Why Is There So Much Liquid In My Stir-Fry? (Reduce It)


Getting a stir fry perfect at home is a real challenge without the help of a professional wok and burner. Often it can end up with too much liquid swimming at the bottom of the pan. So why is there so much liquid in your stir-fry and what can be done to avoid it?

The two most common reasons you can end up with a soggy stir fry are either adding too much sauce or overcrowding your vegetables in the pan. This results in them steaming instead of frying and then leaching out water.

A stir fry should be fairly dry in the wok so that the veg stays crisp and bright, and so replicating that in a home kitchen is our priority.

I’ve found there are a few things you can do to easily avoid soggy stir fries so this article explores some of the best tips. Read on to find out ways to minimize the amount of liquid that gets released during cooking and what to do if too much sauce builds up in the wok.

Too Much Stir Fry Sauce: How To Reduce

A common way many people end up with a wet stir-fry is by adding too much sauce or using a sauce that is too thin.

First, try adding just enough sauce to coat the ingredients. Usually about 1.5-2 tablespoons of sauce per serving for a “dry” stir fry. See my post on how and when to add soy sauce to a stir fry.

Secondly, try reducing the sauce in the pan on its own to make a thicker, tastier sauce:

Once your meat and vegetables are cooked, remove and set them aside. Add your sauce and cook until it’s bubbly and fragrant, then turn off the heat and add your cooked ingredients back in.

Then just toss them around in the sauce to make sure everything is coated and you’re ready to serve.

The vegetables should have a bit of moisture to help loosen the sauce and mix it up. If you need to add a small splash of water then you can do carefully.

The reduced time cooking the vegetables and sauce together means less water is leached out of the veg from the salty stir fry sauce via osmosis.

Not sure what soy sauce to use? Check out my post on the best brands and types of soy.

Steps To Get Crunchy Stir Fry Vegetables

The perfect stir-fry vegetables are cooked so they are no longer raw, but still retain a nice crunch and are not soggy or mushy. The order in which to add ingredients is very important.

Here are a few basic steps to get crunchy stir-fry vegetables that you can follow for the best chance of success:

  1. Choose the right pan – ideally use a good quality wok but if you don’t have one use a large pan or skillet.
  2. Heat the pan up so it’s smoking hot.
  3. Add oil with a high smoke point such as canola, vegetable, or sesame oil, but avoid olive oil or butter as they have a low smoke point. Swirl it around to coat the pan.
  4. Add your veggies to the pan in small enough quantities to avoid overcrowding.
  5. Once they are cooked to your liking, remove them from the pan and add the next batch if you have multiple batches or add any noodles.
  6. Finish the stir-fry with just enough sauce to coat everything (reduce the sauce before mixing everything up for the best results).

How To Keep Veggies From Getting Soggy In Stir-Fry

There are a few reasons vegetables can go soggy in your stir fry including:

  • Overcrowding in the pan – if you add too many ingredients in one go there is nowhere for the steam to go, also the temperature lowers so you don’t cook hot and fast.
  • Not draining your veggies after washing – this adds excessive moisture to the mix.
  • Overcooking your vegetables – cooking your veggies for too long often makes them go soft and mushy. See my guide to avoid overcooking stir fry.
  • Pan not hot enough – always use a very hot pan when stir-frying for the best results. This really helps get the vegetables nice and crunchy.
  • Not cut up small or thin enough – always slice and dice your veggies into small, bite-sized pieces. When you prefer to leave them a bit larger then pre-cooking in some way will help.
  • Consider par-cooking or blanching woody vegetables beforehand – foods like carrots and broccoli will benefit from pre-cooking so you don’t have to stir-fry them for so long.

Are Wet Vegetables OK For Stir-Fry?

Wet vegetables in terms of veggies that have just been washed are sometimes added to stir fry without drying.

Wet vegetables aren’t good for a stir fry. If you don’t dry off your vegetables then they will add unwanted moisture to the dish and make it more likely you will end up with soggy food.

The term “wet vegetables” is also sometimes used to describe those with a high water content such as cucumber, bok choi, tomatoes, bell peppers, and zucchini, all of which are commonly used in a stir fry. 

Cook these quickly on high heat towards the end so they don’t have time to release their moisture. Cooking for longer times breaks down their cell walls and releases moisture which results in steam and more liquid in the pan.

How Do You Remove Excess Liquid From Stir-Fry?

If you find that your stir-fry is already swimming in liquid, there are a few things you can do to remove it.

Boil it off – one way is to simply turn up the heat and let the water evaporate. But this runs the risk of overcooking your stir fry.

Drain it – another option is to transfer everything to a colander or strainer and allow the excess liquid to drain off before returning the stir-fry to a hot pan to finish off.

Thicken with cornstarch – you can leave your sauce in the pan but just thicken it up a bit with a common Chinese cooking trick. Add a cornstarch slurry which will quickly thicken once heated and give it a glaze.

It’s best not to just add the cornstarch or flour straight to the wok or pan but mix it up with some water first at a 1:1 ratio until it forms a paste. 

It’s an excellent thickening agent so go careful when adding it to your watery stir-fry to avoid the sauce thickening too much.

Some Good Stir Fry Recipe Ideas

There are plenty of great stir fry recipes out there for you to discover, but these are some good go-to’s:

  • Stir-Fried Lo Mein With Charred Cabbage – a perfectly executed, simple dish from Asian food expert and online columnist Kenji L√≥pez-Alt.
  • Hoisin Beef Noodles – a dish packed with beefy flavor from another of my favorite Asian cooking experts, Marion Grasby.
  • Chicken Stir Fry – this one from the Downshiftology website is a really speedy meal that’s full of flavor.
  • The Easiest Vegetable Stir Fry – with a colorful mixture of sauteed vegetables in a sauce that’s both sweet and savory, this dish takes less than 30-minutes and is great for a weeknight.
  • Easy Beef Stir-Fry – this quick and easy recipe has a silky sauce and is great for using leftover vegetables.
  • Tofu Stir Fry – this one is described as a ‘clean-out-the-fridge’ type recipe and get’s great reviews from all those who have tried it.
  • 15-Minute Garlic Shrimp Stir Fry – a really easy and delicious meal that’s ready in just 15 minutes. What’s not to love?

Conclusion

I hope you now have a better understanding of why there’s so much liquid in your stir-fry, as well as some useful tips on how to avoid or remove it.

Stir-fries really are some of the simplest and quickest meals that are both tasty and nutritious, so it’s definitely worth the time and effort to get the hang of it if you can.

Just use the tips I’ve mentioned here or check out one of the delicious recipes if you need to follow along with something as that helps many people.

Probably the most important things to remember are to get the pan really hot, dry off any washed vegetables and don’t add too much sauce. 

Tom

Hey, I'm Tom. I set up Boss The Kitchen to start answering the thousands of questions people have while cooking. For me, the kitchen is my happy place and I hope to help other people with the knowledge I've gained along the way.

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