Cooking at a very high heat for a very short time is the essence of stir-frying. Because food is cooked so quickly, it should be cut into small, uniform pieces to ensure every ingredient is cooked thoroughly. This is another method that requires your full attention, as continuous stirring and sometimes tossing of the ingredients are necessary to prevent food from sticking to the pan.
The best way to stir-fry is in a wok. The sloping sides and rounded bottom are specially designed so food can be quickly browned in the "belly" of the pan and then moved up to the sides, where it finishes cooking more slowly. Traditionally, Chinese woks are cast iron and take a while to heat up. Most woks today are made of carbon steel, which heats up and cools down more quickly. The wok is placed on a metal ring which sits over the burner. When it's very hot, oil is added, followed by the food.
Best candidates: Broccoli, cabbage, eggplant, bell peppers, mushrooms, pork, chicken, shrimp, scallops and tofu.
Equipment: Wok or a large heavy-gauge skillet (from $20-$200, depending on brand). Calphalon's flat-bottomed wok (model C155) features a hard anodized exterior, cool handles, a nonstick finish and a lifetime warranty ($100).
* Be prepared: Vegetables should be properly diced or chopped; meats should be trimmed of fat and sliced. Spices should be laid out on a plate and ready to go.
* If cooking a meat and vegetable dish, brown meat first, then push it to the sides of the wok before adding veggies.
* Use extra-virgin olive oil from a spray pump to coat your wok.
Try this: Heat a nonstick wok over high heat; spray with oil. Add 1/2 cup chopped onions, 1 minced garlic clove and a dash of red pepper flakes; stir-fry for about 30 seconds. Add 1/2 cup chicken broth and 1/2 cup white wine; simmer for about 2 minutes. Add 1/2 pound of medium-size shrimp; cover and cook for 5 minutes.