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Why is this dish so greasy?

As my chopsticks hit the bottom of a takeout box of a chicken and vegetable stir fry, I can't help but think-- why is this dish so greasy?

Obviously there's too much oil in there, but my question is *why* is there so much oil? My initial thought was they they didn't drain the chicken before cooking the vegetables and combining everything with the sauce.

Does sloppy knife work (mismatch in ingredient size), mismatch of ingredient size to oil quantity, heat level, oil type, ingredient quality, or anything else not completely obvious require more oil to be used or cause us to perceive the quantity of oil to be higher than it is? If so, how?

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  1. I cook the meat first, using plenty of oil, and slightly undercooking it. Then I set it aside in a strainer to drain. I wash the wok (with only hot water), then use a light oil sparingly to do the vegetables, then sauce, then add the meat back in to finish.

    2 Replies
    1. re: GH1618

      Except for the washing part, that's what cookbooks generally instruct to do. Do less competent restaurants tend to skimp on the straining step?

      1. re: hyperbowler

        No restaurant would go to the trouble I do, but I expect better restaurants would careful not to leave too much oil in it. I suppose if you removed the meat to drain, you could just wipe out the wok with a towel. A lot of restaurants just through everything together, in order, which requires careful use of oil.

    2. More oil allows more food surface to fry, therefore speeding up the cooking process.

      1. Takeout is not an exact science either-today the cook may have a heavy hand with the oil squeeze bottle and tommarrow its different. The assumption may be you will eat this over rice and the excess oil and "sauce" will be soaked up by the rice.
        And no, no one is draining the meat at any point.

        1. Maybe the "why" is that's the way people like it. When in Shanghai several years ago on business, the expat that took us to dinner at a restaurant that he said was "Americanized" ... the food was less greasy than typical Chinese food.

          3 Replies
          1. re: firecooked

            That's a good point about different styles of cuisine using different amount of oil. As Melanie Wong mentioned below, Shanghainese food uses more oil (and sugar) than a lot of other regions. Even their local interpretations of Sichuan cuisine, where most of the oil remains uneaten and acts more to convey spices, seems heavier than what I've had in the states.

            Part of my question is if that's due simply to using more oil, or if it somehow interacts with technique.

            1. re: hyperbowler

              <Shanghainese food uses more oil (and sugar) than a lot of other regions.>


              <Part of my question is if that's due simply to using more oil, or if it somehow interacts with technique.>

              Well, both, and the answer depends on your interpretations as well. The true amount of oil is unchanged regardless of the technique. However, a dish may seem less oily depending on your techniques.

            2. re: firecooked

              I was thinking as I read this that the cook doesn't care much about your waistline or health issues, the cook wants the food to taste good, and not to mess up the cookware if possible.

            3. Much thought and grief over nothing, and as Trockwood above said "tomorrow is different". Just find a new place.

              1 Reply
              1. re: mrbigshotno.1

                Heh, no grief here, just curious about technique :-)

              2. I have heard (from someone supposedly in the know) that adding extra oil to takeout dishes helps keep them hot for the journey from restaurant to home.
                Now it doesn't make a lot of sense to me, can that really work? Maybe, maybe not. But some places do it anyway.

                1 Reply
                1. re: iluvcookies

                  I should point out that my OP was referring to leftovers from a restaurant dinner, but I agree that take out seems oilier in general than what you eat in restaurants.

                  In the case of places with food sitting in steam trays, oiliness is good for business-- a sheen of oil will help prevent the food from drying out and makes it look nicer.

                  One other issue with takeout might be evaporation. Hot food shoved right into a take out box continues to cook, softening up the food's crust and causing it to seem more oily.

                2. Shanghainese cuisine uses more oil. Commercial kitchens use oil blanching technique more often than just stir frying. Two top of mind reasons.

                  1. I suspect that the oil in your takeout stir-fry just had more time to settle to the bottom of the carton, and was more visible than it would have been if plated in a restaurant, or served over rice.

                    Although I was always a little disgusted by the pool of oil at the bottom of my takeout shrimp fried rice at Tu Lan before it was closed by the health department, I was actually a little disappointed with the same dish at the newly reopened Tu Lan last week, which was missing its sheen of oil.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: johnrsf

                      It's like the see-through-fat-soaked paper from a croissant or muffin.

                    2. I think in the restaurant setting it's easier and less risky to go heavy handed on the oil. Avoid the trouble of sticking etc.