Cooking a stir fry with a blisteringly hot pan and a list of ingredients can be daunting, especially when you don’t want to under or over cook anything. Getting the order of the stir fry right is a first good step.
The correct order can make all the difference so it’s important to have an idea of the process before you start. As a general rule:
You should stir fry the meat first, followed by the vegetables, then the noodles, and finally the sauce. This will ensure that each ingredient is adequately cooked but that vegetables still retain a nice crisp texture.
Don’t be afraid to remove items from the pan once they are cooked, especially if your pan is small. You can add them back in later to finish the dish.
Some recipes may call for a different order than I mentioned so this post looks at what works best, including when you should remove items from the pan and how to prepare the veggies for better results.
What Should Be Done Before You Start A Stir Fry?
First, ensure all your ingredients are prepped and ready to go before you start cooking.
Wash, drain, and chop the vegetables, slice the meat, cook and drain the noodles, and mix up the sauce. Having everything ready will make the actual cooking process go much more smoothly.
The noodles are usually done “al dente” so they can be finished in the wok.
It’s also important to have everything within reach as you’ll be cooking quickly and the last thing you want is to have to stop to look for something. I like to set everything up on a plate or in bowls next to the stove (known as “mise en place” in cooking terms!).
Note that if you’re using frozen vegetables, you can just cook them straight from the freezer, no need to thaw them at all.
You’ll also want to make sure that your pan is hot before you start cooking – see my post on stir-fry temperatures. The best way to do this is to put it on the stove over high heat and let it heat up for a minute or two until it’s smoking hot.
Once the pan is hot, you can add oil and swirl around – bring the oil temperature up before adding your first ingredients.
Once you start cooking, things will move quickly. Be prepared to stir the ingredients frequently so that they don’t burn. And remember, stir-frying is all about high heat and quick cook times.
Do You Cook The Meat Or Vegetables First In Stir-Fry?
This is probably the most common question when it comes to stir-frying. If you add everything in at once, the vegetables will most likely end up overcooked and mushy, or the meat raw.
You should almost always cook the meat first when stir-frying unless your recipe tells you to cook the vegetables first.
The reason to do it this way is that meat or other proteins take longer to cook than vegetables. By frying it first, you can ensure that it’s cooked through before tackling the veggies.
This is especially important with chicken or pork as they need to be cooked thoroughly in a wok.
Once the meat is done, you have the option of removing it or adding the vegetables on top. This usually depends on the type of veg and amount.
I often remove the meat from the pan and set it aside on a plate whilst cooking the vegetables. If your veg is the type that will cook really quickly like delicate greens or beansprouts, you can leave the meat in the wok and just add the veggies to it.
But if you’re using something like broccoli or peppers, which take a little longer, it’s best to do them separately otherwise the meat may become overdone.
I went through the best way to cook onion, garlic, and meat together in a previous post on the site.
What Order To Cook Vegetables In Stir Fry
The order in which you add the vegetables to the pan can also be important as some veggies cook quicker than others.
Usually, I like to go with the hard-to-soft rule, so harder vegetables are first followed by softer veggies.
The first things to go in would be items like bell peppers, carrots, onions, broccoli, and other dense vegetables.
Next would be softer veg such as mushrooms, beansprouts, sugar snap peas, spinach, bok choi, zucchini, etc.
Of course, this all depends on how finely you’ve chopped the vegetables and how crisp you like them in the finished product. If you prefer crisp, almost raw peppers in your stir-fry you would add them later on with the softer items.
Note that if you’ve chopped the veg very finely, they’ll all cook at roughly the same rate so you could experiment with cooking everything together.
Should You Remove Items From The Pan?
Removing items from the pan as you work through your stir-fry is very much a case-by-case thing. It depends a lot on how big your wok is, what you’re cooking, and how hot you usually have your pan.
If you’ve only got a small pan then you will want to cook things in batches before adding them back in toward the end. It’s important not to overcrowd the ingredients as they will not cook as intended.
I like to remove the meat or protein from the wok once it’s cooked to concentrate on the rest of the stir fry. This means you don’t overcook the protein and undercook the latter items.
You can even cook your vegetables in batches to get a nice char on them without them steaming in one big pile.
When To Add Sauce To Stir-Fry
Add the sauce to your stir fry as the last ingredient. It needs very little cooking so just needs heating through and mixing with the other ingredients.
Once the vegetables are done, put the cooked meat or protein back in (if you removed it), add your noodles, and then add the sauce.
Give everything a good mix-up to make sure it is all coated with your tasty sauce.
Keep stir-frying for a minute or two until the noodles are heated through and the sauce has mixed thoroughly.
Do You Need To Pre-Cook Veggies For Stir Fry
There’s no need to precook the vegetables for your stir fry, especially if you’ve chopped them up into fairly small pieces.
Stir-frying is hot and fast and leaves the vegetables “just cooked” so they are still crisp. Remember to use a hot pan or wok to ensure they cook properly in a short time. I’ve covered the importance of a good wok in a previous post.
If you are using some of the more dense veggies such as cauliflower or broccoli, and don’t want to chop them up finely, you can blanch them beforehand so that they will not need long to finish off in the wok.
I hope this article has helped you understand the best order in which to cook your stir-fry ingredients.
For my stir fries, I like to go with an order of oil, meat, vegetables, noodles, and then sauce. I find it works best if you remove the meat to cook up the veggies and then add it back in when the veg is almost ready, before adding the noodles and sauce.
If you’ve only got a small pan it’s definitely best to cook in batches to avoid overcrowding the ingredients.
Of course, these methods are not set in stone and you can always mix things up a bit to suit your own tastes and preferences.
Just make sure that everything is cooked (especially the meat!) before serving it up!
Have any questions? Ask me in the comment section below and I’ll get back to you.
Most cooks have experienced the bitter taste of burnt garlic while stir-frying it. Burning garlic is easy to do but luckily, there are a few ways to avoid it. Here's how. If you prefer adding...
So you've bought yourself a fabulous new carbon steel or cast iron wok and just want to try it out as soon as possible. However, you have probably heard that these types of pans will need seasoning...