In theory, a stir-fry is the model weeknight dinner. It’s fast, it combines vegetables and protein in a single dish, it’s relatively healthy, and it requires no accompaniment other than rice. (OK, fine, maybe also some Riesling or a beer, preferably a pale ale.) But many home cooks shoot themselves in the foot by being far too ambitious in their stir-frying. Stir-fries can accommodate many different kinds of meat and produce — but that doesn’t mean you should dump the entire contents of your refrigerator in your skillet or wok. In fact, the best stir-fries are as restrained as James Blake’s eponymous album: They combine two principle ingredients — one protein, one vegetable — with a trio of essential aromatic seasonings and a simple, delicious sauce. The below recipe, featuring chewy tofu (made chewier via freezing, if you have time) and vernal asparagus, is the ideal stir-fry iteration, as far as I’m concerned. But it can serve as a blueprint for virtually any stir-fry, so long as you remember three fundamental rules.
The first is to cook your protein and your vegetable separately, and combine them only after both are fully cooked. Protein — whether chicken, pork, beef, shrimp or tofu — should be stirred minimally so that it maintains undisturbed contact with the hot pan and acquires a nice, seared exterior. (If you’re tempted to prod mercilessly at your protein, distract yourself by chopping your other ingredients as it sears.) Meanwhile, vegetables must be stirred fairly often so that they cook through quickly without any part getting mushy. Attempts at stir-frying protein and vegetables simultaneously will result in an erratic mélange of overcooked and undercooked ingredients, many of which will end up slimy and tattered.