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Stir Fry - Please Help - too much water in wok

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I need some help when it comes to my stir frying. Right now I have a couple of equipment challenges 1.) electric stove top 2.) non-stick wok. Both of those will go away after a move in several months, but until then I still want to make a decent stir fry.

The main problem: too much water is released in the wok and everything ends up steaming instead of searing. I have generally started by heating the oil at the hottest temp possible, then add aromatics like ginger and garlic for a 60 second stir, then the meat or denser veggies like bell peppers and carrots. I try to let those cook for a few minutes until tender and then add in any other veggies that I'm using, and finish it with a stir fry sauce of some kind (bottled or homemade with cornstarch as a thickener). Usually by the time I'm done adding the meat or denser veggies, there is a significant amount of moisture in the bottom of the wok that I can't get to go away, even after a long period of cooking (not the right idea with stir fry, I know.)

Help! Should I break everything down into very small batches? Am I doomed to soggy stir fry until I can purchase a not non-stick wok? Thanks for any ideas you all may have.

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  1. Your wok isn't hot enough. If you are able to cook aromatics for 60 seconds without burning them, your wok is not hot enough.

    You will have to cook in batches, based on the ingredients you listed, I think the meat is the moisture culprit.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Alan408

      to Alan408's excellent suggestion I will add that in the past, when I had a weak stove, I found that it is possible to cook the dish in steps. Start with the garlic and ginger, cook the denser veggies, then DUMP them to a place where they will stay warm, then add a bit more flavoring, cook the meat, then dump to another warm plate, then cook the more delicate veggies, then dump back in the meat, the denser veggies, and the sauce. Takes more time, dirties A LOT more paltes (which seems to somewhat defeat the benefits of the "single pan cooking") but it makes the most of weak heat source while minimizing the moisture build up (and sogginess) that otherwise would result....

      1. re: renov8r

        You said what I was gonna say, but you said it better - move some of that stuff out, cook the rest, add sauce ingredients, return reserved stuff, finish.

    2. Thank you both for your suggestions. I was afraid that the wok might be to cool to do it's job...I'll try the small batches until I can finally fire up my 15,000 btu gas burner...only six more months!

      1. Meanwhile get a steel wok and pre-heat it as hot as you can in the oven prior to use.

        1. Wayne has got it right. My problem when I stir fried was that I put to much in the wok/pan at once. It doesn't matter how hot the pan is. If you over crowd, its very difficult to get anything browned and crispy.

          1. Well, I have to respectfully disagree with pretty well every response.

            First off, don't use a wok. Use a fry pan. Yes, a fry pan. A 10 - 12 inch is ideal. Woks are used in China because they have great big fire pits that fit a wok. You will use a fry pan because you have a flat heating surface, and the fry pan is also flat. The point is to maximize heat, and you can't do that with a flat heating element and a curved wok, even if it has a tiny part on the bottom that's flat.

            Here are all my stir fry secrets:

            Cook the meat first. Cut the meat into even sized pieces. Marinate the meat in soy sauce and dry sherry for about 15 minutes. Heat the fry pan with oil until the oil is shimmering. If you're using peanut or soybean oil you will find that it takes forever for the oil to smoke. You don't need to get it that hot. Really. If you're using canola oil, it'll start smoking at a lower temperature.

            Put the meat in a single layer. This is also the time to add chilies and peanuts, if desired. And then, leave it alone. Yes, leave it alone. Don't "stir fry". Don't fiddle with it. Just stand back and let the heat brown the meat. After about 2-3 minutes, flip the pieces of meat until it's cooked properly. Then, take it out and set it aside.

            Cook the veggies next. Put more oil into the pan. Again, you don't need to approach the melting point of steel. Let it simmer. Put your veggies in. Let them brown a bit.

            Now, here's the tricky part. If you have "hard veggies" like cauliflower, they'll need some additional cooking. Use chicken stock to steam the veggies. Put in about 1/4 cup. Do not use a lid. The point is to steam the veggies and also have any excess liquid evaporate.

            If you have "soft veggies", skip this step. In fact, what you should do is cook the "hard" veggies first, then add the soft veggies, if you do have "hard" veggies. If all you have are "soft" veggies, just do a quick cook of them. Perhaps 2-3 minutes.

            Once the veggies are almost done, then add the garlic and ginger. Do not cook garlic and ginger all by themselves in the hot oil at the start. This is useless. All it does is burn the ginger and make the garlic bitter. Since the pan heat is now moderated, the aromatics will have a chance to release their flavours without burning.

            Now, add back the meat. Add the sauce. Cornstarch and water should be added at this time. Let the sauce thicken. Enjoy.

            The best soy sauce I have found for stir frying that doesn't cost a fortune is Lee Kum Kee Double Deluxe. Next up is Lee Kum Kee Premium Soy Sauce, which is sold at Walmart. Do not use Kikkoman. It is a great dipping soy sauce, but terrible for stir fries. It cannot withstand the high heat neceesary for stir fries.

            Now you will ask about how Chinese restaurants make their glorious stir fries. Their secret: They braise everything in oil. Yup, it's all essentially deep fried. The "stir fry" is done at the end, when everything is combined with a sauce.

            Ok, I admit, these aren't all my secrets. But it should be enough to get you going :)

            1 Reply
            1. re: Shazam

              Shazam is right on target with the tips, including the advice to not use a wok (unless you happen to have a wok pit...). BUT, I would not even bother to try unless you have a pretty serious burner. I recently dumped my gas cooktop with a max of 12,000 btu on the high burner - stir fry on that was basically boiled meat and veggies. my new cooktop has a wok pit in the center with 24,000 btu and it is MUCH better (still not close to what you'd find in a commercial kitchen, but vastly better). Still need to follow the guidelines (batching, protein first, soft veggies, then hard veggies, etc.), but the end product is very good.