It took me a while to cozy up to nonstick stir-fry pans—those wide, sloping pans that are shaped like a salad bowl as opposed to a conical, flat-bottomed wok. Like a lot of folks, I thought you could only really use a wok for stir-frying. And in a way, that’s true. A non-stick stir-fry pan won’t give you wok-seared vegetables. But it will give you something delicious. The trouble with wok cooking at home is that most of us don’t have the recessed burners and leaping flames needed to surround the sides of the pan. With that conical, flat-bottomed shape on a home stove, veggies tend to cook unevenly.
This thing called a stir-fry pan does something pretty cool, even if it’s not exactly stir-frying. Something, in fact, that’s a boon to weeknight veggie cooks. It browns and steams at the same time, producing deliciously flavored and cooked-through veggies. It’s perfect for somewhat dense vegetables (like broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots) that benefit from the added flavor of browning, but that need some moisture to cook through. (See Gingery Stir-Fried Carrots with Cranberry and Orange.) The huge and continuous surface area of the stir-fry pan means that the veggies get lots of contact with heat so that they get a chance to brown up. But the slope and depth of the bowl also mean that the veggies steam a bit as they’re tossed around together. All you have to do is stir.
The pan does an equally stellar job on quicker-cooking veggies like asparagus, pepper, onions, and mushrooms. And it’s the perfect vessel for cooking greens like chard, spinach, and bok choi, though you won’t get browning with these veg.
Over the years, I’ve also had to overcome my aversion to nonstick interiors. (I’m still really partial to stainless-steel-lined pans—like my favorite straight-sided sauté pan—for anything that’ll you’ll want to finish with a pan sauce. The yummy brown stuff that builds up on the bottom of the stainless steel pan is the foundation for the tastiest of sauces.) But for a simple stir-fry, I like the fact that I don’t have to use as much oil in the nonstick pan, and that the whole experience is less sticky and more fluid.
It’s true that this pan isn’t going to give you wok-seared results; but what it does deliver is something pretty delicious. My favorite nonstick 12-inch stir-fry pan is a Circulon, available on Amazon for about $40.