Stupidly simple stir-fry

Let us consider the humble stir-fry.

The concept is simple enough – you stir as you fry. Not quite brain surgery.

However, during my 27 years on this planet, I’ve come across quite a few people who seem to find this equation a little perplexing…

I’ve had more than a few friends partake in my stir-fries and the most common comment that I receive is that the dish is full of flavour and texture. The compliment regarding flavour I contribute partially to the stir-fry sauce that I like to use, but texture is something that comes down to one important factor:

All foods take different lengths of time to cook.

See, now that wasn’t so hard, was it?

I quizzed each friend that commented on my stir-fries and there appeared to be a common problem – they were all dumping all the ingredients into a wok at the same time and cooking till the final firm vegetable was cooked…at which point, half of the other ingredients were overcooked.

Anyone who has ever cooked vegetables should understand that capsicum cooks quicker than carrot but slower than snowpeas (as an example), and this is the rule which you should bear in mind when making this dish. The ‘difficult’ part of a stir-fry is the preparation – it might take 15-30 minutes to prepare all the bits and pieces that you want to use, but once they are ready to go, their progression into the wok should be quick and uniform.

From the photo above, you can see the components of today’s stir-fry:

snow peas / mangetout
bok choi (you can see that I’ve actually separated the leafy tops from the stalks since they take different lengths of time to cook)
red & green capsicum
half a rump steak, trimmed of all fat and sinew and finely sliced
6 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
a brown onion, trimmed and cut into 8 segments (not actually in the photo)

I like to brown my main protein (whether beef, chicken, seafood or tofu) in a separate frying pan before adding to a stir-fry, but that really is a personal quirk. A high heat will help you to cook quickly without liquid seeping from the veg into the bottom of the stir-fry and making it ‘soggy’, and veg that takes almost no time to cook (such as snow peas and bok choi) can actually be stirred through once everything else has cooked and the heat has been turned off – the residual heat of the dish will cook these veg during their trip from stove top to the kitchen bench.

Once you have ordered your veg in order of those which take the longest time to cook to those which cook in a heartbeat, you’ll need to actually go ahead with it. Heat up the wok with 1-2 tbsp of oil till it begins to smoke, then add the veg in progression – starting with one and adding the next as soon as the veg in the wok begins to soften.

Beef Stir-fry

Whatever you have in the fridge or pantry!

I generally make a stir-fry when I have bits of veg in the fridge…the odd bit of cabbage, a handful of snowpeas, half a capsicum, a few lonely bunches of bok choi. There is no rule and there’s generally no limit – but I’d suggest sticking with vegetables that cook relatively quickly (so root vegetables are generally not great, except for lotus root!)

The other rule with preparing vegetables for a stir-fry is that you want to cut them into similar sized pieces. This is because a stir-fry should be cooked quickly, and ensuring uniform size means they cook quickly and evenly.

Stir-Fry Sauce

Most people flavour their stir-fry with a simple drizzle of oyster sauce, however my preferred is sweet, salty, spicy sauce that can be boiled and bottled up and stored in the fridge for up to a month, ready to flavour any dish which needs a little boost.

1/2 cup kecap manis (sweet Indonesian soy sauce)
1/4 cup oyster sauce
1-3 thai birdseye chillis, finely sliced (depending on how spicy you like your food)
1/4 cup cold water

Combine these into a small saucepan over a low heat and bring to a simmer, allowing to cook until the mixture is reduced by 1/3. Pour into a clean container and store in the fridge for up to a month.

[tags]stirfry, Asian, noodles, beef[/tags]


  1. That looks great and makes me want stir-fry on Chinese New Year.

    I generally either use precooked meat left over from something else, or cook the meat in the wok before I start my vegetables. I can then add the meat back in at the last minute, with just enough time to warm it up.

    • That’s a good idea! I’ve often tossed in leftover bulgogi or shredded chicken from a roast just because it’s lying in the fridge, unloved. A great way to turn leftovers into a new dish :)

  2. You sound like a real stir fry expert to me. I love stir fry so I may have to try that sauce soon – I love the combo of salty, sweet, and spicy.

  3. David Lane says:

    Love the sauce recipe. Will have to try it.

  4. Wonderful post, thank you! Speaking of stupidity (on my part–b/c your topic is something I definitely struggle with!), are your ingredients listed in reverse order?

  5. What kind of noodles did you use in your stir fry?
    Your photographs always makes my mouth water- I can almost smell how great this is going to be!

    • I tend to use hokkien noodles because I love their colour and texture and I think they’re robust enough to deal with a stir fry and this quite pungent sauce that I love :) Thank you for the lovely compliment about my photos, I’m so glad you enjoy them :)

  6. That looks really good! For the longest time, I always dumped everything in at the same time when I tried stir-frying things, which probably explains why for the longest time everything I stir-fried was half-soggy!

  7. You’ve made this stir-fry look so easy! Your photos are stunning!

  8. Totally! I use all odd ingredients in my fridge for stir fry as well.

  9. I will be trying the sauce recipe for sure! Also, I know this might be a really silly question but why does the cup of water need to be cold? Does this make a difference?

  10. I’ve always found that the biggest problem for home stir frying, aside from what you’ve mentioned which is easy to pick up, is being able to maintain enough heat to properly stir fry without stewing the contents.

    Nice looking stir fry, with quite an extensive array of vegetables :)

  11. I love stir fries….and all the flavors!! and yes, once you know which veggies cook at what time frames…it makes it so much easier and tastier.

    • Absolutely! It’s a great meal to master as it means that so long as you’ve got some veggies in the fridge, there’s always something to use them for :)

  12. What a fantastic post Ellie! Glad that you broke it down to bits; making everything seem easy. Your stir fry looks fab! Great idea about the stir fry sauce btw.. :mrgreen:

  13. Mmmmmm, that looks so good! Even the mushrooms (and I hate mushrooms!) I’m not sure how I clicked onto your site, but I’m glad I did! ๐Ÿ˜€

  14. Your photos are so beautiful. Your blog is like reading a gorgeous coffee table book . I wish I had your talent for photography.

    The stir fry looks great. Unfortunately, I’m guilty of throwing everything in the pan all at once. No more though!! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Thank you so much for the lovely compliment, I’m so glad you like the blog :) And I hope this post helped you with your stir fry technique :)

  15. nom nom! that looks awesome, I am so going to have to make that – its been ages since I tried and it never looked like yours!

    Photos are looking really good too :)

  16. Deb in Indiana says:

    Gorgeous stir-fry pictures!

    I agree about browning meat separately — you can do veggies separately, too, if you find you have screwed up your order and some are getting overcooked.

    I will try the sauce recipe if I ever find this Indonesian soy sauce people keep talking about.


    • Very true – I have a friend who cooks everything separately and then tosses it together at the end…which makes sense, but just makes too much washing up as far as I’m concerned ๐Ÿ˜‰

  17. Looks great.

  18. I’m constantly screwing up stir-fries and I really needed some guidelines. Thanks so much for this! I’ve shared with my readers, too. And your photos are beautiful!

  19. Fabulous, easy take on stir-fries. Love the pictures. Am eager to try your simple stir-fry sauce.

  20. Alexandra says:

    Awesome blog! Where can I find the sweet Indonesian soy sauce? I went to an Asian farmer’s market yesterday and was overwhelmed by the number of sauces they had. I ended up buying a pre-made stir fry sauce that wasn’t up to par. Thanks!

    • Hi Alexandra,

      I’ve never heard of an Asian farmers market before! Where are you from, out of curiosity? :) What you’re looking for is Kecap Manis and you should be able to find it in any decent Chinese grocery store. If that fails, try ebay or Amazon :)


  21. it has took me far too long to find your website! I love it! ๐Ÿ˜€


  22. This is a stir fry kind of night!

  23. Okay here’s my stupid question. Everyone talks about chopping up fresh veg which is cool if you can afford fresh or you have a family that can go through a bunch of fresh stuff before it goes a bit on the limp and wonky side. I live alone and so to save a truck load of waste i always buy bags of frozen veg. The idea of sitting down and picking out the peas from the corn and brocolli so different cooking time can be allowed for seems a nighmare so how do you get on using bags of frozen stuff ?

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