I turn to stir-fries a lot when I need a simple dinner. I love that the proteins and veggies cook together, and that I can serve it on steamed rice I make in the rice cooker. Part of what makes a good stir-fry is a tasty sauce, but I’m usually lazy and just pour whatever condiments I find in the fridge straight into the pan without measuring — sometimes with success, but more often with only mediocre results.
This year I decided it was time to level up my stir-fries, so I set to work developing an all-purpose stir-fry sauce that could be used in stir-fries ranging from protein and vegetable combinations to noodles. A good stir-fry sauce has a balance of savory flavors, with a little bit of acid and sweetness and some complexity from ginger and garlic. Mixed with the juices of whatever proteins and veggies you’re cooking, it should coat everything nicely and tie all the disparate ingredients together.
The sauce I landed on is made with eassy-to-find ingredients and comes together in less than five minutes. Once you have a batch made, just pour what you need into the pan at the end of cooking and you’re done. No need to pull out all the condiments and measuring cups and spoons again until you run out of sauce and need to make more.
What You’ll Need to Make All-Purpose Stir-Fry Sauce
Here are the ingredients you’ll need.
- Chicken or vegetable broth: Adds savory, complex flavors and richness.
- Tamari or soy sauce: Lends umami and salty notes.
- Shaoxing wine or dry sherry: Adds depth and complexity.
- Brown sugar: Brings a touch of sweetness.
- Rice vinegar: Its acidity balances out the savory and sweet flavors.
- Garlic and ginger powders: Add the signature flavors found in most stir-fries.
- Sesame oil: Lends toasty goodness.
- Hot sauce (optional): Adds spicy heat.
- Cornstarch (optional): Use it if you’d like to thicken the sauce.
For a gluten-free sauce, make sure to use gluten-free soy sauce or tamari. For vegans or vegetarians, use veggie broth.
Why Dried Garlic and Ginger?
It might seem strange to use powdered garlic and ginger here, but dried instead of fresh means the sauce will last much longer in the refrigerator or the freezer. Also, because the sauce is cooked just briefly at the end of stir-frying, fresh ginger and garlic wouldn’t cook long enough to lose their raw texture and flavors. For an extra punch of ginger and garlic, stir-fry some fresh ginger and garlic until softened before adding the sauce at the end.
How to Use All-Purpose Stir-Fry Sauce
Once you have a jar of stir-fry sauce made, the cooking can begin! Here’s a general rule of thumb for how much sauce to use.
You’ll need 1/2 cup sauce for every:
- 2 pounds of protein and vegetables
- 12 ounces fresh or 8 ounces dried noodles + 1 pound protein and vegetables
If you’d like to thicken the sauce, which is recommended for protein and vegetable stir-fries, whisk 2 teaspoons cornstarch into 1/2 cup of sauce before using. Noodles (I like using Japanese udon or Chinese wheat noodles) absorb the stir-fry sauce and don’t need to be thickened with cornstarch.
When stir-frying, remember to have everything prepped beforehand and use high heat to get the best flavors and textures out of the ingredients. Don’t crowd the pan, which may mean stir-frying the ingredients separately first. Add the sauce at the very end, after everything’s cooked and returned to the pan.
Note that each stir-fry may need different amounts of sauce or thickener: Leafy green vegetables may let off a lot of water and thin out the sauce, so add a little more cornstarch. Ground meats absorb sauce easily, so you may need to add a splash more sauce at the end. If you make the sauce in a big batch, adding more to the pan is easy.
How Long Does Stir-Fry Sauce Last?
This recipe makes enough stir-fry sauce for about four batches of stir-fry. The sauce will last for up to two weeks in the fridge and for two months in the freezer — make sure to give the sauce a stir before you use it. If you like, you can portion it into an ice cube tray to freeze, then pull out just what you need.
How To Make an All-Purpose Stir-Fry Sauce
YieldMakes about 2 cups
Prep time 5 minutes
- 1 1/4 cups
low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
- 1/2 cup
tamari or soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons
Shaoxing wine or dry sherry
- 2 tablespoons
packed light or dark brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon
- 1 1/2 teaspoons
- 1 1/2 teaspoons
- 1 teaspoon
toasted sesame oil
Optional spice: Sriracha, sambal oelek, or other Asian hot sauce
Optional thickener: 2 teaspoons cornstarch for every 1/2 cup sauce
Pint jar or medium bowl
Measuring cups and spoons
Whisk or fork
Measure and stir. Place 1 1/4 cups chicken or vegetable broth, 1/2 cup tamari or soy sauce, 2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine or dry sherry, 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar, 1 tablespoon rice vinegar, 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder, 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger, and 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil in a pint jar or medium bowl. Whisk or stir with a fork until the sugar is dissolved.
Add spice (optional). If desired, add an Asian hot sauce 1 teaspoon at a time, tasting with each addition, until desired heat level.
Add thickener (optional). For a thicker sauce, whisk 2 teaspoons cornstarch into 1/2 cup sauce until dissolved right before using (skip the cornstarch if making a noodle stir-fry).
Use in stir-fries.
We recommend 1/2 cup sauce for:
Option 1: 2 pounds protein and vegetables
Option 2: Noodles (cook 12 ounces fresh or 8 ounces dried) + 1 pound protein and vegetables
Cook all proteins, vegetables, and/or noodles first and toss together in the pan. Add the stir-fry sauce last, cooking and tossing until everything is well-coated and the sauce is thickened if using cornstarch. Add more sauce 1 tablespoon at a time if desired.
Storage: The stir-fry sauce can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week or frozen for up to 2 months.