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~ How to: Velvet (Tenderize) Protein the Chinese Way ~

IMG_6478I 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.

IMG_6481Learning 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.

IMG_6413For the chicken (feel free to substitute beef pork or medium shrimp):

1  pound chicken tenderloins or boneless, skinless breasts

IMG_6421~ Step 1.  Slice the chicken into thin strips, transfer to a 1-gallon food storage bag and set aside.

Note:  I'm cutting the chicken into strips today, but be sure to cut it or slice it as your recipe directs you to.

IMG_6426For the marinade:

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)

IMG_6433 IMG_6428~ Step 2.  In a 1-cup measuring container, using a fork, whisk together all of the ingredients as listed.  Save the egg yolk for breakfast tomorrow morning.

IMG_6440 IMG_6436~ Step 3.  Add the marinade to the bag of chicken.  Toss to make sure chicken is thoroughly and evenly coated, then set aside 30-45 minutes, retossing occasionally.

~ Step 4. Place 1" of water in a 12" nonstick skillet along with 1 additional tablespoon of peanut oil.

IMG_6447Over high heat, bring the water to a steaming, barely simmering, shimmering, quivering state.  While water is coming to temperature:

IMG_6449~ Step 5. Drain chicken into a colander. Using your fingertips, scatter the chicken strips into the quivery water.  Once the water returns to a bare simmer:

IMG_6476 IMG_6461Lower heat to low and cook chicken for 30-45 seconds, or until opaque in color. Do not overcook!  I rarely let mine in for more than 30 seconds.  

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:

6a0120a8551282970b019b0134531d970cHow to:  Velvet (Tenderize) Protein the Chinese Way:  Recipes yields instructions to velvet (tenderize) beef, chicken, pork or shrimp, as per the Chinese technique called velveting.

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

IMG_9426Cook's Note:  ~ Love Me Tender(s): Is there a difference between a boneless chicken finger and a chicken tender? Yes! ~.  Check out my post in Categories 1, 2, 16 & 25.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2013) 


Robert -- Thank-you so much for the nice comment. People like you make all the work I put into my humble blog worth every minute of it. ~ Melanie

Love the velveting instructions. Hard enough to cook well, then to science well, then to write well, and so generously. Look forward to Pecan Shrimp Bernaise and Bright Chicken done this way. A longer, gushier post was lost, your site is the bomb. In 40 years of cooking in 6 + ethnic cuisines ( 18 yrs professionally) I missed velveting. I had seen it done, but did not understand it in that too busy kitchen. Thanks so much. I am one who will write back and share periodically, but mostly I will likely read your entire vast site. Thanks, Melanie!

I'm not sure I understand the water bath part. 1. By "quivering" do you mean when the tiny bubbles just start to form on the bottom of the pan? 2. When exactly do I start timing the 30 to 45 seconds cook time? Won't the chicken overcook while waiting for the water to heat back up?

Suzan -- There is only one way to find out: try it as an experiment with a small amount. If you do it, let me know how it turns out.

Can I velvet chicken, beef, pork and then freeze after the quick steam bath for later use?

Cathy -- I'm not saying you cannot use leftover velveted chicken to make chicken alfredo, but, please know the chicken will have a faint taste of soy sauce, so, it would be best to skip the soy sauce (add a teaspoon of salt instead) in the beginning of the process. Hope this makes sense to you. ~ Melanie

Can you use this chicken, after velveting for “chicken Alfredo “ instead of stir fry or would that be a whole different marinade? I guess I am looking for a marinade that tenderizing the meat for any recipe. Thanks.

Thanks Jeff -- it really does take a stir-fry from ordinary to extraordinary!

I tried it out tonight, very good! Pork was never so tender and moist, thank you!

Michael -- As I stated in the post, I prefer the water method, use the water method exclusively, and, have demonstrated the water method. As for the "steamed chicken" question, I can only assume they steamed the velveted chicken.

I plan on making enough to refrigerate for a few days, what do you mean by "water method" exactly? Are you saying replace the 1 tablespoon of peanut oil in the marinade w/1 tablespoon of water? And don't add any oil in Step 4?

We order steamed chicken for our dog and it looks just like this (they actually put it in as "steamed chicken and vegetables (no vegetables)), do you know how that would normally be prepped? Are they just steaming this velveted chicken?

Len -- It is indeed a remarkable technique!

Velvetizing, changed my life!

Lenda -- I'm about 99% sure it will work.

I could only find mirin (sweetened saki) in the supermarket. Can this be used to velvet protein the Chinese way?

I could only find sweetened saki. Can this be used for velvet in’s?

Glad to hear it R ed.

Just tried this for the first time, magnifico

Chris -- There is only one way to find out: give it a try. Report back if you do!

Hi Melania, this method is very interesting. Living in the Philippines, and owning a restaurant, I wonder if this method could be used to tenderize Beef Salpicao since the local beef has a tendency to be super tough?

Peter -- I suppose you could. That said, I'm not sure that, texturally, freezing velveted foods for later use wouldn't defeat the purpose. Frozen meats and poultry NEVER thaw to the same texture as freezing breaks down the fat and connective tissue. If you try it, let me know how it turns out. ~ Melanie

Can you water velvet chicken strips, then drain them and freeze them for stir frys to be made later? Thanks!

Greg -- as for "slimy" and "oily", while (after velveting) the softened protein does have an oily sheen to it, that is exactly what you want. Past that, the velveted protein is meant to be cooked in a flavorful stir-fry, not eaten "as is", so, if your characterization of "slimy" and "oily" is meant to be negative, I disagree.

Velveted beef and chicken tastes slimy and oily.

Alan -- Because marination is a flavorizer, not a tenderizer for proteins, I marinate first and velvet second. The results are always wonderful. That said, I came upon doing this by experimentation, so, if I'm doing it backwards, I sure don't know about it. ~ Melanie

If a recipe calls for marinating (say, beef), do you velvet first and then marinate, or marinate first and then velvet?

Shareen -- When I learned it, it rocked my food world. Hope it does the same for you! ~ Mel.

Wow, I've just learned something new. I will definitely try this technique on my next stir fry adventure. Thanks for the knowledge.

Shirley -- Why do you want to? I'm curious to know. Just think for a moment what this dry powder (as apposed to a slimy egg white) would affect. For starters: the taste, texture and consistency of the protein before it goes into the pan for velveting. Next, try putting some baking soda in any liquid and see what happens. It foams on contact. That's all bad news for this process. All I can say without reservation is: Not happening in my kitchen.

Hi, can you substitute baking sofa for the egg White?

You're very welcome Kristen. Thank-YOU for the nice comment!

Thanks so much for sharing this technique. I just had takeout a few days ago and decided I HAD to find out why the proteins are so much better in Chinese cooking, compared to our usual methods.
Is it possible to marinate the protein, in the refrigerator, for a longer period of time? Oftentimes I start cooking and have to "put it on the back burner" for a little while. Thanks!

If a recipe for stir fry asks beef to be marinated do o velvet beef first?

Sharon -- If it is sliced thin, of course you can! ~ Melanie

Can you do these with round steak?

Firoz -- You can substitute another acid, like vinegar or lemon juice, for the sake. As for the second part of your question, I am a bit confused. In answer to what I think you are asking: You are not velveting the marinated protein unless you immerse it in the water bath.

What can be substituted for white wine or rice wine vinegar as both have alcohol in it. Also can I he Meat be cooked without blanching in Water. Kindly respond.

Greetings there.... thanks for the great tip of how to brine chicken...... what about chicken legs.... having Father's Day soon.
thanks for all suggestions

Mariet -- I'm so pleased I was able to help you with this little tip/trick. Happy Asian cooking to you! ~ Melanie

Thank you so much.
I am 69 yoa, I have been trying to please my husband with Asian cooking with sad results. I say thank you so much for your velveting method. Lremain forever grateful.

Rella -- This method works great with beef. That said, if you are not going to stir-fry it, what are you planning to do with it? I'll answer when I have more information. ~ Melanie

What if I'm using beef and do not want to fry it?

Will -- Any neutral-flavored oil will work: corn or vegetable oil are two fine options.

I'd like to cook something like this for my cousin, but he's deathly allergic to peanuts. What would be a good substitute for the peanut oil?

Shrine -- You could probably substitute rice flour or potato starch, which are also fine powders similar to corn starch, but, as for corn flour or any type of flour, which is coarser textured, I see that causing problems.

Can you use corn flour instead of corn starch? Xxx

Saba -- Yes, I think the technique could (& should) be adapted to thin cuts of meat like schnitzel -- what a good idea. As for freezing afterward, I can think of no reason not to. Happy New Year & thank-you for your comment!

Hello, this technique looks fascinating. I am wondering, do you think this method could be adapted for something like schnitzel? Also, as a general question, can the meats be frozen after velvetizing?

Rex Ju -- I can't be 100% certain because I have never tried it, but since rice wine vinegar is an acid, and, since we're only discussing 1 tablespoon (not a large enough amount to significantly affect the taste or outcome) I see no reason why it would not work.

Can you just use egg white, corn starch, salt, sugar, and then add water or rice wine vineger instead of rice wine?

Carolina! Velveting really is one of the best-kept culinary secrets. Thank-you for reporting how well it works -- kind feedback is always appreciated!

Thank you! This works wonderfully, I love the velvet texture! Homemade Chinese food is now much better! =)

Becca -- thanks for the kind words and welcome to Kitchen Encounters!

THANK YOU! Very well done, I am a new fan of yours!

Chinese brining! Good words -- great technique!! As always, Teresa, you bring a smile to my face!!! ~ Mel.

Very slick Mel! It's like Chinese brining! ;)

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