Sunday, June 15, 2008

Amazingly Tender Velveted Chicken

I had wondered for many many years how Chinese restaurants got their meat to be so tender. Anyone who tells you that briefly stir frying your meat will give you that restaurant tender result is totally out to lunch. On close inspection of many chicken stir fries it dawned on me that the meat appeared to be poached rather than fried as the chicken itself had no fry marks on it, and it's free flowing shape really seemed to point towards poaching. A few years back now, I chanced upon a recipe book that mentioned the technique of velveting, and this technique really seemed to fit in perfectly with the characteristics I had observed in many a Chinese chicken dish. This 'velveting' is a technique used to partially precook chicken, shrimp and beef. What happens is the meat is briefly marinated in egg whites and cornstarch, then the meat is cooked briefly in low temperature oil. I believe the temperature was 275 F. The meat was again only briefly cooked so that it would be still pink on the inside, and have no browning visible on the outside. I was not super enthused about essentially deep frying my stir fry meat prior to cooking. But as I read on I saw that the same technique could be used using water instead of the oil when the meat involved was chicken or shrimp. I was much happier with this option both because I didn't like the hassle of deep frying nor the copious amount of oil it might add to my stir fry dish. Sadly, I think the only way to copy the melt in your mouth tenderness of Chinese restaurant beef dishes is to try the oil velveting method, and I have yet to try this. There are quite a few online sources for the velveting technique for oil velveting and some for the water method. Here is the one I use for all my chicken stir fry recipes. Once the chicken is velveted, it is ready to use in your favourite stir fry recipe and needs only to be added in the last few minutes of cooking to finish off the cooking process and to thoroughly heat it. I usually throw it in just before I thicken the sauce with tapioca or corn starch. As a caution, make certain to only lightly beat the egg white because if you beat it to the point of foaming it may not stay adhered to the chicken, but may break off during the velveting process. When I velvet my chicken I usually just add in the meat to the boiling water and count to 30, then remove it with my mesh scoop and set it aside in a strainer till my stir fry is ready for it. I have read that using this water method with chicken, that the meat can be refrigerated until ready to use, which is not the case when using the oil method. Anyway, the recipe is posted and feel free to Google to your hearts content on the subject as there is lots of information on it out there.

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