If you aren’t following a recipe but want to knock up a simple stir fry, you probably don’t know how much soy sauce to actually use. Giving the bottle a shake, pouring some in and hoping for the best isn’t usually the best solution!
Adding too much is an easy mistake to make with a stir-fry, resulting in a dish that’s too salty and swimming in liquid. So how much soy sauce in a stir fry is best?
Start with a small amount of light soy sauce for your stir fry, such as 1 tablespoon per serving, and taste before adding more. It’s always easier to add more soy sauce than it is to try to fix a dish that’s already too salty.
Keep in mind the type of soy sauce you’re using as dark soy sauce is more intense than a light variety. Try to use light soy sauce, but you can use dark if desperate. Water it down 1:1 with water and a pinch of salt and use as light soy sauce.
Using soy sauce as a seasoning in your dishes comes with a bit of practice and know-how. With that in mind, this post has some common questions about cooking with soy sauce that I’ve put together for you below.
How Much Soy Sauce In Stir Fry
There are many different types of soy-based sauces available to us today, with varying colors, saltiness, and sweetness. Different Asian recipes may call for a specific type – to make things easier I’m going to concentrate on the most popular, which are the light and dark soy sauces used mostly in Chinese cooking.
Most of the time, if a recipe just calls for soy sauce, it’s referring to light soy sauce unless it specifically says “dark soy”. The differences between the two are explored later in the post.
When you’re cooking up a stir fry and just want to add some flavor, the amount of soy sauce you should add will depend very much on the number of ingredients in the pan.
The general rule is to always add it gradually in small amounts of around a tablespoon or two per person and go from there.
Mix it up so that the ingredients are evenly coated, and taste your dish to see if it has the flavor you are looking for, adding a little more if needed. Keep going like this until it’s just right – never add too much in one go or your meal could become inedible very quickly.
Note that these days you can also buy low-sodium soy sauces (sometimes confusingly also labeled as a ‘light’ soy sauce!) which will give you less of a salty flavor, meaning you can add more of it if desired.
Often stir-fries can be swimming in liquid rather than fairly dry. See my post on how to reduce the liquid in your stir fry.
Should You Use Light Or Dark Soy Sauce For Stir Fry?
Light soy sauce is best for stir fry as it has a moderate color and flavor. Dark soy sauce can be used sparingly but will stain the noodles very dark brown and have an intense soy flavor.
If you are unsure, see my list of favorite soy sauce brands to use.
Soy sauce is typically brewed by fermenting soybeans, wheat, water, and salt. The brewing process can vary in time from a few months to several years and then the fermented slurry is pressed to separate the liquid from the solids. This results in a dark brown product that’s salty and rich in umami flavoring.
Light and dark soy sauce are made in pretty much the same way but the main disparity is that dark soy has been aged for longer and also contains sugar, often from molasses or caramel. This sauce has a thicker consistency, a stronger soy flavor, a very dark color, and a mildly sweet note (even though it actually contains more salt).
Light soy sauce is thin, less intense, more watery, and has a saltier flavor. The Chinese words for light soy sauce are ‘sheng chou’, the characters for which mean ‘fresh retrieve’ due to the fact that traditionally, light soy is made from the first pressings of the fermented beans.
So which one should you use for stir fry?
Usually, you would use the light version for making a stir fry as it has enough flavor to season it perfectly. It’s probably not a good idea to just try substituting it completely with the dark one as it can overpower the dish. I have watered down some dark soy in the past to reduce its intensity with good results.
Dark soy sauce is usually used to make a marinade or to add a darker color to your finished dish. It can also be used for things like braising or making stews but never for dipping.
Of course, you could always use a mixture of the two to get the best of both worlds. There is also “all-purpose” soy sauce which can be swapped in and out for light soy sauce successfully.
When To Add Soy Sauce To Stir Fry
Soy sauce should be added towards the end of cooking once the meat and vegetables are almost ready. Typically add it just before or after adding the noodles to the pan.
Add the soy sauce before the noodles if you want to concentrate the stir fry sauce. This way the sauce bubbles a bit before adding the noodles.
To be extra simple and keep the sauce fresh-tasting, then add the soy sauce after adding your noodles, then toss around and serve immediately.
As we know, soy sauce has a high sodium content. If you add it too early in the cooking process and then it reduces, your food could end up becoming quite salty. By adding it at the end, you can control the level of saltiness much better.
What Else Mixes Well With Soy Sauce?
You might be looking for other sauces to use with soy sauce in your stir fry. Here is a list of some of the best ones to use. I wouldn’t advise mixing them all together, but instead, go for a flavor combination you like. Something sweeter? try honey. Classic Asian flavors? try an oyster sauce.
- Oyster sauce – another umami-tasting sauce that is often used in Chow Mein recipes alongside soy sauce.
- Fish Sauce – a salty and very tasty sauce that tastes a lot better than it smells. Adds a Thai element to your stir fry.
- Honey – honey and soy are a classic simple combo to make a sticky glaze for chicken.
- Sesame oil – a dash of this adds a delicious nutty flavor to Asian dishes.
- Lime juice – a key component in that salty and sour combination that is so popular in Southeast Asian cuisine.
Lots of Asian dishes try to balance sweet, salty, sour, and spicy flavors. You have the salty component from the soy sauce, so you can fill the others in with sauces and other ingredients of your choice.
Mix up your stir fry sauce ahead of time in a cup or small bowl. You can taste it as you mix it up and then have it ready to add when you have the hot pan when you are cooking.
Popular Ingredients To Add To Stir Fry
Apart from the sauces and oils you use to cook with, there are generally three basic groups of ingredients in a stir-fry:
- Proteins – this group contains things like meat (chicken, pork, and so on), seafood, tofu, etc.
- Aromatics – ingredients in this group are garlic, shallots, ginger, herbs, etc.
- Vegetables – pretty much anything goes in this category with bell peppers, bok choi, bean sprouts, and carrots all being popular choices.
Many people like to also add blanched noodles or rice toward the end of cooking as they only take a minute or two to heat through and pick up all the lovely flavors.
Now that you know how much soy sauce to use in your stir fry, get creative and experiment with different flavors to find your perfect combination.
To get the best results it’s best to add it gradually so that you can control how salty your dish is going to taste in the end.
Remember that once you’ve added too much it’s almost impossible to rectify so be careful!