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Fundamentally, this technique is very similar to sauteing. It is a dry heat method for cooking food rapidly in a small amount of oil, it is best used for tender foods and an integral sauce is made in the same pan to coat the food. Foods even get tossed in the pan to cool the pan temperature and promote even cooking, just like saute. The most obvious differences are that stir fry is traditionally done in a wok over very high heat and the ingredients are cut in smaller, uniform pieces appropriate to the higher heat. Think about it, have you ever needed to use a knife to eat a stir-fry?
Woks are fantastic pans to cook with, but only over the right heat source. Wok burners have a concave shape that cradles the wok to provide maximum heat and stability. For a flat cook top, a flat bottomed saute pan works pretty well and there isn't much danger of the pan rolling over! Carbon steel is the preferred type of pan, but you can get good results from aluminum and stainless clad pans. What ever you use, stir-fry works better in small batches than large. Overcrowding the pan will stop a stir-fry in its tracks.
The concept of "mise en place" is particularly important when stir-frying. This is the practice of having all necessary ingredients prepped and at hand before beginning to cook so they are ready to go into the wok exactly as you need them. This includes anything you will need for the sauce. Otherwise, it is likely the foods in the pan would burn before you can gather and add the subsequent ingredients to cool the pan down. The limited addition of stocks or water will help control the pan temperature during cooking, but for the best results it's important to keep the pan hot!
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