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Texture is everything when it comes to meat. It makes the difference between a delicious meal and a mediocre one.
If your meat is juicy and tender, the flavors seem to explode and fill your entire mouth, and if it’s dry and tough, the meat is difficult to chew and delivers a lackluster experience.
But if you’ve ever cooked a stir fry or cooked other dishes with small, thin pieces of meat, you may have noticed it’s kind of tough to get that tender, juicy meat that stir-fry in restaurants tends to have.
Well, their secret is in a technique called velveting.
Doing this to your chicken will help keep it tender, juicy, and bursting with flavor. Let’s take a few minutes to learn everything you need to know about velveting so you can work it into your kitchen skills.
Velveting is a Chinese cooking technique that takes your thin pieces of raw meat and coats them in a cornstarch marinade. The meat is then lightly cooked on the outside before cooking it all the way through.
In order to do this, simply cut your meat into small pieces or strips. To make the cornstarch marinade, combine 1 tbsp of cornstarch and 1 tbsp of cold water. Stir into a smooth paste and coat the meat in the marinade. Let it sit in the fridge for about 30 minutes.
After it’s done marinating, you can lightly blanch the meat or pass it through boiling water for about 30 to 40 seconds. Then, your meat will be ready to add to the stir fry.
Velveting is a relatively simple method, but it makes a big difference!
When you velvet your chicken, or any other meat for that matter, there are a few important things that happen. First, the meat gets a nice, velvety coating. Letting the meat sit in the cornstarch marinade gives it that thick coating.
That coating is crucial for the next thing – cooking. When the chicken is briefly boiled, that coating turns solid, sealing in all of the juices of the meat, so none of it escapes.
Velveting chicken can bring your stir fry, soups, and other dishes to the next level. We’ve all attempted to cook stir-fry and may have had great flavor, but with dry, tough meat that ends up making the dish sub-par. That’s why velveting can enhance the texture of your meat!
If you start velveting, you can have restaurant-quality stir-fry in your own home. The tender juiciness of stir fry meat doesn’t have to be elusive!
Velveting chicken is a perfectly healthy meat preparation method since the core ingredients are cornstarch and oil, each of which is perfectly fine for you to eat. So, velveting can deliver delicious, tender meat without sacrificing quality when it comes to taste or health.
However, there are adaptations to the velveting techniques that utilize frying instead of blanching, which would add more oil to your dishes.
Velveting chicken doesn’t have to include any flavor changes. It’s just a method of preparation. You’re welcome to add seasonings like soy sauce, hoisin, ginger, garlic, or mirin to the marinade to enhance the flavor. This technique is adaptable to whatever your flavor needs are.
Velveting cooking method also works on other meats. Try basic velveting with beef to make that beef and broccoli dish nice and tender. It’s a flexible cooking method that is open-ended regarding how you use it and what the finished product can look like.
Up to this point, we’ve described the basic velveting foundation, but there are other variations of this method, depending on your preference or what ingredients you have lying around. Here are some of those methods.
Water velveting is the standard method that we’ve talked about already. It includes the traditional marinade and cooks the meat in water instead of oil.
This comes with some advantages. It will lower the fat content of your meal, so it’s a healthier way to cook. It’s also a technique used in some Cantonese cooking, so water velveting is the way to go if you’re going for that light feel.
One disadvantage to this method is that the water tends to wash off some of the marinade seasonings. So if you put rice vinegar or oyster sauce in along with your corn starch, some of that flavor might not make it in the finished product.
Thus when using water velveting, you may need to adjust a little more seasoning to your marinades to keep the flavor.
Oil velveting still involves that same technique of marinating your meat in a cornstarch-based mixture, but the method to seal all the juices in is just slightly different.
Instead of poaching the marinated meat in water, you will briefly fry it in oil. This has some advantages compared to the other method, depending on what you’re cooking.
Frying the meat will make it crispier on the outside than the traditional method, which can be a great option for stir-fry. Both methods are effective at sealing in those meaty juices that make the meat delicious and tender.
Many people may love the combination of a crispy outside and a tender inside which cannot be achieved with blanching.
This method doesn’t alter the cooking process, but it does slightly change the marinade process. Egg white velveting is when egg whites are added to the cornstarch mix to make a thicker marinade.
If you’ve included some soy sauce, sesame oil, or mirin to your marinade, you might want to add an egg white to make that sauce thick and delicious.
After marinating the meat in the egg white and cornstarch mixture, you can proceed with either water or oil velveting.
The final method is baking soda velveting, which is the addition of baking soda in the marinade. Again, this only alters the marinade, not the actual cooking method.
The baking soda can help tenderize the meat a little more than usual. The baking soda breaks down some proteins in the meat, enhancing the texture even further. By adding baking soda to your cornstarch mixture, you can get some exciting results from your meat.
This isn’t really necessary for chicken because most poultry meat is already tender. But if you’re ever velveting beef, this could be a good step to add.
Some people make this a separate step altogether. First, you will let the beef sit in a baking soda and water mixture for 30 minutes, then you take it out and proceed with your velveting method with cornstarch and water. This adds extra tenderness to your meats, which is great for beef stir frys.
If you go this route, just make sure you wash off the baking soda before velveting.
Most people say that you should let your chicken marinate in the velveting mixture for at least thirty minutes. This will ensure that a nice coating gets formed over your chicken so that all of those juices can get sealed in.
You can go for longer if you want to, but thirty minutes should do the trick if you’re in a pinch. Just start the marinade and then begin prepping your other ingredients. Most of the time, that should give the chicken enough time to get properly velveted.
If you want to, you can also velvet your chicken overnight. There’s no rule against that! But velveting overnight is not essential, and 30 minutes will definitely be enough time.
You can velvet pretty much any part of a chicken. Just make sure you slice it into thin pieces first. Breasts and thighs are always welcome, as those cuts have great slices of meat for stir frys.
Just make sure that you don’t leave any skin on the meat, as skin can impede the velveting process.
So now that we’ve talked about the different techniques, let’s get to the specific velveting recipe to use for extra tender, succulent chicken.
First things first, make your marinade. For this recipe, let’s make a basic velveting mixture that can be used for different applications. If you want to add other sauces for flavor, you absolutely can!
Get about a pound of thinly sliced meat. Make sure that you’ve cut your meat against the grain. The shortened fibers make for better tenderness.
To make your mixture, add one tablespoon of vegetable oil, one tablespoon of cornstarch, and one tablespoon of water. If you’re looking to change the flavor, you can replace the water with soy sauce, rice vinegar, oyster sauce, or whatever suits your taste.
You’re also welcome to switch the vegetable oil with sesame oil to add a nice toasty flavor.
After that, simply mix your chicken slices into the marinade. Make sure that each piece gets coated. Cover it and put it in the fridge for about 30 minutes.
Again, while your meat is marinating and the cornstarch is turning into a nice, gelatinous coating, prep the other ingredients for your meal. For a stir fry, chop some fresh veggies and prepare your sauce. That should give the marinade enough time to set.
After the marinating process is complete, it’s time to seal the meat. Boil some water, or fill a wok with some oil, depending on which method you prefer. Carefully place the meat in the cooking liquid and get ready to act quickly!
You should only cook the meat here for about 30 or 40 seconds. You just want the outside to get cooked to seal in the flavors of the meat for that enhanced texture.
If prepping chicken ahead of time, cover it up and place it in the refrigerator until it is time to cook. If you like to prepare as much as possible ahead of time, go for it! But if you’re going to refrigerate the chicken after the first cook, it’s best not to wait more than 24 hours for the best taste.
The final step is to cook the chicken all the way through. Since it’s already been partially cooked, you shouldn’t need to cook the chicken too much. If you’re making a stir-fry, you can cook the vegetables most of the way and then add the chicken towards the end.
Velveting chicken is a fantastic technique for dishes with smaller pieces of meat. It unlocks restaurant-level meat tenderness in your own home! This technique can be used for all sorts of different dishes, such as:
Remember, you don’t have to limit this technique to chicken. Velveting works wonders on beef, pork, and even shrimp!
Velveting is an incredible technique to learn, especially if you’re looking to unlock rich, juicy, tender meat with your own personal touch. And if you're ready to try velveting for your next stir fry and need some ingredients, don’t forget to check out Umamicart!
You can get meats, veggies, and seasonings all delivered to your door for a fantastic home cooking experience.
How to Velvet Chicken for Stir-fry: Chinese Cooking 101 | The Woks of Life
Ruminant meat flavor influenced by different factors with special reference to fatty acids | National Institutes of Health
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