Want a weeknight stir fry, with chicken as tender as velvet? Have I got a technique for you.
For the low, low price of three $9.99 payments, we’ll throw in a second bassomatic for…sorry. I got stuck in “As Seen On TV” sales mode.
Velveting is a Chinese technique to protect meat from the heat of a wok. First, marinate the meat in egg white, corn starch, and flavoring liquids, like soy sauce and rice wine. Then par-cook the meat in oil or water before stir-frying to set the coating. This coating - the velveting - forms a protective barrier, keeping the meat tender while it browns.
I don’t have time for all that in a weeknight stir fry. I take a shortcut.
I stick with the corn starch marinade…skipping the egg white…and also skipping the par-cooking step. The marinated chicken breast goes straight in the hot wok - no par-cooking for me. The corn starch coating does its work, protecting the meat and keeping it tender.
Credit where it’s due - I picked this tip up from Cooks Illustrated at some point - I can’t find the original recipe, but it’s in my backlog of issues somewhere.
Now, is this as tender as real velveted chicken? Of course not. If it was, why would thousands of years of Chinese tradition insist on the pre-cooking step? But this is a weeknight, and I’m in a hurry. Adding the cornstarch to my marinade gives me some of the benefits of velveting, without adding any time to my stir fry. It’s a no brainer - go with a quick velvet.
Recipe: Quick Velveted Chicken Stir Fry
Inspired By: Cooks Illustrated Magazine
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine (or dry sherry)
- 2 teaspoons corn starch
- 1 ½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into ½ inch by 2 inch strips
- ½ teaspoon Sichuan pepper salt (or ½ teaspoon kosher salt)
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 2 cloves garlic, smashed
- 1 piece of ginger the size of a quarter, smashed
- 2 green onions, trimmed, white part cut into 1 inch lengths, green part minced into thin rings
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar (or balsamic vinegar)
- 1 teaspoon water
- 1 teaspoon corn starch
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1. Marinate the chicken
In a medium bowl, whisk the soy sauce, rice wine, and corn starch until the lumps of starch dissolve. Add the cut up chicken, sprinkle with the Sichuan pepper salt, and toss to coat. Let the chicken sit in the marinade until you are ready to stir fry - or up to a half an hour ahead if you have the time - tossing the chicken occasionally to coat it with marinade.
2. Whisk the sauce
Put the sauce ingredients in a small bowl and whisk with a fork until the sugar and corn starch dissolve.
3. Stir fry the chicken in 2 batches
Turn on the fan on the oven hood. If using a carbon steel wok, heat over high heat, then swirl in one tablespoon of the vegetable oil. If using a nonstick pan, put the oil in the pan and heat over medium-high heat until the oil is shimmering and starting to have wisps of smoke. Add half of the chicken, toss to coat with oil, and then stir fry until the chicken loses its pink color and browns a little on the edges, about 2 minutes. Pour the chicken from the pan onto a serving platter.
Return the pan to the heat, add the second tablespoon of vegetable oil, and let it heat for a minute. Add the second batch of chicken to the pan, toss to coat with oil, and then add the garlic, ginger, and white part of the green onions. Stir fry until the second batch of chicken loses its pink color and browns a little on the edges, about 2 more minutes. Stir the first batch of chicken (and any accumulated juices) back into the pan, and stir fry for a minute to heat through.
4. Simmer the sauce
Whisk the sauce one more time, then pour it into the pan while stirring the chicken to evenly coat. Stir the chicken until the sauce tightens up and turns glossy, about 30 seconds. Pour the chicken onto the serving platter, sprinkle with the minced green onions, and serve.
- Serve with white rice (of course) or Chinese noodles, and a side of stir fried vegetables.
- Do you have the time to really velvet your chicken? Heat 1 cup of oil in your wok or fry pan, then fry the marinated chicken in two batches, one minute per batch, to just set the outside coating. Pour out the oil, then continue with the rest of the recipe as written.
What do you think?
Questions? Other ideas? Leave them in the comments section below.
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