The Dyke Kitchen: Hot Tips For A Stir Fry

the dyke kitchen

The Dyke Kitchen is a bi-weekly series about how queerness, identity, culture and love are expressed through food and cooking.


These days, I don’t need dinner to be an event so much as a release. It’s really okay for me eat standing up at the little wooden island in my kitchen while skimming The New Yorker and sort of texting with someone — as long as the making of my dinner involved some drama. And stir frying for me is all about the high heat, the wildly fast stirring, the expressive pouring of sauces from well-above the pan and the explosive sizzle that sets off my smoke alarm, no matter how high my fan is running.

But the thing is, stir frying is quick and uncomplicated, and you can do it with any vegetables you have. You can add a meat, but you don’t have to, and whatever Asian-ish sauces you have at your disposal will do just fine. So it’s totally low overhead entertainment.

I have a few hot tips — many of which I learned from my mom — for what can help your stir fry come together in its best form, and then I’ll show you an example of one that I made this week.

Hot Tips For Stir Frying

To begin, I slip my apron over my head and put on some Whitney. There are few things I like better than singing “I Have Nothing” to some food I’m about to eat, and begging it to stay in my mouth if it dares. The tips:

Chop With Intention
While in other walks of life long and thin are not my jam, these are the shapes that stir fry well. The more surface area that you can expose, the more hot pan contact you can get, so there is more fry on each piece, less steaming, and also less overall cooking time. Plus there is a certain satisfactory crunch on something long and thin, you know, like french fries! So I think about this when I’m slicing onions, garlic, carrots, broccoli — it’s why I think beans stir fry so well — and I like to try to make the shapes of each vegetable around the same size so they cook evenly.

Don’t Crowd The Pan
It seems like it would be convenient to cook everything at once, but you cannot get a fry on anything if there isn’t enough space. If you put everything in together, you’ll get a sort of soggy steam, which might actually be totally delicious, but a stir fry she is not! You gotta do things in batches so they each get their special time with the hot pan, keep the pan well-oiled and then you recombine everything at the end.

Sauce At The End
In some cooking methods, you have to get your flavors in there early for them to make an impact, but you can put a sauce on your stir fry after it’s done most of its cooking. This is great because it keeps your pan clean and ready to sear the shit out of your stir fry elements, and also allows you to maintain a little crisp before smothering the edges in sauce.

Marinate Your Protein
Because your meat, tofu or protein of choice is cooking really fast, and because it’s not getting a ton of time to spend with your sauce combos before it hits your plate, or in my case, bowl, I like to let it sit in some soy sauce and chilis and perhaps some other flavors before I cook it.

How To Make A Stir Fry

Ingredients

The amounts of things are not very important, because it’s more about what you like and your taste than what is the correct amount. But I will say that I had more pork than vegetables on hand, and I’d have liked to have a little more brussels in the mix. I made Japanese short grain rice in my rice cooker (sometimes I will put ginger, chicken broth, sesame seeds and a little kombu in the cooker to makes things super delicious) to eat with this, but you could also do it with noodles or on its own!

½ pound green beans
6 brussel sprouts
1 pound of ground pork
2 cloves of garlic
A thumb tip size piece of peeled ginger
½ an onion
A handful of torn basil leaves
Roasted sesame seeds
Szechuan chili crisp
Soy sauce
Dashi
Worchestire sauce
Mirin
Black garlic molasses
Purple sweet potato vinegar

For the sauces, you can use whatever you have, you just want something salty, sour and spicy, and if you like sweet you can also go that route: oyster sauce, sweet chili sauce, plum sauce, hoisin sauce, teriyaki sauce, Sriracha, sambal oelek, gochujang, even a curry sauce.

Directions
Put the ground pork in a bowl, douse with about a tablespoon soy sauce, a teaspoon of fish sauce, a tablespoon of Szechuan chili crisp, and a pinch of salt. With fork or your hands, mix up the meat so the flavors are evenly spread around.

Cut all of your veggies. Slice your onions, garlic, ginger — I do this in long, thin strips, like mentioned above. Trim your beans and then slice them in half. I also like to slice the brussel sprouts like tiny heads of cabbage.

Heat your pan over medium high heat. I do not have a seasoned wok. My mom says that maybe if I’m lucky, I can get hers — the one she got from her mom — when she’s gone. But I might not be lucky, so I’m pretty down to just cook in the biggest frying pan I own. I cooked this with extra virgin olive oil because that’s what I had, but any oil with a higher smoking point is great for stir fry: grapeseed oil, canola oil, avocado oil. Put in a slug to keep the pan lubricated and expect to put in more with each new batch.

Don’t forget to open your windows and turn on the hood fan if you have one.

Start by frying your beans, and tossing them recklessly around the pan and then chilling for a min so they get brown skin blisters, then move them right along out of the pan and into a bowl.

Add a little more oil, get the pan smoking again and do your brussel sprouts. Toss these bad boys all around until they get some crisps on the edges, and then put them aside.

A touch more oil into the pan and then add the onion. I like to swipe these around the pan and then let them sit for a couple of minutes. I like when onions get kinda burnt, I think it tastes nice. So I’ll let these go til they’re beyond brown, and then I add the garlic and ginger and toss everything together, til the garlic is soft, but not burned. Then put them aside.

For the last part, I turn the heat down and add a little more oil (because my pork is generally not too fatty) and spread it out across the bottom of the pan to try to get some crispy bits on the bottom. Once I hear a good crackle (and the soy sauce will definitely start to smoke a little), I add bigger slugs of soy sauce, more Szechuan chili crisp, Worcestershire sauce, and smaller dashes of dashi, black garlic molasses, purple sweet potato vinegar, mirin on top of the meat.

Stir this all around, and then toss all of the other vegetables back in the pan so they get coated in the sauce. Give it a taste and see what you might need to add more of. When everybody is happily co-mingling at this party in your pan, then go ahead and top everything in a tablespoon of sesame seeds.

That’s it, you’re ready to eat!

Kamala Puligandla lives in LA and is the writer of various autobiographical fictions. She is the distinguished recipient of her parents' leftovers and hair compliments from strangers on the street. Her first novel is forthcoming from Not A Cult. Find her work at kamalapuligandla.com.

Kamala has written 34 articles for us.

11 Comments

  1. Just wanted you to know that I appreciated this line:
    “but you can put a sauce on your stir fry after it’s done most of its cooking.”
    Bringing a strong it’s/its game and I love it.

  2. Thank you so much for this! Growing up white, in a white family with no particular history of stir fry making, stir fry was always a mediocre quick weeknight meal made with a bag of frozen “stir fry” vegetables and whatever else was in the fridge. I hadn’t made it in years until my partner started suggesting it a few months ago. And we’d just about given up on it again when I saw this! We tried stir fry again tonight and it was so much better than before!

    I’m wondering if you have some suggestions on how to cook tofu. I’d always heard if you weren’t deep frying it, you should coat it in cornstarch to get a good crisp. We finally got that tonight when cutting the tofu in big flat triangles instead of tiny squares. But then when I tossed it back in with the veggies to warm things back up, the cornstarch crip melted back into goo. Any thoughts?

  3. Okay why didn’t I see this a week ago when I made a mediocre stir fry 🤦‍♂️ Will be taking this approach next time! I respond well to directions like “toss them recklessly around the pan and then chill for a min,” thank you for this brilliance.

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