Master Recipe for Velveting Chicken

Ingredients

  • 1 pound boneless and skinless chicken breasts (about 2 pounds with bone in)

Velvet-Coating

  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon dry sherry
  • 1 large egg white
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 2 cups oil

Method

Boning and Cutting the Meat

If you have to bone the breast meat yourself, follow these steps: 1) Remove the skin, 2) cut through the meat along the breast ridge, then cut in scraping motions over the rib cage to free the meat as- you pull it with your other hand. Trim off the fat and membrane, and separate the 2 tubular fillets from the breast meat. You now have 4 pieces.

Cutting is easier and neater if you wrap the meat in aluminum foil and freeze it for a few hours until firm but not hard. See discussion.

FOR SLICES—Cut the large pieces of breast meat crosswise (against the grain) into -inch-thick slices, then cut the slices in half if they are very long. They should be to 2 inches long. The tubular fillets are formed over a tough tendon: score the meat along the tendon with the tip of your knife halfway to flatten the meat and expose the tendon; then pull and loosen it with the tip of your knife and discard. Then slice the meat on a slant crosswise to get wider slices, comparable to those made from the rest of the breast meat.

FOR SHREDS—Slice the meat crosswise into -inch-thick slices, or a little thicker. Stack a few of these slices together or place them in a slanting stack, then cut them along their length into shreds. If they are very long, cut in half. Shreds should be about inches long, inch in diameter.

FOR DICE—Cut the meat lengthwise (with the grain) into ¼-inch-wide strips; gather them up and cut them crosswise into ¼-inch dice.

FOR CUBES—Cut the meat lengthwise into ½-inch-wide strips; gather them up and cut them crosswise into ½-inch cubes.

Coating

Put the cut meat into a bowl, add the salt and sherry, and stir. Beat the egg white only until the gel is completely broken—it should not be frothy, lest the coating puff and disintegrate upon cooking. Add this to the chicken, sprinkle in the cornstarch, and mix well. Add the tablespoon of oil and stir until smooth. Let the chicken sit in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes so that the coating has time to adhere to the meat.

VELVETING IN OIL—Just before velveting the chicken, assemble everything you need: a wok or deep skillet on the stove, a strainer set over a small pot, and a pair of chopsticks, wooden spoon, or spatula. Do not use sharp implements such as a fork for turning the meat in the oil.

Heat the wok or skillet over high heat until very hot; then turn heat to medium, add 2 cups oil, and heat for about 40 seconds until it is warm, about 275 degrees, or until it foams a cube of bread or piece of scallion very slowly. Give the coated chicken a big stir and scatter in the pieces; quickly but gently stir them to separate them. The oil should cover every piece. Lower the heat immediately if the chicken begins to sizzle; hot oil will make velveted chicken hard and yellow.

When the meat turns white, which takes about 30 to 45 seconds only, immediately pour both oil and chicken into the strainer, reserving the oil. The chicken is now velveted, ready to be stir-fried. When the oil is cool, strain and rebottle it.

Velveting can be done well before the stir-frying. If you are going to use the chicken in an hour or so, do it in oil as above; do not refrigerate the chicken, however, or it will harden. If you do want to refrigerate or freeze velveted chicken, you must use water instead of oil.

VELVETING IN WATER—Bring 1 quart water to a boil, add 1 tablespoon oil to “grease the liquid,” and then lower the heat to maintain a very gentle simmer. Scatter in the chicken, stir to separate, and keep stirring gently until the coating turns white. Then immediately pour into the strainer to drain.

As the name “velveting” implies, the coating is white and fluffy and the meat is as soft as velvet. While the oil method gives the meat a firmer texture, the water method produces a softer coating. In either case, the meat is on the verge of being fully cooked, which is ideal for the process of stir-frying.

The keys to velveting: The oil in the coating makes it lustrous and prevents lumping; it also eliminates the mealiness of cornstarch. When velveting is done in oil, the wok or skillet must be very hot before the oil goes in, so that the coated chicken does not stick to the pan. The oil, however, should not be hot, or it will toughen the chicken.

Now that you have velveted chicken on hand, here are some recipes showing how to use it in stir-frying.

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