The Chef-Approved Method To Ensure A Successful Stir Fry

Ever walk out of a Chinese restaurant thinking, "Dang, how can I recreate that dish at home?" The spicy Chinese eggplant stir fry and the beef in black bean sauce dishes you just had were so good, full of delicious and desirable smokey aroma, or wok hei, from a piping hot wok. Before you think you could never successfully make a stir fry dish at home, one that rivals the restaurants, think again. Tasting Table consulted an expert and discovered the chef-approved method that always ensures a successful stir fry. We spoke with Jon Kung, chef, content creator, and bestselling author of "Kung Food," and Kung emphasized the importance of always starting with a properly prepared wok when you're ready to stir fry.

"Make sure your wok is hot and dry!" Kung states. This means cranking up the heat. Then, he adds, "Doing a little pre-season where you warm up some oil in your wok and rub it in as it gets heated is a great way of removing any residual moisture from the pan, which aids in its non-stick properties." 

Woks are special kitchen tools, different from other pans. The non-stick properties Kung is talking about refer to a wok's patina, a naturally non-stick and protective layer that polymerized oil creates. "Seasoning" the wok creates and reinforces the patina. And because woks have patina, cleaning a carbon-steel wok with dish soap can be a dire mistake.

Add flair and drama to your stir fry with a wok toss here and there

Once your seasoned wok is hot enough, it's time to add your ingredients for stir-frying. Chef Jon Kung states, "If your wok is well seasoned, a tablespoon or two of oil should be plenty for a whole stir fry." You're not deep frying your food here, you're stir-frying. Then he emphasizes that you should constantly push and pull the food through the center of the wok and then to the side to get "nice flashes of heat." Of course, you want to add "the occasional toss here and there for drama," he adds.

Kung's expert advice mirrors that of Chef Ming Tsai, who recommends using a wok ladle or spatula to push and pull the ingredients in the wok. If you want to toss the food in a wok like a pro and catch it back with the wok, there's a trick to this. First, push the food away from you with the ladle or spatula to the opposite side of the wok. Flick the food into the air and watch it fall back onto the wok. This, of course, takes a little practice.