Recipe Shorthand: A Slow Cook’s Solution to Fast Stir-Frying

March 07, 2013
By Holly Jennings

Recipe Shorthand


I am speed adverse. I cross-country ski rather than downhill, and close my eyes on roller coasters.


My sole sibling, Heather, loves speed and action. Take this loosely drawn-from-memory photo of a family white river rafting expedition in North Carolina. Whereas my sister as well as everyone else on the raft looks like their having the time of her life, I look tense, maybe a little terrified.

Drawing of rafting photo


After my first cooking session from The Breath of a Wok, the current DCCC pick, I realized I had to figure out a stratagem for dealing with the inherent speed of stir-frying, if I were to enjoy the ride. The quick-cooking of stir-frying is off the charts. It’s really, really, fast. If someone says they don’t have time to make a homemade dinner, they probably haven’t tried stir-frying.


A simple stir-fry may take fifteen or twenty minutes of prep time at most, and then perhaps a total of 2 to 3 minutes of cooking time. Ten seconds for the ginger, a minute or two for vegetables, maybe 30 seconds for the seasonings (soy sauce, Chinese rice wine, etc.), and boom, you’re done. Even the wok, made thin by design to conserve fuel, heats up incredibly fast.


Even though I had my mis-en-place in place for that first stir-fry session, an absolute necessity for this type of cooking, I still felt insecure about my ability to remember the order and timing of ingredients as they hit the wok.


Once the stir-fry gets going, there’s no time to refer back to the instructions in the book. By the time you return to the wok, your aromatics would be burnt.


The solution? A shorthand reference of the ingredients listed in the order in which they’re added to the wok, timing for each, and cooking temps. (Shown at the top of this post.) My handy cheat sheets take the pressure off, making speedy stir-frying exhilarating.


If you don’t thrive on speed, try making a cheat sheet of some sort, suited to how your brain works when cooking. This dead simple tactic may be enough to make stir-frying fun rather than frantic.


0 Comments to “Recipe Shorthand: A Slow Cook’s Solution to Fast Stir-Frying”

  1. Holly, this is a great suggestion. Other than the fact that my entire kitchen becomes engulfed in smoke, the necessity for speed is the most challenging part of stir-frying for me, also. I had the mise en place figured out, but hadn’t thought of the “flash card” idea – I love it!

  2. Great drawing Holly! I knew it was you!
    From your friendly speedy stir-fryer but definitely cross-country-skiing friend!
    Great tips.

  3. “Flash card” is right. It’s kind of like writing down the key words of a speech to keep you going. I hope this idea makes the process more fun for you. It definitely did for me. The other idea is to have a helper read the instructions out to you. I coerced Mike into doing that a few times.

  4. Thanks Deb! You are Cool Hand Luke with the wok. Mike actually did the drawing. He has more skill in that area than me. But he likes to be anonymous, you know. (And now I’ve blown his cover.) One day I’ll track down the photo, and add that to the posting.

  5. what a great idea Holly. I will try it tonight. thanks.

  6. I love the sketch! And your tips, Holly–perfect for nervous wokkers like me. (I feel like wok cooking is so simple that there’s no room for error; however whatever the kitchen task, I usually make errors. But this will help. : )

  7. I love your term–“nervous wokkers.” At tidy way to sum up wok cookers like us. I’m glad the shorthand idea may be of help.


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