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Velveting meat—the practice of marinating slices of meat in egg white, wine, and cornstarch—is a Chinese cooking technique that we've covered here on Serious Eats before.
Typically, after the meat is marinated, it is quickly blanched in a bath of hot oil and then drained, at which point it's ready to be stir-fried. The end result is meat that's tender, silky, and smooth in texture. But while easy for restaurants, oil-blanching, also known as "passing through oil," can be cumbersome to do at home, since it requires using enough oil to fully cover the meat.
If you don't regularly oil-blanch or deep-fry at home, trying to figure out what to do with half a cup or more of used oil can be an annoyance. Also, if you're just starting to stir-fry, the task of working with a large amount of oil can be off-putting. My solution is to use a method called water-velveting instead.
With water-velveting, you marinate the meat just as you would if it were being oil-blanched. But instead of briefly cooking it in hot oil, you blanch the meat in boiling water with a little bit of oil added to it. It's simple, quick, and much more home-kitchen friendly. The main question is whether there's a significant difference in taste and texture.
The Water vs. Oil Test
To test this out, I took slices of pork, chicken, and cod fish, and then marinated them in the standard velveting mixture of egg white, cornstarch, rice wine, and salt. Next, I blanched half of each type of meat using both the oil-blanching and water-blanching methods.
For the pork and chicken, the taste and texture of the water- and oil-blanched samples were almost exactly the same.
The only difference I noticed was that when I ran my finger along a piece of the water-blanched meat, sometimes a little bit of cornstarch and egg-white residue would come off.
It's very minor, though, and after stir-frying, I could hardly see any difference.
For the cod fillets, the oil-blanched pieces were a little bit firmer than the water-blanched ones, but as long as you're a little more careful not to break the pieces up when stir-frying, I would still recommend water-blanching for the ease it provides.
Water Velveting: Step by Step
Here are the basic steps for water-velveting. This works with all kinds of meat and stir-fry recipes.
I start by measuring out my egg white precisely. Estimating the amount of egg white here (or assuming eggs are consistent enough in volume) isn't a great idea because too much can interfere with how the cornstarch interacts with the meat. To make egg whites easy to measure, beat them first with a fork to break their cohesive structure.
Once the egg white is measured, combine it in a small bowl with cornstarch, rice wine, and salt. Mix until the cornstarch dissolves and there are no lumps left.
Dry the meat well—wet meat will dilute the velveting marinade and reduce the effectiveness of the coating.
Place the dried meat in a bowl and pour the velveting mixture on top. Mix everything together well, then refrigerate for 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, take the meat out. Fill a wok or a large pot with water. Bring the water to a boil and add about 1 teaspoon of oil. Then add the velveted meat and, with a long chopstick or spatula, break apart the meat into individual pieces.
Stir it around for about 30 to 40 seconds. White meats such as chicken and pork should be opaque but still raw on the inside.
Remove the meat with a strainer or drain it in a colander. The important thing here is to shake the meat well to remove any excess moisture, since sopping wet meat will be a problem once it comes time to stir-fry it.
Overall, water-velveting is an easy technique that works wonderfully for home cooks. Try it instead of oil-blanching the next time you see a recipe for stir-frying velveted meat, or check back in throughout the week as I share some of my favorite recipes using the water-blanching method.