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I often cook in bulk and then eat leftovers for several days. One area where I've struggled with this strategy is stir-fries. It seems that even if I get a well-thickened, flavorful sauce the day that I cook it, the sauce will go thin, watery, and weak-flavored as leftovers.

What I think is happening is that the salt and/or sugar in the sauce is putting osmotic pressure on the water in the vegetables. Since the sauce is added shortly before serving, the whole dish doesn't have time to come to equilibrium the day of. However, overnight, water leeches out of the vegetables and dilutes the sauce.

The same problem doesn't seem to happen with Chinese take-out leftovers, so I think it must be possible to avoid it. Does anyone have a suggestion?

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    Welcome to SA! How are you thickening the sauces? Can you post a sample recipe/procedure? – FuzzyChef Feb 2 at 6:29
  • I have a similar cooking strategy, but tend not to use it for stir fries because the texture doesn't keep very well. Instead I have them on odd week nights when I've got time to cook, perhaps saving one portion if a key ingredient serves 2. How much do you cook your veg? The effect might be different if fast fried to browned but still firm, compared to cooked a bit softer. – Chris H Feb 2 at 7:26
  • I typically do it all in one pan, starting with firmer vegetables and adding soft vegetables just near the end. Once the vegetables are done, I pour in the sauce, thicken it with cornstarch. I take it off heat as soon as the sauce starts to bubble. If I execute it well, the vegetables are still pretty firm, but I don't get much browning because my usual one-pan method doesn't provide a lot of pan contact with the vegetables added later. – Jordan Feb 2 at 20:47
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This is pure conjecture:

It's possible that the issue is in how the vegetables are cooked -- commercial restaurants have crazy hot burners so the vegetables are cooked on the outside while still firm in the middle. It's very difficult to achieve this with a stove at home.

The closest that I've managed to get to it is by cooking in batches ... an ingredient or two at a time (or half of a given ingredient when I'm cooking for a crowd) in an oiled skilled that's heated to smoking ... and then move it to a bowl once it's cooked, and cook the next batch once the skillet is back to smoking hot again. (I deglaze in between batches, with mirin or similar, if needed)

Another possible issue is the ingredients. There are a few foods out there that will break down gels due to enzymes in them. So if you're making sweet and sour dishes with fresh pineapple, you're actually better off using canned as they've been cooked thoroughly enough to deactivate the enzymes. You should also only taste your sauce with a clean spoon (or using the two spoon method), so that enzymes from your saliva don't contaminate the sauce, as that can also break down gels given sufficient time.

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