How to Cook Chicken Stirfry

My dear rebel friend, it’s time to grow up and learn how to cook a decent meal.

I know, I know, the kitchen is a scary place: there’s all kinds of things that can set you on fire, a spice rack with spices you’ve never even heard of before, sharp objects that can slice and dice you, and an oven that has probably gone unused since you moved in.

If you want to eat healthier, save money, and/or impress your husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend/date, you need to learn how to cook at least one decent meal.

No, heating up a frozen dinner in the microwave doesn’t count.

Fortunately, I’m going to teach you how to make a ridiculously healthy, fun, and delicious meal that will take you all of 30 minutes.

I’m a big fan of making small changes, so rather than overwhelm you with all kinds of crazy options, I’m going to keep things excruciatingly simple, and allow you to build some confidence and momentum before expanding into other meals and more difficult variations.

My History With Cooking

Up until about two years ago, I had no freaking clue what I was doing in the kitchen.

I knew how to cook burgers on a grill, dump some salad dressing into one of those pre-made salad bags and shake it up, and boil spaghetti and add a can of Prego.  I wasn’t what you would call a “good cook,” because I really didn’t “know what I was doing.”

Over the past few years of running Nerd Fitness however, I’ve finally gotten over my fear of cooking (okay, so maybe it wasn’t so much fear as it was apathy and laziness) and learned how to cook a few decent meals (like chicken, asparagus, and brown rice).

I now quite enjoy preparing a meal for myself and others knowing that I actually MADE it.  This is one of the coolest feelings in the world, and it makes the food taste that much better.

So, if you’re one of those people who’s never cooked and has no idea where to start, fear not young Padowan, for there is hope for you yet.

Allow me to show you the light.

Chicken Vegetable Stir-fry

Last week while at Kina Backpackers Hostel on Waiheke Island, Jonas, David, Kimberly, Erica, and myself all decided to cook dinner together.

I volunteered to contribute in one of the only ways I knew how: “I’ll cook a chicken vegetable stir-fry!”  I had no idea what kind of vegetables we had or what kind of spices and sauces were available in the house, but as long as I had some chicken and a pan I knew I could MacGuyver a decent meal out of it.

As it turned out, we had fresh chicken breast, carrots, cucumbers, mushrooms, peppers, and onions.  No soy sauce, no other sauce, but we did have olive oil, salt and pepper, and fresh lemon.  Now, I had never cooked with any of these vegetables before, and not having any specific stir-fry sauce was also new to me, but I knew this type of meal is so easy that even I couldn’t screw it up.

Here’s how I cooked it, and how you can do the same.

A quick note to you great cooks out there: yeah, I’m probably doing something wrong; yes, I know you can marinate the meat beforehand to bring out the flavor.  I’m working on teaching folks to crawl before they can walk, so that’s why things are so simple here – feel free to add your suggestions in the comments at the end, but keep things simple!

Ingredients and Supplies

Here’s what you need for ingredients:

  • Fresh chicken breast – you know, the kind you can buy at the store for like four bucks for a large amount of chicken.  Note: once you buy fresh chicken, you should cook it within 24 hours or toss it in the freezer.  The chicken will resemble something like this:
  • Fresh vegetables: this depends on what kind of vegetables you like.  “But I don’t like vegetables!” You’re going to have to learn, sweetheart.  I hated vegetables until I was 22 (no joke), and now I love them.  You don’t need to start with a billion different kinds.  Pick one, two, or three that you love.  For me, that would be string beans, broccoli, and probably carrots.  Yes, if you only like broccoli, you can still make a mean chicken-broccoli stir-fry.  And yeah, you can go with frozen vegetables if you’re in a bind or like to stock up on food all at once, but I think going with fresh and cutting them yourself makes for a better meal.
  • Some sort of cooking sauce/oil: If you don’t mind the extra sugar and sodium, pick up a bottle of low-sodium soy sauce (if you like the taste of soy sauce).  If not, a simple bottle of olive oil or coconut oil and a fresh lemon or lime will be enough to get you a decent flavor.
  • Spices: Check your counter top or pantry, I bet you have a spice rack.  At the least, some salt and pepper.  Garlic powder or onion powder is good as well.  All we had at our hostel was salt and pepper, so that’s what I used.
  • A sweet potato or two (optional): If just chicken and veggies doesn’t sound like enough food to you, or you’re trying to build muscle and need more calories, or maybe you just want some variety, pick up a sweet potato or two.  If you don’t know what they look like, they look like smaller version of a regular potato and the insides are orange.  And they’ll be under the sign labeled “sweet potato.” In the “sweet potato” section.

Here’s what you need for supplies:

  • Wok/skillet/pan – Something that you can cook the chicken and vegetables in.  If you don’t have one, go to Target and buy one for $15 bucks.  The non-stick ones are worth the extra money, by the way.
  • Sharp knife – To cut your vegetables and chicken.  Invest in a decent knife – it’ll make your life in a kitchen ten times easier.
  • Spatula – To flip the chicken and vegetables.
  • Stove top – Duh.
  • Oven (optional)In case you want to add in the sweet potatoes.
  • Tin foil and cookie sheet /tray (optional) – For the sweet potatoes.

Preparation

Okay! So we have our ingredients.  Now lets get everything ready.

  • Wash your hands. We don’t need the germs from your Xbox controller on the chicken now do we?  I kid, I kid.
  • But seriously, wash them.
  • Optional (sweet potatoes): Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Cut up your sweet potato into thin discs, maybe a centimeter thick.
  • Optional (sweet potatoes): Line a cookie sheet with tin foil, put your sweet potato “discs” on the tray, and drizzle them with olive oil.  Use your hands to make sure the top of each is covered with olive oil, and then flip them over and do the same to the other side.   Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  • Wash your vegetables. If you got your vegetables from the store, it’s important to wash them.  Run them under your faucet for a few seconds, and then lay them out to dry on paper towels.
  • Cut up your vegetables.  Cut your veggies into bite sized pieces.  If it’s broccoli, cut it into tiny florets (I think that’s the right word for them…if not, OOOPS).  If it’s string beans, cut them in half.  If it’s carrots, cut them into tiny slices.  Here’s what our vegetables looked like all cut up (THANKS Jonas!):

  • Cut your chicken! Right now, you have a giant blob of a chicken breast sitting in front of you.  It’s pink, it’s gooey, and feels weird to touch.  Get used to it.  Place the chicken on a cutting board, and using your knife, start cutting the chicken into small pieces.  I like to lay the chicken the long way, cut it into vertical half inch strips, and then cut each strip in half the other way.  You should be left with a plate full of tiny chicken pieces.
  • Wash your hands again. Get all of that raw chicken gunk off your hands.

Directions

As Izzy Mandelbaum famously once said, “It’s GO TIME!”  Here’s what you need to do next:

  1. Optional – stick your sweet potatoes in the oven, and set the timer for 15 minutes.
  2. Put your skillet on the stove top, and set the temperature to medium (on a 1-9 stove top, I go with 5).
  3. Dump all of your chicken into the skillet/pan.  If it’s in a giant glob, use your spatula to spread the pieces out.
  4. Add your sauce: If it’s soy sauce, squirt some of on top of your chicken.  If it’s olive oil, drizzle it over your chicken.  Note: your chicken does NOT need to be swimming in the stuff, just enough to coat the chicken will suffice.  I learned my lesson on this after I accidentally used half a bottle of soy sauce on my first attempt.
  5. Add some flavor: If you have a lemon/lime, cut a wedge and squirt it on your chicken.  If you have some spices (sea salt and ground pepper, garlic powder, etc.), give it a healthy shake over the pan.  I like a lot of pepper, but I go light on the salt.
  6. Hang out. It’s going to take some time for that chicken to cook.  This is where I amuse myself by using my spatula and flipping over parts of the chicken, toss it up in the air, and pretend like I know what I’m doing.  I’d say it generally takes about 10-15 minutes for the chicken to cook if you want a ballpark figure.
  7. Check on the chicken. If you’ve seen uncooked chicken, and you’ve seen cooked chicken…you should be able to tell the difference.  The best way I can tell is to use the edge of my spatula to cut through one of the pieces to make sure the inside is COMPLETELY cooked.  I’d rather err on the side of slightly overcooked than undercooked.  Here’s what our cooked chicken looked like:
  8. Once the chicken is done, dump it onto a clean plate. We’ll come back to it in a few minutes.
  9. (Optional): Once the 15 minute timer is done (which should be right around now), pull the potatoes from the oven, use your spatula to flip each of them over, and put them back in for another 15 minutes.
  10. Dump your vegetables into the pan, and repeat the same flavoring process you used on the chicken: Yes, I know some vegetables cook faster than others, but I’m too lazy to figure out those times, and I usually only cook with one or two veggies, so we’re keeping things simple here.  Dump your vegetables into the pan, douse them in your soy sauce/olive oil/lemon/salt/pepper/garlic powder/whatever.
  11. Hang out. Get all dramatic, flip the veggies with your spatula, toss them up in the air with the pan, yell things in foreign languages, whatever works for ya.  When you think your vegetables are done, grab a fork, stick one, wait for it to cool down, and taste it.  If it tastes done, it’s done.
  12. Dump your chicken back in. Dump your chicken back into the vegetables, and give it about another 60-90 seconds.  Use your spatula to flip stuff around, mix it up, and get a good ratio of chicken to vegetables going.  Think of it like a giant party, and you’re helping everybody mingle.
  13. Turn off the stove top, dump your pan of food onto a plate, and either cover it up or serve it up!
  14. (Optional) Pull your sweet potatoes out of the oven once that second 15 minute timer is up, and serve those up as well.
  15. (Optional) Grab an adult beverage – You just finished your first complete meal.  Grab yourself a cold one, pat yourself on the back (not with the hand currently holding the drink, that gets messy), sit down at the dinner table, and enjoy the healthy home cooked meal you just prepared. Yes, I do run a fitness site and enjoy alcohol occasionally.

Tips and Tricks

A few other things to note:

Everybody’s ovens/stove tops are different, so your time to cook will vary based on how much chicken and vegetables you’re cooking! Keep an eye on things the first few times you try this meal (maybe even start a stop watch at the beginning), so you know when to expect your chicken to finish.

Sweet potatoes are tricky. I’ve burned my share of sweet potatoes in the oven because I left them in there too long.  Above I recommend 15 minutes per side; it might only be 10 minutes or 12 minutes in your oven.  Set the timer for 10 minutes, and check on them at that point.  If they look done, flip em over!  If not, give them a few more closely supervised minutes.

Start basic, expand from there. I’m a simple man, so I could eat the above meal every night for the rest of my life and be content.  If you need more variety, feel free to experiment with different spices/sauces/meats (steaktip stir fry – mmmmmm).  Make small changes each time you make the meal, and decide afterward if it was a good change or a bad change.

Try sliced almonds. I bought a bag of sliced almonds to add some last second crunch to my stir fry.  Right when I’d add the chicken back into the mix, I would dump a handful of sliced almonds into the mix – just enough time for them to get some flavor and cook slightly.  They add some good fats and healthy calories to a meal – perfect for somebody trying to stay healthy but build muscle.

Look up other recipes. Again, I’m not a chef, nor do I play one on television.  Look up other recipes online and follow those directions; once you can cook something once, that should give you confidence into trying something else.  Simply buy the ingredients they tell you to, follow their directions, and see how it turns out.

Be proud. Once you can cook a meal or two in the kitchen, you’re better off than a huge portion of our population.  Invite your friends over for dinner every once and a while, offer to cook for your significant other a few times a week, and practice, practice, practice.

How do YOU Stir fry?

So, that’s how I do it.

How do you cook stir fry?

Any advice for a newbie cooker?

If you’re a newbie, do you have any questions?

For the Rebellion…

-Steve

Today’s Rebel Hero: Ricardas P., who ordered a shirt all the way from Lithuania!

He was one of the first dudes to purchase a shirt way back on day one, and patiently waited over two months for it to make its way all the way across the pound and into eastern Europe.

After taking this photo, Ricardas proceeded to run 57 miles per hour on a treadmill for 72 hours straight. He also stopped a bank robbery, threw a minivan over the moon, and then saved an orphaned puppy from a burning building.  I’m not saying the shirt gives people super powers…but hey, the results don’t lie.

Have you ordered your Nerd Fitness shirt yet? Pick one up and send me a photo – you could be the next Rebel Hero!

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192 thoughts on “How to Cook Chicken Stirfry

  1. I like that this article is encouraging people to use their kitchen for more than a beverage-storage center, but I have to say, there are some issues going on here. I would love to see more emphasis on learning the WHYS of cooking so that everyone could be more empowered and confident in the kitchen. To that end, I’ve written a response: http://nerdfitness.com/community/entry.php?3468-Basic-Cooking-Skills-1

  2. I made some chicken stir fry today that turned out REALLY well. The chicken was coated in a sauce of almond butter and the juice from a jar of marinated sweet peppers. The veggie team was comprised of diced zucchini and marinated sweet peppers. It also included one whole lemon (half when preparing when cooking, half added while cooking), some salt, and some lemon pepper. The only thing that wasn’t good and paleo about it was that I had to cook it with vegetable oil (the only cooking oil that we had)…

  3. Great guide! Also, add some chopped bell peppers and onions and fresh garlic cloves. Everyone will be hungry by the time it’s ready…it will smell amazing.

  4. If you want to turn this into curry — super easy…. Add 5-10 tablespoons of curry powder (depends on the heat of your curry powder and how hot you like your curry… the hotter you like it, the more curry powder you use… just be careful if you’ve got the hot stuff… start on the low end and taste…. you can always add more.. but if you burn the skin of your tongue off, you can’t take the excess away as easily!!!). Pour in a can of (full fat) coconut milk and you’re golden! (Literally!). Chicken-vegetable curry in 30 min or less!

  5. Refreshing take on the cooking perspective.  I have never had any problem cooking and perhaps have historically cooked thing that were too good or at least focused on things that were too rich.  Have not a done stir fry in a long while, but will be having one in a very short time.

  6. I’m a university student with limited nutritional options, so I thank you for this advice. You’ve just made my year.

  7. If chopping up the garlic is time consuming and you want it tiny, you can just crush the clove with the side of the blade, then “smear” the clove on the cutting board with the blade held at an angle. Pick off the skin and you are good to go!

  8. I made this today! First meal I ever made 😀 and I must say, it wasn’t too bad lol the chicken was a little dry but I’ll get better obviously. Thanks a lot!

  9. Hi! I’m new here and haven’t tackled the forums yet so thought here might be a good place to post a couple of complex carb replacement tips I have learned:

    1. To cook sweet potato super quick and healthily to add to a meal or salad, just slice one lengthways, take one half, peel it and stab about 20 times with a sharp knife (carefully). Then wack it on a plate in the microwave for about 4mins, no need to add oil or anything. Its ok if it comes out looking a little dry, the inside will be soft and tasty and the outer edges will taste almost fried and crispy! I was terrified it would blow up first time but it didn’t. Time may vary a little, my time is based on a lengthways half of a large one. I do this at work for my salads all the time!

    2. If you miss rice with your stir fry, grate up some cauliflower, place in a microwave container, sprinkle with some water, cover and microwave for 1-2mins. Whilst rice isn’t bad occasionally, it makes me bloat alot and I actually like cauli-rice better than rice! 🙂

  10. Be careful about all that oil you’re using. Yes, it’s good fat, but it’s still fat and you don’t want to add 25g of fat JUST from olive oil.

  11. Cooking paleo is a lot of work! I’m cooking once a day atleast! It sure would be nice to have 3 strapping men in the kitchen to help me like in the picture above!

  12. I’m proud to report, I cooked and ate this but used soisauce and cauliflower. It was really good 

  13. Careful with the soy sauce, it can have gluten in it. Anyway, here’s what I just did: 

    I got a big bag of frozen chicken breast tenders. Thawed them out in the fridge. Sprinkled salt, pepper, chili flakes, and natural poultry spices on them. George Foreman’ed them for 7 minutes or so. (You can get Foreman Grills at a lot of thrift shops for like $5.) Now I have 19 yummy chicken tenders ready to go for snacks, meals, or salads. 
    THEN, I took the chicken juices from the little Foreman juice-catcher. Poured it on fresh kale, and threw the kale on the grill for a minute or so. That was lunch, and it was hella good. 

  14. Oiling/ Seasoning

    After cutting the chicken; put into a bowl and toss with oil (1TBL)/ soy (1tsp) and salt (small pinch)/ pepper (BIG pinch). Make sure to coat the chicken WELL and allow to sit for a few minutes out or… A few hrs in fridge to marinate (pull out and let come to near room temperature for about 15m).

    There may be times where you find the chicken “sticking”… it’s not ready to be moved because it hasn’t seared. Turn your heat up.

    You can toss the veggies and season them (in a separate or washed bowl) as well. In the stir-fry: a small splash of rice vinegar or a bit of lemon juice, orange juice? can go a long way to 1) not adding MORE oil and 2) making the dish even tastier and more interesting.

    Try this:

    1tsp Rice Vinegar
    2TBL Orange Juice
    1/4tsp ginger powder
    1/8tsp cayenne powder
    1tsp Roasted Sesame Oil

    Combine in bowl, pour into pan when just about to re-add the chicken, being sure to stir and really scrape the bottom of the pan. Add back the cooked chicken and accumulated juices.

  15. Only one this wrong with the picture of the Chicken Breast… It says Grain feed… Its supposed to say Grass feed… Paleo for life

  16. You’re kidding yourself and betraying all the healthy intentions by using that teflon plastic toxic cookware. It certainly does get into the food and wreaks bodily havoc for those who consume it. Cancer and illness will find you sooner than later if you keep using them. Far better off using (gasp) some butter or oil in a steel or iron pan.
    Other than that, I say good.

  17. One of the things you  might also consider is taking your oil and putting it into a zip lock bag.  I add my veggies or just the chicken and coat the pieces THAT way.  It’s great because you don’t use too much oil and you cover all the pieces evenly.  There’s no chance of pouring too much oil into the pan either as you can pre-measure it into the bag. Then just moosh in around by squishing the chicken between your hands while it’s in the bag to coat it.  This is also a GREAT way to marinate your chicken.  You can add soya sauce and oil (say 3 tbsp of each) to a bag and add your chicken pieces and coat them and leave them in the fridge for a few hours.
    GREAT with just lemon or even with plain yogurt.  SOOOOO many options…soooo little time!

  18. Pingback: Paleo Baby Blog
  19. AMAZING and a fun way to show me how to make a nice meal!.. To add a good flavor to the chicken you can add Oregano its such a great spice for any meat. Another tip. Oregano, Garlic and salt its an amazing marinade for either your chicken or your meat. Ahh you know what is delicious too. You take chicken breast and put it in aluminum foil marinade with garlic, oregano, a lil bit of salt and put corn, onions, green peppers with some lime or if you have any vinegar dressing those from crafts for your salad you can add some and close it that way the chicken would tender with its own juice. Hope you have an idea!

  20. I just signed on to do Paleo on 5/1. Today was grocery shopping and I decided to try the spaghettie squash recipe. Just saw the video on stiry frying. Now, I’m 75 and widowed, and have never done stir frying. I tried to figure it out a couple of times and it was a disaster. I only like to cook things that are simple and easy. Your videos on spathetti and stiry frying set me back 50 years when I was still a bride and devoured The Joy of Cooking to learn to cook. My husband passed away after a long-term illness. As care giver and also spending weeks at hospitals with him, I lost all desire to cook like I used to, especially now for just myself. Thanks for the step-by-step instructions and great humor (although I could do without some of the crude words. 🙂 ). I’m looking forward to learning some new things and getting healthy again. I gained a lot of stress weight and am determined to get it off. They tell me if I don’t, it will mean doulbe knee replacements. NOT! Looking forward to the challenge. I have about 130 pounds to lose. As to exercise, I cannot do the things you teach, but can do stretch exercises on my bed. My neurologist has okayed these.

  21. A great stirfry sauce is to simply whisk some soy sauce with about a teaspoon of honey and a desh of worchestershire and some grated orange rind.

    Simple and delicious! Don’t need too much, so hopefully you won’t use up all your daily calories :p

  22. Or you can pick up a garlic press. Brilliant things. Place the garlic press, squeeze down and instant garlic paste with no skin. You just clear the skin out of the recepticle after.

  23. Didn’t like veggies til you were 22?! That sounds awful familiar (I’m 22 and hate veggies). I’m new to Nerd Fitness but I’m loving everything I’m reading. Like I said, I hate vegetables but I’ve had a bit of fat around my stomach for a while now and I hate it–gotta get rid of it. Eating better is harder than it sounds because I love greasy bacon cheeseburgers and junk food and I’m also a rather busy college student. But I’m trying! Your site is awesome and I can’ thank you enough for putting something like this out there for us fitness newbs. I saw on another post where you said you’re living in Atlanta? If you’re ever over in the Athens area we should grab a drink downtown (post-workout of course).

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