As its name seems to imply, making a stir-fry involves stirring vegetables and meat in hot oil using a wok or another type of pan. However, Young, author of “Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge,” told Food & Wine that the Cantonese word of chau in regard to stir-fry refers to a motion that can best be described as tumbling.
The translation of chau as it references stir-fry may date to the creation of the “How to Cook and Eat in Chinese” cookbook by Buwei Yang Chao in 1945, according to American Table. However, in the book, the term stir-fry was used as a verb and not a noun. When cooking a stir-fry, the vegetables and meat should be tossed continuously over high heat, so each piece is touched by the heat to create a light sear on all of the ingredients, Young advises. She also said that this cooking technique would guarantee that the ingredients have an even cook and do not burn. To achieve the right technique of quickly moving the stir-fry ingredients, use a spatula with a shovel shape, per Young. No matter the shape of the spatula, it should be made of metal.
Next time you make a stir-fry, remember to make it tumbled, not stirred.