Noodles are the cornerstone of a great stir fry, and getting them right is both tricky and important. You ideally want beautifully separated noodles that don’t clump together or stick to the bottom of the pan. Getting the whole stir fry out with a clean wok is the goal here – so how do we do it without the noodles sticking?
- Prepare the noodles: immerse in boiling water, drain, rinse with cold water, dry them, and mix with a little oil to help prevent sticking.
- Use a quality pan; either a well-seasoned carbon steel wok or a non-stick coated pan.
- Heat the pan until smoking before adding oil.
- First stir fry your meat and vegetables, then add your cooked noodles, and finally the sauce.
- Add a splash of oil with each new ingredient.
I’ve gathered together some of the best advice using my own experiences and from respected cooks to help you solve your sticking woes. This post goes into the details so read on to see all the tips.
Make Stir-Fry Noodles Without Them Sticking
The two main problems when stir-frying noodles are that they either stick to the pan or stick together. There are several ways to help stop either of these from happening so let’s tackle each one in turn.
Why Are My Noodles Sticking To The Pan?
If your noodles are sticking to the wok or pan it’s likely because one of several things is happening. Either the pan is poor quality or old so isn’t non-stick anymore, it isn’t hot enough, or there isn’t enough oil being used.
Usually, you will add the noodles once your vegetables and proteins are cooked and so it’s important to make sure the wok is still hot and you’re using plenty of oil.
The key here is to ensure your wok/pan is hot enough before you start cooking. The best way to do this is to use a traditional well-seasoned carbon steel wok (see my guide on woks!) and heat it until it’s smoking before adding the oil. If you don’t have a carbon steel wok then use a good quality non-stick pan or skillet instead.
If your wok has a non-stick coating but is old, it might have worn off. So it might be time to get a new one – try this one off Amazon. If you are using a carbon steel wok, these build up a “seasoning” from carbon which acts as the non-stick part, so that might be lacking.
If there isn’t enough oil being used then the noodles will likely stick anyway. A good splash of oil will help coat the noodles and stop them from catching on the pan. How much oil you need will depend on how many noodles you’re cooking, but a good rule of thumb is to add enough oil so that the bottom of the pan is coated and there’s a thin layer of oil on the noodles. You don’t want them swimming in oil though.
It’s also a good idea to add a small splash of oil to the pan when adding new ingredients, such as your vegetables, protein, and noodles. This further helps to coat the noodles and stop them from sticking.
Another thing that can cause noodles to stick is if they’re overcooked. If the noodles are too soft they will be more likely to stick together or to the pan. Follow the steps below for tips on how to prevent this.
Why Do My Stir Fry Noodles Stick Together?
If your noodles are sticking together then it’s likely because they’re overcooked or there isn’t enough oil being used. As mentioned above, if the noodles are overcooked they are just naturally more sticky so will be more likely to stick together or to the pan.
Make sure you only cook them until they’re al dente (still have a bite to them), and stir occasionally as they soften to separate them. Once cooked (which should take 3-4 minutes), drain and rinse with cold water. This instantly stops them from cooking any further and washes away any remaining starch as much as possible.
Before returning to the pan, drain or try patting them dry with a clean kitchen towel or paper towels and test to see if they’re sticking together by tossing them.
If the noodles still feel a bit sticky after drying, toss them in some oil to help prevent them from sticking together in a bundle. This also means they have a good coating of oil before they even go into the hot pan for cooking in the stir-fry.
As mentioned above, it’s also important to keep adding plenty of oil when stir-frying. The noodles need to be coated so that they don’t stick together and if they’re the last ingredient to be added to the stir-fry pan, any oil you added when starting to cook will probably already be used up.
Here’s a good watch on making a perfect chow mein:
Should You Cook Noodles Before Adding To Stir Fry?
The majority of noodles purchased in the western world are dried and will need soaking or cooking before you add them to your stir fry.
The exception to this is fresh noodles, which can be found in the refrigerated section of some stores or Asian markets. These noodles are already soft so might need only a minute or two of soaking or might be ready to stir fry straight away.
If you are using dried noodles, it’s important that you cook them until they’re al dente before adding them to the stir fry. This means that they should be cooked until they’re tender but still have a bit of bite to them.
If you overcook the noodles they will be more likely to stick together or to the pan. So cook them according to the package instructions making sure to stir them up a bit as soon as possible.
Note that some chefs recommend you keep the water simmering as they cook, while others like to take the pan off the heat and just soak the noodles in the previously boiled water. I like to just soak them in the hot water but some noodles might require cooking so read the packet.
Can You Unstick Sticky Noodles?
If your noodles are already stuck together or to the pan, don’t despair. There are a few things you can do to try and rescue them.
If they are sticking to the wok, the first thing to do is add more oil, turn up the heat and loosen the noodles. This will help to release any sticky bits that might be clinging to the pan. Use a spatula to scrape them away and then continue to cook as normal.
Noodles should not be stuck together before adding them to the stir-fry. If they are, try putting them in a colander and rinse them with warm water while gently untangling them with your fingers.
You can also try adding a splash of oil to the noodles which can help them separate.
If all else fails and the noodles are still just stuck together in a clump, then you might have to start again. Prepare them properly by not overcooking them and rinsing them in cold water after soaking to prevent excess cooking.
What Are The Best Noodles For Stir Fry To Prevent Sticking?
The best noodles to avoid sticking are lo mein or chow mein style Chinese egg noodles as they have less starch and so are less likely to stick. If you can’t find egg noodles then any type of dried Asian-style noodle will work if prepared well, including soba, udon, and rice noodles.
If you’re using fresh noodles, these might stick together less as they’re already soft and some can be added straight to the wok without pre-cooking.
In general, it’s best to avoid using pasta noodles such as spaghetti as they tend to be starchy and are more likely to stick together or to the pan. If you do use pasta, then make sure you cook it until al dente and follow all the tips above to prevent it from sticking.
I hope you’ve found all my tips for avoiding sticky noodles useful and that they help you avoid having to scrape out the bottom of your pan!
Just remember, if using dried noodles, make sure to cook them until they’re al dente before adding them to your dish. Be sure to add plenty of oil – as much as needed to keep them from sticking together – and turn up the heat when adding new ingredients.
With a little bit of practice and the correct equipment, you’ll be able to create delicious and easy stir fries with perfect noodles every time.
Have any questions? Ask me in the comment section below and I’ll get back to you.
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