Like many of you, I own a wok—actually I have two—and I enjoy Asian cuisine, particular the many cuisines of China, but for as long as I have been cooking Chinese dishes, I’ve never been able to replicate at home the tenderness of meats I’ve found in good Chinese restaurants. Of course I’ve tried tricks like shaving the beef and marinating the chicken for hours, but the meat always seemed chewy.
Now I know why. It’s a simple technique, and while in these hurly-burly times it may be considered a little time-consuming (a half-hour or so), it’s worth it, particularly if you’ve gone to the trouble of slicing and dicing the meats and vegetables and assembling the other ingredients. The technique is called “velveting”, which I’m given to understand is a (very) rough translation of the Mandarin word/phrase for the process, which involves coating the meat (seafoods as well) with a slurry of cornstarch, egg white and soy or rice vinegar. Not much is needed, 3 tablespoons (1/4 cup) of corn starch to one egg white, and enough vinegar or soy to make a thin paste. Coat your meat with this mixture (add a little salt if you use rice vinegar; you can use white vinegar, but I wouldn’t recommend apple: it’s just counter-cultural). Set this mixture aside for that half-hour, then toss it into a heated oiled wok (or whatever) and stir until the meat has separated and cooked through. Remove and set aside, cook your other ingredients (garlic FIRST!) and add your velvet meat last, mixing it in well before serving.
This works VERY well with the cheap cuts of beef I use. Mind you, I still cool beef and chicken to near freezing and slice as thinly as I can before the velveting, but it does make a dramatic difference, especially with beef, pork and shrimp.