Learn how Chinese restaurants tenderize chicken in this classic Chinese take-out! As with most of my stir fries, I make this quite saucy. All the better to pour over rice!
Have you noticed that chicken and sometimes even beef and pork at Chinese restaurants is extremely tender and has a different texture that is quite unique to Chinese dishes?
The technique is called velveting and it’s dead simple to do at home. All it requires is a bit of baking soda (bi-carb) to lightly coat the raw chicken, set aside for 15 minutes then wash off thoroughly before proceeding to make the stir fry. The first time you try this, you will be amazed!
The baking soda essentially breaks down the chicken fibres, making it very soft and giving what I describe as a “spongey” texture. As unappealing as that sounds, I don’t know how else to describe it!
I have not come across velveted meat in any other cuisine, not even other Asian stir fries. I don’t use it for all Chinese stir fries, and neither do Chinese restaurant. Particularly beef, I have noticed. I personally am not the hugest fan of velveted beef, I just find the texture doesn’t suit red meats as well as white meats.
However, velveting chicken is made for Cashew Chicken!! The silky, fairly light flavored sauce and creamy, soft crunch of cashews pairs perfectly with the extra tender chicken.
Can you see how the texture of the chicken is different to the usual in this close up? I’m not sure if you can, but it really does look different. It still tastes like chicken, but it is softer. Like….well….velvet! (Honestly, I think I just connected the dots and realized why it’s called velveting. I an be really slow sometimes).
Feel free to add other vegetables into this. The most common way I see it served is with green bell peppers and onion. But I’ve also seen it with red bell peppers, celery, Asian Greens , carrots and scallions/shallots.
And as with all (well, most!) stir fries, this comes together very quickly once you start cooking so have everything chopped up and the sauce in the jar, ready to go when you start cooking.
Hope you enjoy! – Nagi x
- 1 lb / 500g chicken breast or thigh fillets, cut into 1”/2.5m pieces
- 2 tsp baking soda (bi-carb soda – NOT baking powder)
- 3 tbsp soy sauce (ordinary all purpose, not light or dark soy sauce)
- 3 tbsp Chinese rice wine (shaoxing wine) or dry sherry
- 3 tbsp oyster sauce
- 2 tsp sesame oil
- Dash of white pepper
- 1 tbsp cornstarch / cornflour
- 6 tbsp water
- 2 tbsp peanut oil (or vegetabe oil)
- 2 garlic cloves, very finely chopped
- ½ onion (yellow, brown or white), chopped into 1cm/1/3” pieces
- 1 small green bell pepper (capsicum), chopped into 1cm/1/3” pieces
- 1 cup roasted cashews (salted or unsalted)
- Velvet the Chicken (optional): Combine baking soda and chicken in a bowl, toss to coat evenly then set aside to marinate for 15 minutes. Rinse chicken thoroughly in a colander, then pat with paper towels to remove excess water (no need to thoroughly dry).
- Place Sauce ingredients in a jar, screw on lid and shake to combine.
- Place chicken in a bowl and measure out 3 tbsp of Sauce. Mix and set aside to marinate for 20 minutes.
- Add cornstarch and water into remaining Sauce. Screw lid on, shake to combine.
- Heat oil over medium high heat in a wok or heavy based skillet. Add the garlic and fry for 15 seconds, then add the onion and cook for 1 minute.
- Then add the chicken and bell pepper and cook until all the chicken turns white but is still pink inside (about 2 minutes).
- Pour the Sauce in, bring to simmer and cook for around 2 - 3 minutes or until it thickens and the chicken is cooked through.
- Remove from stove, stir through cashews and serve with rice.
2. If you feel like a bit of zing, add 2 tsp chili sauce or sriracha .
3. This is a recipe that has evolved over time as I endeavoured to make it as close to what it is like at restaurants. The original base recipe probably came from a Chinese cooking show like Kylie Kwong.
Nutrition per serving assuming this serves 4. It can easily serve 5 or more with other sides, as is typically served at Chinese restaurants.