~ How to: Velvet (Tenderize) Protein the Chinese Way ~
I love and cook Chinese food, but, it wasn't until 5-6 years ago that I learned a "trick" that jettisoned my Chinese food from really good to restaurant quality. Background: I would meticulously slice, dice and prep meat, chicken or shrimp (along with a lot of vegetables) in anticipation of a fabulous Chinese stir-fry. At the end of the day, dinner was wonderful, but, the protein just didn't have that signature "velvety" soft texture I adore in Chinese restaurants and take-out. I am here to reveal an age old technique, integral to Chinese cooking, for "tenderizing" proteins and it doesn't involve pounding -- it involves giving it a protective coating to keep it soft.
Velveting: A technique used to coat proteins to protect them from overcooking.
Learning how to velvet meat is as important to Chinese cooking as browning meat is to French cooking. When stir-fried, proteins (like beef, chicken, pork and shrimp) can be tender, but not nearly as tender as those that are velveted first. Velveting involves coating and marinating desired-sized pieces of meat in a mixture of cornstarch, rice wine, egg whites, salt, sugar and sometimes soy sauce for about 30-45 minutes. The meat is then bathed in barely simmering water or warm oil for 30-45 seconds, just to the verge of being cooked through (which is ideal for stir-frying). Velveting can be done well in advance of stir-frying, but, if you plan on refrigerating it at all or overnight, you must do it in water, as the oil method becomes "funky" in the refrigerator.
Note: From a personal standpoint, I find the water method much more manageable. Unless you stir-fry all the time or all day long, like restaurants and Chinese housewives do, the oil method wastes a lot of oil for an occasional Chinese meal, so, hands down, it's the water method for me.
I am velveting strips of chicken tenderloin today.
1 pound chicken tenderloins or boneless, skinless breasts
Note: I'm cutting the chicken into strips today, but be sure to cut it or slice it as your recipe directs you to.
1 tablespoon rice wine (sake)
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 large egg white
1 tablespoon cornstarch (use 1 1/2 tablespoons when velveting shrimp)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon peanut oil (use 1 1/2 tablespoons when velveting shrimp)
~ Step 4. Place 1" of water in a 12" nonstick skillet along with 1 additional tablespoon of peanut oil.
Note: This timing will vary a bit depending how you have prepped your protein. Using an Asian spider or a slotted spoon, remove the chicken to a plate, cover with plastic wrap and set aside until stir-fry time.
Cover w/plastic wrap & set aside until stir-fry time:
Special Equipment List: cutting board, chef's knife, 1-gallon food storage bag; 1-cup measuring container; fork; 12" skillet, preferably nonstick; small colander; Asian spider or slotted spoon
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2013)