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Dining In 2 minutes 31 July 2019

Technique Thursday: Velveting In Chinese Cooking

Velveting is the trick that Chinese restaurants use to make their stir-fried meats so deliciously silky and tender.

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Sure, we can all muster a decent stir-fry at home, but the simple trick that elevates your home-cooking to Chinese restaurant standards? Velveting, or guo you (passing through oil) in Mandarin. The preparation technique involves coating proteins like chicken, beef, fish and shrimp in a marinade of seasoning and cornstarch, and par-cooking it in hot oil.
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Much like browning in French cuisine, velveting locks in the original flavour and texture of the protein before it is finished in the next cooking step. It is a technique essential to Chinese cuisine, says executive Chinese chef Liu Ching Hai of one-MICHELIN-starred Summer Palace at Regent Singapore. “Other than locking in flavour, it also enhances the texture and fragrance of the finished dish.”

At Summer Palace, Liu employs the technique on all kinds of proteins destined for different cooking methods. He deshells lobster and velvets the delicate flesh before simmering it in superior stock; scallop gets a coating and is passed through hot oil before being seared in high heat with black fungus and XO sauce while tough cuts of meat like venison and crocodile are tenderised with the technique and cooked in a claypot and wok-fried in spicy sauce respectively.
“The essence of Chinese cooking is heat control,” explains the chef. “Whether it’s stir-frying, velveting or blanching, all these techniques work together to quickly capture the wok hei (the smoky fragrance called ‘wok’s breath’). That’s why velveting is an important step in cooking good Chinese food.”

The Protective Coat


The first step is marinating the protein of choice to give it an even taste and texture, explains Liu. The meats can be marinated in any combination of seasoning for taste — the usual being soya sauce, salt, sugar, Chinese rice wine and sometimes minced garlic — but the crucial ingredient is a powdered starch (like cornstarch or potato starch) or egg white.
The meats can be marinated in any combination of seasoning for taste but the crucial ingredient is a powdered starch or egg white. (Pic & Banner Pic: Shutterstock)
The meats can be marinated in any combination of seasoning for taste but the crucial ingredient is a powdered starch or egg white. (Pic & Banner Pic: Shutterstock)
What the starch or egg white does is provide a light coating to the meat that protects it from the intense heat of the subsequent cooking step, whether it’s stir-frying or steaming, and prevents overcooking and toughening. The marinating time depends on the thickness and texture of the protein, so a tough cut like beef will require a longer time to rest compared to something tender like fish, and can take between 10 minutes to an hour.

The Par-Cooking In Oil Or Water

Although velveting is a technique more commonly used in Chinese restaurants and zichar places than at home because home-cooks might find the extra step more trouble than it’s worth, chef Liu says that it is not that difficult to incorporate this technique at home with few simple tips. “You need twice the amount of oil as the ingredient you want to cook. Any cooking oil will do,” he explains. “The main difference between velveting in oil and frying is the temperature of the oil — in velveting you have to make sure the oil doesn’t get too hot.”
Wok-fried Crocodile Meat and Asparagus With Spicy Sauce (Pic: Summer Palace)
Wok-fried Crocodile Meat and Asparagus With Spicy Sauce (Pic: Summer Palace)
The temperature of the oil is maintained at 60 to 70°C and the ingredient cooked till about 70% done before it is removed from the oil and the excess oil drained. “Be sure to pat off any excess oil so that it won’t interfere with the next step of cooking,” says the chef.

An alternative to par-cooking the marinated meat in hot oil is water-velveting, or guo shui (passing through water), where the marinated meat is blanched in boiling water with a little bit of oil. Water-velveting can be employed by home-cooks who find it prohibitive to use so much oil in cooking, although Liu maintains that the result is not as good as velveting in oil. “The resulting meat is not as tender and fresh-tasting because some of the proteins in the ingredient are washed away in the blanching process,” he says.

Give this Chinese restaurant technique a go. Both velveting techniques are simple enough to try at home and can provide that much-needed boost to your everyday stir-fries.

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