How to Make the Perfect Stir-Fry

The secrets to a successful stir-fry are organization and preparation, which are also the keys to accomplishing pretty much any complex task. Cooking is a small mirror held up to life (profound, huh?). If you can pull off a good stir-fry, you can probably successfully manage three complex software development projects with deliverables expected in late December, or the equivalent. We’ll see.

Before you even start cooking, you’ll want to get yourself and all of your ingredients organized. When the cooking starts, it goes fast, so you’ll need to have everything ready and at hand. The first thing I do is cook the starch, either rice or noodles, such as Chinese ramen-style noodles or angel hair pasta. The rice will steam and then stay warm while I’m preparing the stir-fry. The noodles will be done fast and then can sit in their pot until I’m ready to mix them in and reheat them.

Second, prepare the protein. I usually use boneless chicken breast for this dish, but turkey, pork, shrimp, scallops, fish or tofu should also work just fine. For 2 people, I use about ¼ pound of protein. Remember, traditional stir-fries are skimpy on the meat and generous with the vegetables. Cube the meat and let sit in a mixture of 1 tbsp. soy sauce, 1 tbsp. sherry and ¼ cup water while you prepare the vegetables.

Choose 2-3 vegetables for the dish, enough to make ½ pound. Keeping it simple keeps both you and the stir-fry from getting overwhelmed. Dice or slice each vegetable into as nearly uniform pieces as you can make them. Arrange the cut vegetables in bowls in order of their cooking time, with the longest cooking vegetables first:

  1. Mushrooms: 5-10 minutes, depending on type and thickness
  2. Cabbage, spinach, other greens: 4-6 minutes
  3. Asparagus, broccoli, carrots, green beans: 3-5 minutes
  4. Peppers, snow peas, sugar snap peas, summer squash, zucchini: 2-3 minutes
  5. Bean sprouts: less than 1 minute

These are just suggestions. You may want to try other vegetables.

In addition, mince 2 garlic cloves and ½ tbsp. ginger root, and place them in line behind all the vegetables.

Next, prepare the sauce. My base stir-fry sauce is a mixture of ¼ cup chicken stock, 2 tbsp. soy sauce, 1 tsp. cornstarch and 1 tbsp. flavoring, such as a bottled Asian sauce, sake or rice wine, or fermented black beans soaked in sherry. Feel free to experiment. I give a suggested variation at the end of this post.

Finally, get your garnishes together. Chopped nuts, sliced scallions, raw bean sprouts and minced fresh herbs all make good garnishes.

The last step is to prepare a coating for the protein for cooking it. Drain away the marinade and toss the chicken (or whatever you’re using) in a mixture of ½ tbsp. sesame oil, 1 tsp. cornstarch and 1 tsp. flour.

Now you’re ready to assemble the stir-fry:

  1. Heat 1 tbsp. peanut oil in a nonstick skillet over high until shimmering
  2. Add the protein in a single layer and cook without disturbing until browned
  3. Flip each piece and brown the other side in the same manner
  4. Remove the cooked protein to a plate
  5. If needed, add another ½ tbsp. peanut oil to the pan
  6. Add the vegetables in order of their cooking times and stir-fry, keeping the food moving constantly, until tender
  7. Add the garlic and ginger, and stir-fry 30 seconds
  8. Reduce the heat to medium
  9. Return to the protein to the pan and mix in the sauce
  10. Stir-fry until the sauce thickens
  11. If using noodles, stir them in and heat through
  12. Remove from heat, garnish and serve

Sweet Chili-Garlic Stir-Fry Sauce

Serves: 2

Mix together:

  • ¼ cup chicken stock
  • 2 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp. honey
  • ½ tbsp. rice wine vinegar
  • 1-2 tsp. chili sauce, depending on taste
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic
  • 1 tsp. cornstarch
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42 thoughts on “How to Make the Perfect Stir-Fry

  1. inmykitchen 20 November 2006 at 12:50 pm

    We must be on the same wavelength today! I posted a stir fry recipe I tried out last week. I went the ultra-simple route and used frozen prepared veggies. I’m going to try your Sweet Chili-Garlic sauce next time. That sounds yummy.

  2. contego_lupus 19 February 2007 at 6:42 pm

    quality will have to try this out,

    I’ve always followed my nose with stirfry and they usually turn out well an follow pretty much what you’re doing

    but you’re using a few ingredients i haven’t tried yet

  3. MelMazz 15 September 2007 at 6:15 pm

    This sounds great. What kind of pan do you use? What kind of stove/range? Do you have a high BTU burner that makes this work better? I am in the process of choosing appliances for a kitchen to be renovated, and I am trying to figure out what I need, verses what is too over the top. Thanks!

  4. Shannon 16 September 2007 at 1:19 pm

    Actually for this, I use a large (12-inch) nonstick skillet on a regular old electric stove. What I love about this recipe is that you’re going to get a great stir-fry even if you don’t own a wok or a gas range.

  5. Fried Rice to the Rescue « Simply Cooking 23 October 2007 at 7:16 pm

    […] you happen to find in your fridge. You can use pretty much anything you’d throw into any stir-fry. Breakfast Fried […]

  6. Rob 9 October 2008 at 9:31 pm

    I tried this recipe today, and it went down fantastically with me and my house mates. This is perfect for students, since it’s quick, easy and filling. Thanks for a great meal!

  7. salma 6 May 2009 at 1:42 pm

    this was really usefull thanks what type of noodles is best to use

  8. Shannon 6 May 2009 at 3:11 pm

    Salma- If I have them, I like to use soba noodles or any kind of Chinese-style noodles. But spaghetti, angel hair or fettuccine could be substituted easily.

  9. Alberto Alferez 12 February 2010 at 4:29 am

    Thanks to your post I dont look like an idiot. I had a disagreement with my friend and this shows I was right. Thanks!

  10. Shannon 12 February 2010 at 7:17 am

    Alberto- I’m glad I could help!

  11. […] On my cooking blog, besides the usual suspects, visitors were interested in learning how to make the perfect stir-fry. […]

  12. Jennifer 25 April 2010 at 9:59 pm

    Thank you so much for this wonderful recipe! I’ve tried stir-fry so many times, but always felt like it came out just so-so. This is the first stir-fy recipe that I’ve prepared where I’m actually excited by the result and anxious to make it again….wonderful basic recipe and so many variations to try from here!! Great analogy at the beginning too!!

  13. vanessa 13 June 2010 at 1:47 pm

    i attempted to try a similar recipe ; but it didnot go as planned . when i tried this recipe the stir fry was delicous and for once my younger sisters liked the stir fry i have made. thank you

  14. vanessa 13 June 2010 at 1:48 pm

    go on my website please
    i am hoping to add more recipes and to get more members and more peoples opinions

  15. Shannon 13 June 2010 at 5:12 pm

    Vanessa, thanks for your comments and I’d be glad to visit your website. I visit the sites of anyone who comments here. Cheers!

  16. […] from lasagna to a simple tomato sauce for pasta, from roasted chicken breasts and vegetables to stir-fry, from sour cream dip to sorbet. I hope whatever you choose to make to celebrate the new year, it […]

  17. Jd 8 January 2011 at 5:18 am

    Shannon, I once found a perfect chicken stir fry sauce recipe on your website…but I can’t find it now! Think it had chicken stock, brown sugar and a couple of other ingredients. Can you tell me what it was? I remember it was delicious! Thanks

  18. Shannon 8 January 2011 at 9:39 am

    Hmmm. If it’s not the recipe in this post, it might be here: but that doesn’t have brown sugar. Otherwise, I can’t find it. I just added the search widget to my sidebar to make it easier to find things, by the way.

  19. Glen 13 January 2011 at 8:19 pm

    This is a great guide. I am a 17 year old guy who loves to experiment with cooking different types of cooking, and I am going to go and try this now! Thanks very much.

  20. […] the house, and all for the want of a home-made stir-fry/chicken chow mein-ish. Now I’m sure this recipe isn’t nearly half as complicated as I just made it look, piles of dishes and bowls and […]

  21. R::O::C::1::O_ 21 March 2011 at 6:23 pm

    Hi… thanx for the great recipe i allready tried and its fantastic. I tried to make it before and i just didnt turn out right my fried rice alwasy comes out mushy can you give me a few tips on that?

  22. Shannon 21 March 2011 at 6:38 pm

    The best advice I can give for fried rice is to use pre-cooked, cold rice. Leftover rice from Chinese restaurants is perfect.

  23. mr fake 30 April 2011 at 4:08 am

    Roz made delicious stirfry tonight for dinner

  24. Amy 15 June 2011 at 8:59 pm

    What if you want egg in your stir fry? When do you add that?

  25. Shannon 15 June 2011 at 9:24 pm

    Amy – I would add it last, right at the end, and just scramble it for 30 seconds or so, until it sets up.

  26. Amy 23 June 2011 at 11:42 am

    Thanks for this recipe, I am loving it!

  27. Mona 26 June 2011 at 4:10 pm

    Any particular sherry works best in your recipes?

  28. Shannon 27 June 2011 at 8:58 am

    I don’t have a brand preference. I just buy a cheap dry sherry.

  29. Suzy 12 August 2012 at 10:14 pm

    Hi, Shannon. I came across your blog while doing a general search for stir fry ideas. I consider myself a pretty advanced “home chef” but I’ve never really mastered the stir fry. Thank you for the step by step recipe outline. I don’t think I’d ever followed a recipe for stir fry before – and I was doing so many things wrong. My husband could eat Asian cuisine every day, so I suspect I’ll be following this recipe for many years to come! Best stir fry to have ever come out of my kitchen, hands down!

  30. Let’s Stir-Fry it up! « JessieHBlog 5 December 2012 at 9:54 pm

    […] don’t worry this dish is mostly made of vegetables, fruits, and peppers, which means you don’t have to worry about meat! Not only that but stir-fry goes great with rice or […]

  31. leah 19 January 2013 at 4:13 am


  32. C.J 19 February 2013 at 3:48 pm

    Good Article! Thanks for sharing.

  33. Jam 28 April 2013 at 12:08 am

    this really is the perfect stir fry. i made it this evening with broccoli, carrots, red bell pepper, onion and chicken. used the sweet chili-garlic sauce and garnished with chopped peanuts. it was killer. i’ve never been more excited about leftovers! thanks for an awesome recipe.

  34. […] Making a stir-fry and rice. Stir-fries don’t involve the spooky interior of the oven, and they are good way to get a couple of […]

  35. rossy 11 September 2013 at 5:40 pm

    What if you are doing the stir fry with a mixture of frozen and fresh vegetables?

  36. Shannon 11 September 2013 at 6:20 pm

    Try to estimate which vegetables need a longer cooking time and add those first. It’s probably best to thaw the frozen vegetables first to prevent excess water in the stir fry. In that case, I’d add the fresh vegetables first, then cook the frozen vegetables for less time.

  37. Shirlee 22 March 2014 at 11:23 pm

    Thanks for this post! A couple things I learned: garlic and sauce at the *end*. Makes so much sense. Where did I get this idea that you put garlic and onions with the heating oil? It always turns out horrible. Thanks for the tip that made all the difference.

  38. Blaine 4 July 2014 at 11:17 pm

    Haha, the comparison between managing projects and stir fry is fucking hilarious.

  39. jacob 8 July 2014 at 2:59 pm

    Dont have any cornstarch what can i sup. It with chef?

  40. Shannon 8 July 2014 at 6:37 pm

    You can leave it out. Your sauce won’t get as thick.

  41. Sam 11 August 2014 at 5:02 am

    Huge thanks for posting this receipe – will try out this week – Blessings

  42. Jean Clements 6 November 2014 at 6:36 am

    If you are making this for 4 or 6 do you double or triple the sauce recipe?

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