. Consider using boneless chicken thighs
While chicken breast works as well, thighs are more flavorful and tend to stay juicier longer, leaving you less room for error.
4. Dry all ingredients
Wet food release steam and prevents browning so pat your ingredients dry with paper towels before adding them to the pan.
5. Consider marinating the chicken
The exception to drying your chicken is when you’re using a marinade. The step is optional, but it does make the meat extra flavorful and tender. No need to do something complicated or time consuming. A 5-minute soak in oyster sauce and cornstarch or ginger, garlic and soy sauce works wonders.
6. Use a large wok or a very large skillet
Overcrowding the pan is the enemy of stir-fries; the food tends to steam rather than brown. A large carbon steel wok is ideal. A stainless steel skillet is a fine substitute. Skip anything with a nonstick coating because it’s not safe over such high heat.
7. Get your pan nice and hot
To get that rich browned flavor and to help the meat release from the pan after it’s seared, heat the pan until droplets of water flicked on the surface evaporate in 1 second.
8. Sear the chicken
For chicken that’s nicely browned outside and juicy within, add the oil and arrange the meat in a single layer to get a good sear. Then stir-fry it for a minute before adding any other ingredients. (You might need to do this in batches to prevent that overcrowded pan). To give yourself more control over the final dish, you can move the chicken to a plate as you cook the vegetables, then return it to the pan with the sauce.
Kristin Donnelly is a former Food & Wine editor and author of the forthcoming The Modern Potluck (Clarkson Potter, 2016). She is also the cofounder of Stewart & Claire, an all-natural line of lip balms made in Brooklyn.