How do I mix noodles into a stir-fry?
August 31, 2011 8:40 AM   Subscribe

Whenever I stir-fry with noodles, I end up with a lump of noodles surrounded by the other ingredients, instead of a well-mixed stir-fry. Help!

I figure there must be a technique or prep step that I am missing.

This happens with egg noodles, rice noodles, thin noodles or broad noodles. I have tried using a cast iron wok and a deep Circulon saute pan.

I have tried rinsing the noodles right before mixing them in to break up the starch bonds, and I have also tried adding small amounts of noodles, mixing, and then adding more. Doesn't seem to matter, I get a lump of saucy noodles with other stuff on the side.

What am I missing?
posted by WinnipegDragon to Food & Drink (16 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: This is probably a silly question, but are you tossing the noodles with a bit of oil immediately after you drain them to help lubricate them and keep them from clumping?...
posted by julthumbscrew at 8:48 AM on August 31, 2011

I rinse too, but I also find that adding some water in the wok or skillet is important. The water becomes part of the sauce (and mostly boils off), but it really helps distribute everything.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:49 AM on August 31, 2011

Best answer: I suspect that you're stirring the noodles. This is an easy mistake to make, considering that it's called stir-fry. What you actually need to do is get a set of cooking chopsticks (or tongs) and mix everything together by picking up bits of noodle and veg from one part of the wok and dropping them down in a different area of the wok. Stirring them is going to cause the noodles to bundle and the veg to slide out of the gaps.
posted by phunniemee at 8:49 AM on August 31, 2011 [3 favorites]

Likely: stirring technique. Take two wooden spatulas and lift the stuff and noodles up rather than just turning them into a ball. Also: use insane quantities of oil. Yum, too.
posted by Namlit at 8:49 AM on August 31, 2011

Best answer: possibly overcooking them, especially with rice noodles, which will get gummy if they're exposed to heat for too long. Soak in tepid or warm water rather than hot before using in the stir fry, and even then only incorporate them at the end, after all of your other ingredients are fully cooked and the sauce has been added.
posted by bl1nk at 8:50 AM on August 31, 2011

The fix for clumpy noodles is twofold, and look a lot like the solutions to most problems in life:

1) length (of noodles)
2) lubrication (i.e. sauce)

Break/crush the noodles into shorter lengths and try a more watery sauce whilst stir frying, e.g. cut the soy sauce with an extra 2/3 water.

Not exactly highbrow chef-ery, but even microwave instant noodles benefit from this.
posted by Chorus at 8:50 AM on August 31, 2011

We use tongs for mixing vegetables with noodles, which seems to work pretty well. (I think we're using ones meant for a BBQ grill, but they seem to work well for this application). The noodles are most of the way cooked before they are added, and usually cooked with a couple drops of oil.
posted by Glinn at 8:50 AM on August 31, 2011

After I dump everything together, I mix it all up with my hands. Messy, but effective.
posted by something something at 8:54 AM on August 31, 2011

to all of the above I will add: undercook your noodles by approximately 50%. Rice stick and udon both cook really, really fast, so I'd give them at most 2 minutes cook time (they should be quite al dente) because noodles/pasta will continue to cook for awhile after being removed from water. Add them at the very end, break them in half prior to cooking, and do stir some oil into them prior to adding to the veg.
posted by lonefrontranger at 8:59 AM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

I had this problem with rice noodles. I get better results by

1. using a big-enough pan so that there's ample room to move stuff around; and
2. adding most of the sauce last after the noodles

I cook the vegetables and the aromatics together, then add the oil/soy/rice vinegar/etc mixture that I tend to use with fried noodles.
posted by Frowner at 9:16 AM on August 31, 2011

Are you adding egg? If so, at which stage of the cooking process? If after the noodles, this will also cause lumping.
posted by infini at 9:32 AM on August 31, 2011

I used to have this same problem, only with pasta noodles. As mentioned above, a fairly significant splash of oil (maybe sesame oil!) will help the noodles not stick to themselves and to other noodles. It will also allow the veggies and other items to become incorporated into the mixture.
posted by cranberrymonger at 9:56 AM on August 31, 2011

Word of warning, if you do go with sesame oil, don't use a significant splash. It is a very strong flavor, and will quickly overpower your dish.
posted by shinynewnick at 10:25 AM on August 31, 2011

Response by poster: No oil usually, and yeah I am normally just mixing with a flat spatula.

I'll try oil + tongs and see if that helps!
posted by WinnipegDragon at 10:48 AM on August 31, 2011

Response by poster: Oh, and generally no egg. My wife is not a fan.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 10:49 AM on August 31, 2011

It's also possible to buy pre-cooked noodles at Asian grocery stores. It seemed like a silly short-cut to me at first, but it really does make the end product taste better.
posted by Quonab at 11:08 AM on August 31, 2011

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