Thai stir-fry is a cooking style that is very representational of the cuisine of Thailand as a whole. A number of ingredients, from various vegetables to small cuts of meat, are fried quickly over high heat in a wok. Near the end, a spicy sauce is added and cooked until reduced, coating all of the food in glossy syrup. Like traditional Thai cuisine, true Thai stir-fry is a combination of different components that are designed to provide a complete set of flavors along with some spicy heat. The desire for a balanced meal means many Thai stir-fry recipes include a long list of ingredients that can take some time to cut and clean, although the actual cooking time is fairly short.
Vegetables form the base for most Thai stir-fry recipes. The different combinations are endless, although bell peppers, chili peppers, broccoli, onions, scallions, carrots and cabbage are all common. The vegetables are usually fresh and cut into strips or pieces that are all roughly equivalent in size so they cook at the same rate. Unique ingredients such as pineapple, bamboo shoots or bananas also are sometimes used.
To balance the vegetables, meat is a frequent addition to Thai stir-fry. Chicken, shrimp and pork are all found in many recipes. Like the vegetables, the pieces of meat are usually cut so they are similar in size. Firm or fermented tofu can be used in place of meat when desired, although it has to be treated more gently than the meat to prevent it from breaking apart while being stirred.
The high cooking temperatures that are used when making Thai stir-fry can potentially dry out foods in the pan. Using a sauce can help to prevent this from occurring as well as adding flavors that plain meat and vegetables cannot provide. Some ingredients used in stir-fry sauce are rice vinegar, rice wine, soy sauce, sesame oil, fish sauce and oyster sauce. Sugar is usually added to balance some of the flavors, as is a little corn starch slurry to help thicken the liquid when needed.
The general process for making a Thai stir-fry involves heating a wok until it is very hot and then pouring in some oil. If meat is being used, then it is placed in the wok and allowed to brown. It can be left in the pot or removed, depending on the size of the pieces and the type of meat being used. The vegetables are added and cooked until almost done. At this point, the sauce and any remaining ingredients are added to the pan and fried until done, after which it can be poured over white rice and served.