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Unraveling the mysteries of home cooking through science.

The Food Lab: Stir-Fried Velvet Chicken with Snap Peas and Lemon-Ginger Sauce

[Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

It's time for another round of The Food Lab. Got a suggestion for an upcoming topic? Email Kenji here, and he'll do his best to answer your queries in a future post. Become a fan of The Food Lab on Facebook or follow it on Twitter for play-by-plays on future kitchen tests and recipe experiments.

This recipe is the second in a four-part series about how to stir-fry on an outdoor grill.

Here's a must-know technique if you are the kind of person who enjoys stir-frying relatively low-fat cuts of meat like chicken, fish or certain types of pork. See, the problem with standard stir-frying is that the extreme heat necessary to develop the smoky char without overcooking the interior of the meat also causes low-fat cuts of meat to dry out and turn stringy. To prevent this, you need to create some sort of insulative buffer to protect your meat as it cooks, much in the same way that you might bread a chicken breast before sauteeing it or batter a piece of lean fish before frying it.

In Chinese cuisine, the most common form of insulation is to use a technique called velveting. Slices of meat are marinated in a mixture of egg whites, corn starch, and a liquid—usually a bit of soy sauce or Xiaoshing wine‐before getting par-cooked in a fair amount of oil just until the exterior is set. The proteins in the egg white set up, while the cornstarch prevents them from becoming too tough. You end up with soft, tender, slippery slices of meat that you can then add to your stir-fry towards the end just to barely cook them through.

In this recipe, I combine velveted chicken along with sweet sugar snap peas (great this time of year!), in a mild sauce flavored with ginger and lemon. The flavors are bright, and the contrast between the slippery chicken and crunchy snap peas make the dish.

About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.

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