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How Do The Chinese Restaurants Get Their Chicken So Tender???

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I have tried thin slicing, pounding, marinating, you name it! I just can't seem to get even close the the moist tender chicken pieces that I have had at numerous Chinese Restaurants.

Does anybody have any insight into how they do it?



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    1. re: mark

      Yep. This is good advice. The Chinese 'velvet' technique is a form of ad-hoc brining.

    2. Have you tried massaging a little baking powder into a bowl of chicken and letting it sit ten minutes? That's how they get a lot of meat really soft and tender. Don't let it sit too long, it becomes slimy because the meat breaks down.

      Proportions are to taste, but I'd start with 1/4 tsp per cup of meat.

      3 Replies
      1. re: nooodles

        baking powder or corn starch?

        1. re: pitu

          Either, but cornstarch is better. Sorry, forgot about that.

        2. Corn starch. After marinating medium sized pieces in something lightly acidic (incorporating vinegar or lemon juice), drain, pat dry, then toss lightly in corn starch and pan fry.

          Teriyaki marinade (NOT glaze) of equal parts shoyu, rice vinegar and water w/sugar, garlic, onion and/or ginger, is good. Black bean sauce is good - fermented black beans and garlic with rice vinegar is good. Even plain lemon juice with a some s&p. If you're making a stir-fry, mix the corn starch into the remaining marinade, and stir some in at the end (after chicken and veg are done).

          And don't forget the MSG...

          10 Replies
          1. re: applehome

            I'm not sure corn starch contributes to the tenderness. I think it does to the outside texture, defininitely, and contributes to that silkiness of the texture.

            The tenderness of the meat, as one person mentioned, I imagine comes from a bit of baking powder that they sprinkle on and let it sit in a bit. Then they do the normal cornstarch thing.

            Just my opinion...

            1. re: adamclyde

              Actually the process is called velveting, and cornstarch does play a part.

              It really works.

              Just do a google on velveting and you'll get a lot of insight.

              Link: http://www.themediadrome.com/content/...

              1. re: DT

                I don't quite see how velveting has anything to do with tender chicken.

                1. re: Jim H.

                  I agree with Jim. Velveting is great and works... on the texture. but you can have wonderfully "velvetted" chicken that is still chewy and tough.

                  And thanks... I meant baking soda, not powder! though, if you wanted to leaven your chicken... :)

                2. re: DT

                  Dear DT,

                  new at Chow.Could not see the page .


                3. re: adamclyde

                  I think its baking SODA, not baking powder. Bicarb, so to speak.

                  1. re: Jim H.

                    Definitely baking soda. A sparse marinade of:
                    1 T corn starch,
                    1/2 tsp baking soda,
                    1 T soy sauce
                    1 tsp sugar
                    1 T olive or canola oil
                    1/2 tsp sesame oil
                    1 T red or white wine, or sherry if you have it.
                    pepper or herb seasonings at your preference

                    Toss meat with marinade about 4 hours before cooking, not too far ahead. You can substitute the soy sauce and sesame out of the recipe if you are using tough cuts of meat for other dishes, like beef stew. Just use strong broth or worcestershire instead.

                    Works like a charm.

                    1. re: applgrl

                      Baking soda is not required for chicken. Not over cooking the chicken is the main thing.

                  2. re: adamclyde

                    Since hearing about velveting I've been doing it for chicken stir fry dishes. This is how they do it. So follow the directions as indicated in the thread or http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AE1EXv... If you freeze the chicken first to almost solid, it will be easy to slice into pieces.

                    1. re: Atochabsh

                      Personally, I think he over cooked the chicken - It was probably done when he took it out of the oven.

                      If you can ignore the tedious "powerpoint style" of the video, you (or others) might want to try this method:

                4. I'm not sure what you mean by "chicken pieces". Small pieces of chicken stir fried very lightly will be tender. Whole breasts are usually poached, and never overcooked. I would not even try to tenderize chicken, unless you've got an old rooster to deal with. There is no secret...just don't overcook chicken, keeping in mind that it keeps cooking off the stove.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Jim H.

                    When slicing the meat cut across the fibres of the meat & not along with the fibre.
                    there-for you get very short fibres, making the meat nice and tender. after this continue with the hint re cornstarch.
                    The shorter the fibres of meat the more tender the chicken.

                  2. The type of prep ultimately depends on the specific dish, but I'm assuming that you're just talking about sliced chicken breast for a basic stir-fry. I'm not sure what the restaurants do exactly, but I know what I do and my chicken turns out relatively tender and silky. Here are some general tips:

                    1. Slice chicken thinly against the grain. I don't like long, thin pieces but rather shorter, oblong pieces.
                    2. Place pieces in bowl and mix in a little cornstarch and shaoxing. Sometimes I add soy sauce. Let marinate (not too long) while you prep veggies.
                    3. Get wok blazing hot, add oil, quickly stir-fry chicken pieces til just opaque but slightly underdone. This goes fast. Don't overcook! Remove.
                    4. Now fry your veggies in the proper order w/ your seasonings and such. Add chicken when veggies are done just til it warms through and marries w/ sauce and veggies.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Carb Lover

                      here's what my mom does . . . I guess it's the velveting thing, but it's sooo good and tender. There are surely some chemical reactions at work here, with all that resting time

                      2 whole breasts in strips 1 1/2" - 2" x 1/2"
                      (I tend to ignore those dimension and just cut the thing up, and I use thighs or breasts, very incorrectly)

                      3/4 t salt
                      1/2 t pepper (I like a little extra pepper)
                      TOSS with chicken, let stand 20 minutes

                      4 t cornstarch, 4 t oil
                      TOSS with chicken, let stand 20 minutes

                      FOLD in 1 unbeaten egg white
                      let stand 30 minutes

                      stir fry in a little oil - maybe make a little sauce with soy sauce etc
                      good with snow peas and esp good with a bunch of basil

                      1. re: Carb Lover

                        What Carb Lover said here- I do exactly this- cornstartch and shaoxing, then partially cooking the chicken at high heat, then set aside while I cook the rest, and add at the end. Works every time.

                      2. I once saw a chief use not only cornstarch, but also vodka. I've used that method now for a long time and it really works. After cutting chicken into strips, marinate (for about 30 min)in a vodka/cornstarch mixture, then proceed as you would for any stir fry and you'll enjoy very tender chicken.

                        1. I tried to replicate the tender chicken in the Chicken and Asparagus dish at a Chinese retaurant. It is plain slices of chicken in a cornstarch thickened chicken broth.

                          I used Foster Farms Fresh and Easy chicken breasts (each hermetically sealed individuallt with 6 of those in a resealable pack, fresh not frozen), sliced it against the grain, and stir fried it quickly enough to not let any browning occur. Super tender results.

                          I have also had super tender chicken breast at a restaurant in Newport by the name of Pacific Whey Cafe. They use free-range organic chicken, slice it against the grain, and don't overcook it.

                          I think it depends, in part, on the quality of the chicken, definitely on cutting it against the grain, and definitely on not overcooking it (no browning).

                          If you mean chunks of chicken deep fried as in dishes like walnut chicken or sweet and sour or sesame chicken, I don't know. But, I would guess it still depends on the quality of the chicken you use.

                          1. 1: dark meat - they use the ENTIRE chicken

                            2: not overcooking (just barely done)

                            1. The process is called "velveting". Here's Ken Hom's recipe for Velveting Chicken:

                              1 whole chicken breast (about 1 lb.), boned and cubed
                              1 tbsp. cornstarch
                              1/2 egg white
                              2 cups peanut oil

                              Toss the pieces of chicken the cornstarch and egg white and let sit for 10 minutes. Do not brown the chicken at all when stir frying. You want to just partially cook the pieces - just until they turn opaque. Set the chicken aside and proceed with the recipe you desire to use it in. There is no need to flavor the chicken first, as it will be added in the last few minutes to the flavors you prepare with the other ingredients of your recipe.

                              1. Well, I think the high heat and frying contributes to the tenderness as well. As for the debate of cornstarch or baking soda, I usually use Cornstarch and a pinch of baking soda combination to marinate my cut chicken. Also, in the marinate is some cooking rice wine, teaspoon of water, sesame oil, soysauce (optional) and s&p.

                                The wine and water is for the fibers in the meat to soak up. The cornstarch is coat the chicken and retain the juice when youÂ’re stir-frying the meat. The baking soda will help neutralize the amino acid in the meat fiber thus making the meat tender. You can use the same concept on pork or beef. With beef you will notice the tenderness a lot more than the chicken. Also, beef is more fibers than chicken so you will need more water.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: theSauce

                                  While there is some confusion over baking soda and powder, you could use either, since baking powder is simply cornstarch, soda and cream of tartar. I doubt that the small amount of tartar would affect the taste. I don't use either, but some Chinese cooks use soda to tenderize otherwise tough cuts of beef.

                                2. I don't really know. My thinking on this issue is that what you're trying to do is lock in the juiciness. Lots of cooks talk in these terms. Theoretically, the very hot initial sear is supposed to seal the outside and prevent the internal juices from leaking. Makes some some sense to me. I don't find it inconceivable that a velveting marinade would lock in juices also, but I find it unlikely. Seems to me that that the velveting marinade just makes the chicken velvety on the outside. That is, your mouth feels the smoothing, crevice-filling cornstarch, not the rough, grainy chicken pieces. Maybe I'm wrong and the marinade locks in the juices too. This was an interesting thread; hope others with more authoritative knowledge weigh in.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: sushigirlie

                                    There's no such thing as "sealing in the juices." Searing is only meant to add flavor via maillard reaction aka browning/caramelizing. The level of moisture loss is almost completely determinant on its internal temperature. That's why you see recipes in which a roast is started in a low oven (say 275 degrees) and finished in a hot pan or a hot oven (say 500 degrees) and still comes out juicy without having to "seal" it first.

                                    Where "velveting" comes into play, is as a protective coating. It acts as a buffer for heat to prevent the surface of the chicken from overcooking and toughening. Doesn't actually "tenderize" the chicken, just making it seem more tender as it has not been overcooked.

                                  2. Here's what I saw a favorite Chinese restaurant (Foo Lee's, near Cheltenham) do when I was living back in Maryland. They poached whole chickens until the meat was just *barely* done, then sliced the meat into ready-for-the-wok pieces. The pre-poached chicken pieces only received a very light browning in the wok before the previously cooked veggies went in the wok - briefly - and it was finished a minute later. Marvelously moist and tender.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Pzz

                                      My Chinese cooking class said boil the pot of water, take it off the stove and then put the chicken it it and let it slowly cook in the hot water over the time it takes to cool down. Said this was the way they cooked on limited access to a fire spot. Makes for very tender chicken. I toss a whole chicken in a large pot of boiling water and then shred the meat off the bones after it cools down and use it for lots of later recipes - adding to the hot sauce later. And the resultant broth boils down for an excellent chicken boullion or gelee.

                                    2. We have family friends who are Chinese and own a restaurant, and they have a dish called Snow White Chicken that has fabulously tender chicken every time. So I asked them. The chef took me back to the kitchen and showed me that he had thin slices of chicken in a plastic container, in a mixture of corn starch and milk. It sure works for them!

                                      1. The thread is quite old - but now we know maybe a bit more [with all this Heston Blumenthal in youtube :))

                                        Cornstarch - I don't see that cornstarch is tenderizing the meat. Yeah, it will be a protective layer, which prevents, the chicken to overcook - but after all it is starch, which doesn't really change the structure of the meat.

                                        Now bicarbonate of soda is very interesting. It is alkaline. Not sure about it, but the same as acid, it could actually change the fibers in the meat - strong alkaline solutions can do this - why not a bit weaker solution.

                                        Marinating: I think most Chinese recipes are marinated. Marinating in soya sauce is analogue to brining [which is usually in a salty solution = soy marinade]. It not only flavors the meat, but also locks the water inside. This would actually lead to tender chicken.
                                        Sometimes there is also acid [lemon juice, vinegar] in the marination - this would be a classic approach to tenderize meat: using acid [in Mediterranean cooking it is usually wine, citrus, vinegar, yoghurt, which has additional enzymes etc.].

                                        Ginger is another tenderizer [especially known in Indo-Asia] - it has enzymes which breaks down meat.

                                        And finally there is alcohol, which also breaks down meat. In Chinese cooking it is usually Shaoxin cooking wine.

                                        I guess in a Chinese cooking it is the combination of the several elements. Often a marinate includes shaoxin, soya sauce, ginger and sometimes even citrus. No wonder, that the meat will be quite tender...

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: opinionated.alchemist

                                          Well, Opinionated Alchy, everyone skimmed right by Jim--except you. As it happens--you're both right. It IS baking SODA--I should know. I worked with a superior chef from Taiwan for several years, and to this day haven't found a restaurant that could touch his food. As you point out, OA, it can be a combination of things--it all depends on what you are making, and how tough the cut of meat is. But if you do nothing else, baking soda will break meat down the fastest. Soy sauce also works well, but takes a bit longer. (Not too much--if you leave steak chunks overnight in a marinade of it, you will see what I mean.)

                                          It's amazing how the guy most ignored (Jim) and the Alton-ish alchemist turn out to be right...while the whole band played on in just the wrong key. Folks need to learn to listen to those they are inclined to ignore a lot more often. They just MIGHT learn a thing or three.

                                          Just sayin'. ;-)

                                          1. re: LeeLeeM

                                            Not everyone uses baking soda, in fact I know the "older generation" Cantonese Chinese (who immigrated to US decades and decades ago) don't use it, rather they just use corn starch.

                                            I am third generation of 100% Cantonese ethnicity and learned to cook chinese stir fries,etc from my Dad, who was an excellent Chinese cook (he learned from my grandma who was born in canton and immigrated to Calif around 1910). I also observed my Cantonese uncle who owned a chinese restaurant.

                                            They both marinated the raw meat slices (eg chicken or beef) in soy sauce, garlic, ginger, corn starch, maybe a little oil and Chinese wine, and salt/ pepper if needed. Then they quickly stir fried the meat until barely cooked and maybe even a little undercooked. Then cooked the stir-fry,or noodles, etc and added the meat at the very end for just a few minutes until everything was hot..

                                            The corn starch does make the marinated meat (eg chicken or beef) seem more tender -- even if it doesn't actually "tenderize" it. If you stir-fry 2 batches of marinated chicken /beef -- one with with corn starch and one without, the one with cornstarch added will taste more tender. . . . for those of you who aren't sure about using corn starch (or even baking soda), I encourage to do your own taste test -- try it with and without.

                                            I don't think many Cantonese Chinese cooks who came to US from China 100 years ago (and who subsequently taught their children how to cook) had access to baking soda in China back then. . . so maybe that's why they don't use baking soda.

                                            . . or I don't know, LeeLee, maybe the Cantonese cook differently than the Taiwanese do. . (Personally I don't think one can really tell the difference whether the meat was marinated with baking soda vs cornstarch, the taste won't be that different).

                                            For those unaware, the area in China that used to be known as Canton has been renamed for the past 50- 60- years with no one really immigrating out of that area for awhile -- so "Cantonese" cooking may be a dying breed.

                                        2. I've been in a lot of Chinese restaurant kitchens and learned a little by watching. Every one of them slow poached whole chickens. Literally every piece of that chicken is used. These chickens BTW are the cheapest they could find. Old egg layers ready to meet their end? The Chinese have the purchase of every one of those chickens locked.
                                          Ironically these old layers still have some tasty meat on their bones. Anyway. They poach the chickens until just barely poached. The key is to be able to remove all the meat by hand. This meat is then cooled then cut into whatever shapes suits the dish then it's put into some cornstarch/water/egg white. (The yolks are used in some other dish). The time the chicken is in the corn starch etc is worked out by MANY years experience. When an order for say 'Almond chicken' comes in..........this is important.........the chicken now sticky with the corn starch mixture is dredged in bread crumbs (which have been purchased days before from grocery stores who otherwise would have thrown the loaves away) and turned into' fine crumbs then put into a wok filled with boiling canola oil with a large 'spider'. It only takes a minute or so to brown the coating and by that time the coating has sealed the chicken so no juices can escape and the chicken is finished cooking. Easy smeezy.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: Puffin3

                                            Very cool info. Turns out the Ancient Chinese Secret was sous vide !! Now I'm hungry for Almond Chicken.

                                            1. re: Puffin3

                                              That's not true. Typically whole raw chickens are deboned. The bones are used to make stock and the raw chicken is portioned to use in stir fries. There is no need to use egg whites or baking soda with chicken prior to stir-frying - you have to really overcook chicken to make it tough. Bread crumbs? Fugghahedabout it! There is no need for bread or bread crumbs in a Chinese kitchen.

                                            2. Unbelievable. This thread is over seven years old, and nobody has spilled the secret: Frank Perdue in every Chinese kitchen.

                                              1. The secret - as so many posters here have mentioned - is called VELVETING. Do a websearch on it guys & try it before you pooh-pooh it. I've been using it for YEARS now, & the results rival any Chinese Restaurant chicken dish every time. Also works great for fish.

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: Bacardi1

                                                  Restaurants rarely coat the chicken with anything. It's usually just plain cut-up chicken lowered into hot oil for around 30 seconds, then they remove the chicken and set it and the spider on top of a pot so the oil drains. It's a technique called jau yau in Cantonese, or "passing through oil". The chicken is then briefly stir-fried after the aromatics are cooked.

                                                2. I was looking to find out the same thing and this board helped!!!! I followed the advice of a few people on this board and it worked! I took regular chicken breast (2) and sliced against the grain into small strips. I marinated the sliced chicken in corn starch (1.5 tbsp) and baking soda (1/2 tsp) avocado oil (a few tbsps, it's just what I had on hand for high temp cooking) tbsp of sesame oil and a little apple cider vinegar (1 tbsp) and a few dashes of soy sauce and lastly some milk (3/4 cup). I let them sit together for about 30-40 minutes. I ended up cooking it all with broccoli and carrots (along with additional spices like ginger etc but not important) - because of the time constraints I had to throw the veggies in before the chicken was done. But I was afraid the chicken was going to get overcooked, but NO, no rubber, nice and tender and silky! Fantastic - so excited I will definitely do again. (Side note: this was a lot of food for my pan and barely fit).