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Stir fry marinade burning/sticking to wok?

Hi there,

I am pretty new to wok cooking (and cooking in general), and I seem to be coming up with this problem pretty regularly. I thought maybe some of you more experienced folks could help shed some light.

I have a few recipes that call for marinating chicken, and then pouring the chicken and the marinade into the wok to allow it to cook there. Every time I do this, the marinade that hasn't soaked into the chicken becomes almost instantly black and cooks itself into a hard layer on the bottom of my wok. While stir-frying, it breaks off into little chips that become mixed with the food. The rest of it stays as a hard layer which I have to scrape off afterwards.

I'm almost certain that this isn't the way things are supposed to work.

Does this situation sound familiar to anyone? Is it a relatively common thing for beginners to experience? Any help or advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

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  1. While I'm by no means an expert on wok cooking I have cooked through several Asian cookbooks during various Cookbooks of the Month.

    Several things come to mind:
    1. Has your wok been properly seasoned? I always send new wok users to Grace Young who is an authority on wok cooking... here's a link to her method of seasoning a wok...
    http://www.culinate.com/articles/feat...

    2. To begin stir-frying oil is swirled into the wok and allowed to heat up.

    3. Usually, when I've been instructed to marinate chicken or whatever, the meat is added to the wok after draining the marinade. Sometimes, not always, we're instructed to pat the meat dry before adding it to the wok...

    Just a few things to consider.

    1. Hmmm- that doesn’t happen to me. But then again my wok is pretty well seasoned and I rarely marinate the meat, prefering to add sauce/flavoring at the end.

      My instinct is that maybe you are using too much marinade to the ratio of meat. When I do marinate I use a very small amount and any extra is added at the end. Have tried cooking just the meat the portion? Does it still stick?

      It also sounds like you marinade has a high sugar content if it basically caramelizing at the bottom. Are you making your own or using bottled?

      Also- asuming you are following the "hot wok, cold oil" method? What kind of oil are you using?

      1. Can you give us an idea of what your typical marinade involves? Most velveting techniques do not use enough liquid for this to be a problem for me, but if it were I would say to stir fry the chicken in batches, adding more oil as necessary, and finish with the reserved liquid towards the end of stir frying.

        1 Reply
        1. re: JungMann

          +1. Chicken first with no liquid = delicious browning and no scorched sauce sticking to wok

        2. and sweet marinades (with sugar or corn syrup or similar) have a high sugar content -- so they scorch easily.

          1 Reply
          1. re: sunshine842

            More than likely the OP's problem.......

          2. Thank you all for your quick feedback and helpful suggestions! I definitely see some ideas here I'd like to try, and I'm sure will aid me along my way.

            Some specific responses:

            @Gio
            Grace Young was my introduction to working with a wok, and I've found her articles and videos to be super helpful. I believe that my wok is pretty well-seasoned; it's getting a beautiful black patina the more I use it, and I don't think I'd be there without her advice.

            As for draining the marinade; I've found a few recipes that call for adding in all of the marinade and allowing it to coat everything. Maybe this is part of my trouble. ;)

            @foodieX2
            You're absolutely right that there isn't nearly as much sticking if I cook the meat by itself. This may be a silly question, but does adding the sauce/flavoring at the end require any specific method other than "pour it on and mix"? (I was under the impression that marinating the meat gets the flavoring into it in a specific way)

            The marinade I'm using tends to be from recipes that call for corn starch, rice wine, soy sauce, some sometimes oyster sauce.

            The oil I was using was Sun Luck's "wok oil" (which is a blend of a few different high smoking point oils, I believe), but I am just about to start trying with canola.

            @JungMann
            I've tried velveting the chicken and have had success with that. But if I have a recipe that calls for a marinade using, for example, soy sauce, oyster sauce, or black bean sauce, I was under the impression that you couldn't use velvet chicken since it had already been marinated in the velveting process? (I realize I may be WAY revealing my ignorance here-- I look forward to learning and getting better!)

            I suspect that those of you who have suggested I might be using too much liquid are probably right as well. I will definitely try experimenting.

            Thank you again for all of your help! :)

            1 Reply
            1. re: SabuPDX

              The standard marinade you are using velvets the chicken, improves its texture, but does not impart a ton of flavor. Black bean sauce, oyster sauce, these are really condiments you will use later to create the sauce that flavors the velveted meat after you have cooked it by passing it through the hot oil.

            2. Any recipe that calls for adding the marinade and meat at the same time is NOT stir-frying. Meat has to be relatively dry in order to fry. Cooking it in liquid is braising, and should be done at a low temperature, in which case the marinade won't scorch unless it reduces to a thick paste. There are sugars in the sauces that compose your marinade - these will burn at high temp. A better technique is to pat the marinated meat dry, stir-fry it on high heat, quickly remove it and add vegetables, which will rapidly drop the pan temp. The water content of the vegetables will deglaze the pan. When the vegetables are nearly done, pour the marinade into the pan, stir to blend into the vegetables, cook for a minute so meat juices it contains are cooked, then add the meat back into the pan.

              1 Reply
              1. re: greygarious

                This is fantastic information! For someone just beginning like myself, I'm sure I've found many areas and recipes that simply assume this knowledge-- but I hadn't a clue about the technique. I can't wait to give it a try. Thanks so much!