A few weeks back, I was sitting at my dining table, having my stir-fried vegetables that tasted like a steamed meal, and was thinking what gone wrong with it? How to stir fry vegetables in a wok like the Chinese restaurants? So I thought of reaching out to my Chef friends for the answers. And here I am giving you all the information, tips, and tricks I got and using, to date to make my stir fry successful.
How to Stir fry vegetables in a wok?
Stir fry means frying vegetables in high heat and less fat at greater speed. The metal of the wok and flavors from the stir-fried vegetables on high heat brings out the ‘wok-hei’ or ‘taste of wok’ (smoky flavor) in the vegetables. This is the secret taste in Chinese meals that we often fail to replicate at home.
Stir-frying in the proper Chinese way is smooth and easy. Don’t ever think otherwise. Stir-frying vegetables in a wok takes only 10 minutes. But within these 10 minutes, we do a lot of mistakes that degrade the taste of a perfect wok-cooked vegetable stir fry. Follow these 5 steps to make the perfect and proper Chinese style vegetable wok stir fry. Try these and your meal will definitely have that ‘wok hei’ flavor.
1. Choosing the right heat source:
High heat, is the key to cook a great wok stir fry vegetables. Fast heating stimulates faster evaporation of moisture from your ingredients while imparting the smoky flavor in the meal. The recommended BTU is between 1500k – 200k BTU. You can read this article to know more on the best BTU for wok cooking.
The amount of heat our induction oven or electric/gas oven generates is 9 to 10 times lower than the recommended heat for wok cooking perfect stir fry. Chefs use big commercial burners to cook great wok vegetable stir fry. But all of us don’t have the opportunity or suitability to use an extreme heat source like a high BTU wok burner.
However, following the below 4 steps, you can cook delicious stir fry vegetables at home too. Not absolutely like the restaurant-style but far better than your regular stir fry. But if you have an outdoor kitchen or planning to have one, then I highly recommend this GasOne 200, 000 BTU Square Heavy- Duty Single Outdoor Burner.
2. Use Oil with Higher Smoking Point
The smoking point of oil means the temperature at which it burns and smokes. If you use an oil, having a low smoking point, as stir-frying in a wok needs high heat, soon the oil will burn and induce burnt flavor in your meal. When the oil is burnt not only that the flavor will get degraded but also beneficial nutrients and phytochemicals found in oil will be destroyed. Harmful free radicals increases in a burnt oil.
Hence using oil with a higher smoking point is essential. Usually, the more refined an oil is, the greater the smoker point it has. Because refining an oil reduces the number of impurities in oil, as a result chances of getting burnt decrease. Refined oil also has a neutral taste and odor. Clearly, it will not affect the flavor and smell of a wok-cooked vegetable stir fry. So, if you are wondering how to stir fry vegetables in a wok properly? Change your oil first.
There are oils that are solely dedicated to cook in high heat. Like this grapeseed oil, I use for my wok cooking.
Here is a list of oils with their smoking points –
|320 degrees F (unrefined)
|440 degrees F (refined)
|450 degrees F
|450 degrees F (Refined)
|Light olive oil
|468 degrees F
|400 degrees F
|225 degrees F
|Extra virgin olive oil
|410 degrees F
|350 degrees F
|400 degrees F (Refined)
|350 degrees F
|430 degrees F
|520 degrees F
3. Wok size and number of ingredients
Picking the right wok size is crucial. The 14 inch wok is the standard size that we all have mostly at home. Even if you have a small, medium or large-sized wok, you need to take vegetables according to the size of the wok. Crowding the wok is the biggest mistake. Space is key. The less amount of vegetables are there in your wok, the tastier the meal will come out. So always cook in smaller batches.
Also, make sure your wok is properly seasoned. (Read: Do you need to season a stainless steel wok?)
I am not illustrating it much, as it is a must and we all know that. A smooth surface of the wok radiates heat like a hot sun. The smooth and steep walls will let your food glide at the bottom of the wok. The heat radiating from the seasoned surfaces of the wok walls will concentrate heat in the middle of the wok, and your vegetable will cook evenly while retaining the flavors.
4. Smaller and dried ingredients
Vegetables are full of water. If your wok is crowded with vegetables, then the chances are even if your wok is at extremely high temperature, veggies will not get enough heat to evaporate the water coming out of them. Then they will boil in their own water. Instead of stir fry, you will get steamed vegetables. Also, different recipes demand different ingredient sizes.
But to cook stir fry vegetables in a wok, always go with the smaller surface area. The lower the surface area the easier to evaporate all the water from the veggies. When you are cooking on an electric, induction, or gas stove, even the highest heat is not enough to stir fry vegetables in a wok.
Hence, to cook great vegetable wok stir fry you need to make sure the sizes of the ingredients are smaller. Also, use a paper towel to soak up any water from the vegetables to ensure less work for your wok. This will definitely bring the ‘wok-hei’ flavor to your meal.
5. Preheat the Wok:
Preheating the wok to make the base ready is the key to perfectly cook stir fry vegetables in a wok. Crank the stove all the way up and heat the wok, then do the water droplet test. Sprinkle some water on the wok, if it evaporates fast, then the wok is perfectly ready to start cooking. Now put oil and take the wok out of the heat. Swirl the wok to create a non-stick surface with the help of the oil.
Line up your ingredients. Because you need to cook as fast as possible. Put the aromatics first and then add vegetables. The sound and smell of stir-fried vegetables will let you know that your meal is ready. Here is a great video, demonstrating all of the above tips I have mentioned.
Watch how to stir fry vegetables in a wok properly in this video while following my tips.
If you are wondering, how to stir fry vegetables in a wok? These 5 steps are crucial to follow. High heat is an essential ingredient in your wok cooking. However, if you don’t have a wok burner, don’t worry. Just keep the ingredients dry, cook smaller batches, pick the right oil, preheat the wok, do the water droplet test, and then start stir-frying. The entire process will hardly take 10 minutes and this is how you will land on to the perfect vegetable wok stir fry.