Velvet that meat.

Stir-fried asparagus with velvet porkLet’s talk about velvet. As a verb.

IMG_1175If you’ve ever paused mid Beef & Broccoli to wonder how Chinese restaurants get their stir-fried meats so silky and tender, you may be intrigued by the concept velveting and its implications in your kitchen. This is something I’ve been playing with for a while, as I’ve got one of these small people who finds the texture of meat challenging.

Velveting meat is a gentle approach to meat cookery, and one that prevents the fibres of the meat from tightening and toughening.

Have you ever sat beside someone while they chewed a single bite of hot dog or chicken for 45 minutes? It’s just a marathon of wet mouth noises. There’s no bouncing back from that, and a little piece of you will die as your exhortations to “please, please swallow that right now” become increasingly frantic. Misophonia is a thing, and toddlers are known to aggravate it. And so the resourceful home cook will find that velveting becomes more than just a neat kitchen trick, but a matter of life and spiritual death as well.

IMG_1176Velveting is not terribly complicated. At its most basic, it’s a bit of raw lean meat that’s thinly sliced, marinated in a mix of egg white, salt, acid and cornstarch. This mixture serves to tenderize the meat, create a barrier between the meat and the heat, and to create a coating that will improve sauce adhesion.

It is then gently poached in oil or water (I prefer water poaching for cost and clean-up reasons) before being added to a stir fry, and the effect is meltingly soft. I’ve seen variations on this idea that don’t include egg white; if you’re dealing with egg allergies, you could certainly skip it. But I like the sort of slick layer the egg white leaves on the meat – it adds an extra element for your sauce to cling to, and the result is a lot of flavor with not a lot of effort.

Once you get into the habit, I mean.

If velveting meat is something you want to try at dinner, be prepared that there are multiple steps and though they are not difficult, they may add up to an additional 45 minutes or so to your dinner prep. This is annoying. Fortunately, you can do it ahead of time.

IMG_1179Because the steps are simple, I’ve found that if I time things correctly, I can prepare the meat for tomorrow’s dinner tonight. The advantage to this little bit of forethought is that you can have dinner prepared in about ten minutes, depending on how fast you chop your veggies. You can also deep-fry velvet meat.

(You can deep fry anything.)

Velveting meat is a Chinese technique and therefore suited to Chinese cooking, but it’s also something you can do in quick stews or pasta dishes. My favourite application of this is to add a few pieces of velvet chicken to a briny puttanesca sauce – the coating gets clingy with the olive oil and capers and tomato juices, and the chicken remains tender and does not compete texturally with the other elements. I bet it would lend something extra special to chicken piccata.

So, how do you do it? The following is a general set of ingredients, and you can substitute what’s listed for whatever you have or flavours you’d prefer. To make this more Mediterranean, for example, one might replace the rice vinegar with lemon juice or wine vinegar, and the soy sauce for coarse salt. You could replace the sesame oil with olive or grapeseed oil.

Velvet pork or chicken

  • 1 lb. lean meat, such as pork tenderloin or chicken
  • 4 tsp. cornstarch
  • 1 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp. rice vinegar
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 tbsp. coarse salt
  • 1 tbsp. sesame oil

Pat the meat dry using clean paper towels. Slice your meat as thinly as you can while still keeping each slice intact.

Whisk together cornstarch, soy sauce, and rice vinegar until no lumps remain. Add egg white, and whisk until thoroughly combined but not frothy.

Pour the egg white mixture over the meat. Squish the mixture together with your hands so that the meat is coated well. Cover, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, up to one hour.

Bring four cups of water, salt and sesame oil to a boil in a sauce pan. Working in batches, poach pieces of the meat for about 30 seconds each, removing these from the pot with a slotted spoon into a colander. Let the water come back to a boil between batches.

From here, you would either refrigerate the meat for another use, or add it straight to your current dinner preparation. To brown the meat, fry it quickly before adding your veggies to the pan. For best results, toss the meat in the pan and coat it in the sauce before adding veggies.

Plated asparagus and velvet pork



43 thoughts on “Velvet that meat.

  1. Awesome lesson..Thanks. I’ve always wondered how Chinese restaurants got their stir-fry meat so tender and had assumed it was from some nasty chemical that was dumped on it (never stopped me from eating it though).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like that you posted this on my birthday at 12:34!
      I always velvet meat for stir fry and steak tacos. I don’t add the extra salt though. =)


  2. I love these fools that complain about ingredient amounts in someone else’s recipe. Enjoy your underseasoned, flavorless food on your own time, Mike.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I’ve been thrown off two food websites, for pointing out the same thing you are talking about. Someone takes the time to put a recipe in print, and then, some Bozo, doesn’t have half the ingredients, adds his own, and then tells the world what is wrong with the recipe: I gave it two stars. because…

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I wanna kiss you a million times for this. All these years I’ve been wondering just how on earth those Chinese restaurants managed to get that insanely soft texture for meats. (Well make it all my life!) I’ve tried the different ways of brining but never anything like this.

    So thank you! ♥

    Liked by 1 person

  4. If I was going to do a lot of meat and freeze it for use later would I poach it and then package it for freezing or would this not work?


  5. The photo with the article, suggests that the coating which was created with the cornstarch an egg white mixture, is washed away by the poaching. Could the pieces of meat be re-coated, then fried, to produce a crunchy exterior crust?


    1. It’s not washed away entirely, though you will lose some with the water. You certainly can re-coat and deep-fry; it may be worth doing the first poach in oil instead, so you only have to clean the pot once.


  6. Can’t wait to try this! Have you tried it with East Indian food? I want to make Butter Chicken tonight and thought this might work with it too.


      1. It turned out great! the only thing I did different was to substitute Coconut oil for the Sesame oil because of the different flavor profile I needed at the end. Thanks for the great tip!!


  7. Thank u sooo much for this technique..have always wantd to know how to get the meat so tender.
    Plz if u know a quick way to tenderise beef or mutton to use in other dishes. Thanks


    1. You could certainly try this with beef or mutton – you can also try soaking it in a marinade with about 1/4 tsp. baking soda for 15 to 20 minutes, and that can work pretty well (and it’s America’s Test Kitchen-tested, so you know it works!).


  8. Like so many others, velveting is a new concept for me….my question: essentially, is velveting a “tenderizing” technique that is performed with the meat, PRIOR to any marinating or batter coating the recipe calls for…? ie. Once the meat is velveted, just continue with the recipe instructions (marinating/batter/coating, etc.) ? And if so, would that also imply that the frying/stir fry time would need to be reduced ? Thanks!


  9. I realize I’m late to the conversation. I was recently searching for a green bean and beef recipe and the instructions stated to velvet the beef. I had never heard of the process so I googled- and found your site. The previous instructions stated 1/2c water and 2T baking soda (I know I did a double take also)- I haven’t seen this process in any of the other recipes. what are your thoughts on these ingredients for velveting?


    1. I’m not sure about two tablespoons, but baking soda can be used to tenderize meat! But two tablespoons seems a bit much. I’d probably go with 1/2 tsp or 1 tsp, max. I’m curious, what was the recipe?


    2. I hope you didn’t use 2 tablespoons of baking soda! That would leave you with a bona fide disaster. I tried a recipe using one teaspoon of baking soda (beef and broccoli using a similar “velveting” technique) and we could barely choke it down. Two tablespoons would make your food inedible.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Very interesting process, I’d love to try it but don’t really stir-fry; can I tenderize chicken this way before baking or grilling?


    1. I am not sure about baking, but grilling is a high-heat activity so it may work? I haven’t tried either way, but I would think grilling would work better as the protein would be in closer contact with the heat.


  11. I am so grateful to have found this! Is the 30 minutes to an hour in the fridge before poaching an upper limit? Or can it sit in there overnight and get poached the next day?


  12. This same technique can be achieved by sprinkling the meat with baking soda and letting it sit for 15 minutes. Rinse well and pat dry.


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