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Chinese cooking, meat and cornstarch

  • h

Hi, I love Chines food. When cooking at home I often arrive at the following problem: The recipe starts with cutting chicken into cubes and then mixing them with cornstarch, water, some wine and salt. When I put this mixture to pan to stir-fry it, the extra cornstarch sticks all over over the bottom of the pan and is resists removing during the cooking. Over the time it tends to brown etc. Since the pan is reused for cooking the other ingredients after removing the meat (and the final mixing all ingredients together), this is a problem for me. Can anybody point out what am I doing wrong?

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  1. Do you add the corn starch to the liquid first to dissolve it?

    1. You might be turning the chicken before it's ready to be turned. The chicken will not stick to the wok when it's ready to be stirred. I'm not sure what the water does for your marinade, it seems to me that it is not necessary, and actually detrimental to "searing" the meat, in that it will cause steam, and not allow for correct caramelization to lock in the juices.

      I would suggest simply using cornstarch, and sesame oil for a marinade. When you add the chicken to your wok, give it a little nudge when you think it's ready to be stirred. If it resists, leave it alone. Even if you do get bits stuck, doesn't your final pan sauce deglaze everything? Or are you stir frying meat and veggies, and not making an actual sauce as well?

      1. Traditional velveting will often have the cornstarch (etc)-coated chicken poached in low-temperature oil or water to form a protective coating around the meat that won't fall off in the pan. Though I agree with gourdeaux, the velveting mix sounds a little different that what I'm used to. Velveting mixture is usually just egg white, cornstarch plus a touch of shaoxing wine, soy sauce and sesame oil for me.This previous link has a good method at the end:


        Personally, I do what you do and simply toss the chicken coated in the velveting mixture into the wok to sear. If the cornstarch coating gets too burnt, I'd just remove the meat, toss in some water to loosen the residue, wipe it out, get your pan hot again and proceed with the rest of the ingredients.

        1. You have two alternatives: a) very lightly flour the meat (previously dried with paper towels) with cornstarch prior to stir-frying or b) marinading the meat for sometime in a bit of (usually) soysauce and cornstarch previously mixed with water. There should never be so much cornstarch that there is "extra" that sticks.

          1. Here is my recipe for marinating beef (any protein) with good results.
            For 1lb of beef or chicken
            1/2tsp baking soda
            1 tsp sugar
            1 T cornstarch
            1 T soy sauce
            1 T water
            2 T cooking oil
            you can also add sherry if you want ( 1 T) for additional flavor

            Whatis important is that your pieces of meat are uniform-and that you marinade for at least 1/2 hour- longer is better.
            Heat the wok - high heat is necessary. - 4 T oil cook the veggies first with your seasonings, and then remove and set aside.
            Heat 1/4 C oil on high, add your beef/chicken and stir fry until it just changes color, don''t cook it all the way through. Remove, and drain the oil off.
            Then proceed with your recipe. Hope this helps. Of course this is just part of the recipe and technique, so it's necessary to follow through completely. High heat though is what is important.
            It is high heat, and not coating the meat in a powder - its is cornstarch mixed with the liquids, that's what gives that wonderful texture. And before you start to stir fry, let it get a good bottom first, then it will lift off without a problem.

            4 Replies
            1. re: chef chicklet

              sounds like what my familt has been doing for yrs

              1. re: chef chicklet

                I just wanted to say thanks chef chicklet! I used your marinade for a beef stir-fry tonight, and it is honestly the first time my stir fry has tasted like stir fry should.

                1. re: chef chicklet

                  Can I use this marinade for beef in fried rice?

                  1. re: CarbonSteel

                    this is late late late, but you could, just cook the meat alone in your wok, and then add it to your rice and stir in.

                2. Wait, unless I'm reading this incorrectly, you're putting the liquid marinade into the pan, along with the chicken. Is that the case? If so, that's the problem. Take the chicken out of the marinade, pat dry with paper towels, and proceed. If you're using hot oil in the wok, make sure it's really hot before you add the chicken so any 'coating' that remains cooks instantaneously and won't stick to the pan.

                  What dish are you trying to make, exactly?

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: cimui

                    I agree with cimui. I think your wok or pan is too cool. That's why the cornstarch is sticking. The excess liquid that you put in your pan also is probably contributing to your pan getting cool.

                    I don't pat my meat dry, but won't put the excess liquid in. I'll use it when I get to the sauce part.

                    And your recipe may also be heavy on the cornstarch. You might also want to try decreasing the amount to see if that helps.

                    And I've sometimes had the issue you're talking about. If it happens, I just scrape it off and eat it as it tastes good!

                  2. It should not be like a normal liquid marinade, the cornstarch sort of melts everything together.The result is that the meat is coated, no liquid

                    1. What is your cooking arrangement? Frypan on electric?
                      A seasoned steel wok over a gas flame will sear the moist
                      pieces of chicken without sticking, but as others have suggested, you need hot oil, almost smoking, moving the pieces frequently.
                      If you don't have a steel wok and gas flame, a good patio device that will heat charcoal to the right temp., and hold a round wok, is the Weber chimney starter, just a few dollars. It will get the hot coals right under the wok where you need the most heat, and sticking is not a problem if the heat is high enough.

                      1. A marinade that includes cornstarch should not, in my opinion, suggest dredging the meat in cornstarch and then adding the other ingredients. Cornstarch, I was taught, is always added last when using it in a marinade. Legend has it that the cornstarch helps seal in the marinade but I'm not sure that's scientifically supportable. It does, nevertheless, velvetize the mixture and help it cling to the meat. If you want to dredge the chicken in the cornstarch before mixing it with the other ingredients, I suggest making sure you shake your chicken pieces in a colander or wire strainer/basket to remove any excess cornstarch before you combine it with the liquid. Make sure your wok is "HOT", no sissy heat here. Don't put your oil (I'm guessing you're using about a tablespoon) into the wok until just before you begin cooking. Woks are good for all kinds of cooking but just because we're using a wok doesn't mean we're stir frying. Once you've added the liquid your braising or simmering.

                        1. I suspect it may be one of the following that maybe happening:
                          1. you are using too much cornstarch - use enough to just coat the chicken (i use soy sauce as the salt-like ingredient to marinate)
                          2. the cornstarch is settling to the bottom after having marinated for awhile resulting in a clump of cornstarch solution being cooked - mix thoroughly again right before you pour into the wok to cook, this will solve the clumping
                          3. it is not like a western marinade, it should not be soaking in a liquid - again, just enough to coat

                          hope this helps...

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: budeeez

                            Dear budeeez,

                            New at Chow. Could not find the marinade . Please help.


                          2. Your wok (or your pan) is not hot enough.

                            Most likely you are using an electric stove top? Chinese cooking works best with a gas range.

                            1. Don't mix in water. You will need to heat the wok first. When that is hot put the oil in (it sounds like you are not using enough oil) and heat the oil. Then you throw in your mixture. Where is the soy sauce in the mixture? Pepper?

                              1. The standard marinade for my family (Cantonese) was always starch, water, soy sauce, ground pepper (white for chicken or pork, black for beef). Sometimes (depending on the dish) add oil (i.e. seasme oil for beef), but it's not required. I usually just dump all the the dry ingredients in, add soy sauce, add enough water to dissolve the starch. Stir it around, and let it marinade overnight (or at least a 4/5 hrs). Marinading less doesn't have the right taste and texture.

                                There is always excess liquid, so I just drain it. Since I cook with chop sticks, I just use them to hold back the meat, and pour the liquid out over the sink. I never had a problem with the starch sticking regardless of what I cook it in (aluminum, anodized, sauce pan, stir fry pan, etc). I use a mister to spray oil to a hot pan, and make sure it's nice and hot before putting the meat in. Since our home cooking almost never include a sauce, any vegetables we throw in after the meat deglazes the pan.

                                And I use an electric stove.

                                8 Replies
                                1. re: gnomatic

                                  I think one of my problems has been not to drain the marinade off.

                                  Gnomatic, you may be able to answer this. I have read about how wonderful the really hot stove tops are for stir fry cooking. This bothers me, because I think of people living on boats with small heat sources and turning out wonderful smelling meals (a fond memory of Hong Kong). Is it the heat or is it the ballance of heat, thickness of wok, and way the ingredients are cut up?
                                  Your description of how to is what I've evolved to when I couldn't find my Fu Pei Mei vol 1 for some of my favorites. Just memories of tastes and aiming at them.

                                  1. re: shallots

                                    The boat people in Hong Kong use burners running off propane tanks, just like many of the older homes in Hong Kong. The burners are sold with the BTU advertised. (Most Hong Kong kitchens are tiny, does not have a stove, there is a platform for putting the burners on, space under the platform for the tank). I was 4, living in Wan Chai, there was a fire at the garbage depot next door to the cooked food market (it's now a condo), The fire department was concern about it spreading to the market because of the exploding propane tanks.

                                    Having said that, the fire power is "nice to have" but not required. My mom is the best cook I know, and she uses a crappy 20+ yr old electric stove (crappier then mine) and still manages to turn out amazing meals. They (the earlier generations) made do with what they have...my mom doesn't have any fancy wok or cookware (I remember she even used a teflon wok for awhile)...but she made what she had and can afford work for her.
                                    Ingredients do make a difference (how it's cutting up, probably not)..strangely my parents, even when money was really tight, never skimped on ingredients.
                                    But having good wok "hay" (fire power) is required for a good restaurant. (I suppose it shows the Chef or owner is serious about their food to get the best equipment).
                                    I think so many cantonese home cooks learned it by watching someone else, even when they try to document a recipe (hard because it's really just eyeballing everything, even making dough for the steam buns) they probably miss steps (like draining the meat) what is common sense for Cantonese home cooks, it's not for cooks more familiar with other cuisine.
                                    Most of what I know I learned from my mom, and many of her "recipes" I don't have. I ask her over the phone, but it's always "a pinch of this, handful of that"....yeah that is mighty helpful MOM. And even those I managed to tackle well..something is still missing. Recipes books help, but not quite the same as every family have their own variation (i.e. almost all cantonese cooking cookbooks in english use rice wine to marinade meat, my family never use it). I make a very good wonton, but something is still missing, not as good as mom. I swear she is holding back on a secret ingredient...she was a wee bit TOO happy when I told her how my wontons doesn't taste as good as hers.

                                    1. re: gnomatic

                                      There are good cast iron burners available here, as patio burners, for less than $50. I have used them on a patio, and briefly inside, with a CO detector on the wall.
                                      Propane tanks are built to withstand most fires, but the Hong Kong fire dept. would naturally be worried about that depot fire.

                                      1. re: jayt90

                                        jayt90, PLEASE, please, please don't use it inside (even in a garage with an open door). see this on propane: http://www.safetyoffice.uwaterloo.ca/...

                                        1. re: alkapal

                                          I am unlikely to stop using the cast iron burner inside because it is a cost effective way to heat a wok with 17k btu. I can however, easily feed the propane from outside when I do this.

                                          1. re: jayt90

                                            it is the burning of the propane inside. the tank isn't the issue.

                                      2. re: gnomatic

                                        gnomatic, I laughed at your comment that your Mom was "a wee bit too happy"! so funny, but of course she wants you to have her recipes, but we all know there is nothing as good as Mom's cooking!
                                        Yesterday I made a sliced beef and snap pea stir fry. I used my usual marinade with 1 T cornstarch and the recipe I listed above. I let it sit overnight (because our plans changed) the meat after the first quick stir fry ( I leave it pink) was perfect.
                                        I do use a carbon steel wok, I have a gas cook top, but sure it's merely average btus not anything fancy, but it certainly gets hot enough for stir fry.
                                        I was wondering how and why the op keeps getting clumps? Unless they are using way too much cornstarch and not mixing the marinade well, and then again right before cooking. I drained the meat, there was little liquid in the bowl/ It was tender and lovely as can be. I used soy, sherry, garlic and ginger.
                                        If the op is using a recipe, I couldn't see how there would be "extra cornstarch?" I always mix the precooked meat with a chopstick, occassionaly, and then again right before I cook. But I also use a slotted spoon to scoop the meat out and into the wok and allow any extra liquid to fall back into the bowl. Yes a little marinade goes in but, not enough to mess the meal up or steam/boil the meat.
                                        I was taught that I should always cook the meat first, then wipe the wok down well. Then cook veggies in steps, and then put it all back together right before serving.
                                        So I agree with you. there has to be something that is missing in their step of cooking.

                                        But on another note, will you be sharing any of your recipes?

                                      3. re: shallots

                                        Is there any particular recipe you are looking for in the fu Pei Mei vol.1. I have the book..

                                    2. Well, to be honest I don't use recipes all that often, for Chinese or any other kind of cooking. But I can tell you what works for me. The corn starch serves as both a crispy coating on the chicken to keep it from getting soggy (chicken needs to be pretty dry before dredging it in the corn starch) and it also works as a thickener for the sauce. I don't mix it with anything to coat the chicken before stir frying, I never use salt, but I do add the wine and/or soy sauce and whatever else later, usually after the vegetables are stir fried and/or steamed. I think your problem is mixing liquids with the corn starch to coat the chicken before frying. Anyway, this is what works for me.

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: Caroline1

                                        That depends on what dish the original poster is trying to recreate.

                                        The method you just describe is deep frying starch or flour coated meat, add other ingredients and putting sauce on it. That method is more commonly found in chinese takeout restaurants (as it doesn't require pre planning with marinading the meat beforehand).

                                        The other is stir frying marinaded meat. The cooked meat should have no coating on it (the marinade should soak into the meat, that's why we throw away the excess liquid), and is not soggy. The marinade flavors and tenderize the meat. When people say stir frying this is what I think of.

                                        Cantonese prefer the texture of the chicken to be "smooth" (it's a combination of the texture & juiciness of the meat), which is why we almost always marinade chicken before cooking.

                                        If the dish is suppose to have a sauce, we never use the marinade to thicken it..always a separate slurry along with whatever the sauce is suppose to be.

                                        Stir frying dishes is the default cooking method (because it's suppose to be quick & easy) in my family. It's just adding whatever meat and veg combination that you want... no recipes needed. But whenever we stir fry with onions, we do the onions first, then throw meat in, then the vegetables. Otherwise it's meat first.
                                        I don't know if it's just my family, but there was always some "efficiency" involved in food prep...we always keep the number of utensils & prep bowls to a minimum, (Probably because of lack of space and also because no one liked to do the dishes...but then again that doesn't make sense because mom never does the dishes, dad does...so why does she care if there would be more to wash afterwards?) so we don't usually do the take out the meat, wipe it down step before adding the veg. Unless eggs are involved, then we would do the eggs first. There are always little exceptions like that.

                                        1. re: gnomatic

                                          I think your opening statement identifies the problem. Good show! Neither of us know what kind of dish is being prepared. I don't know about you, but I don't have any recipes in my dozen or so Chinese cookbooks that call for chicken to be cut in cubes. On the other hand, I haven't read every recipe in them all. To my way of thinking, chicken in cubes in a stir fry recipes risks the center of the cube making it through without being thoroughly cooked. Especially when removed from the pan while other ingredients are cooked.

                                          I may not have been clear. My way isn't what I would call "take out" cooking, if by that you mean the batter enrobed kind of meats. And I often do marinade, then dry the meat and dust with a little corn starch. The cornstarch does not make a thick crust, but it does help the sauce adhere to the meat. But when I marinate to tenderize, that process most often includes the use of baking soda, egg, cornstarch and oil, but not usually for chicken. Might be interesting though. I have suspected that some restaurants use it for paillard chicken breasts for moo goo guy pan. I do use slurries. I just never use salt.

                                          But methodology aside, there are other factors that may be the problem that didn't occur to me at my first writing. One is the wok itself. If it is not well seasoned, things may well stick. My wok is a twenty plus year old carbon steel oldie that is completely seasoned. Nothing sticks! On the other hand, if the wok or pan is not hot enough, food can also stick. And in my experience, stainless steel woks are a way to beg for problems.

                                          Your mom must love your dad a LOT to conserve on dishes he has to wash. LOL! If either of my husbands had ever washed a dish (or loaded a dishwasher) what a gleeful good time I could have had dirtying dishes needlessly when I was irked with them! Ooooh, that's fun to think about! Your mom is a saint. '-)

                                          1. re: Caroline1

                                            HAHA that HAS TO BE the first time anyone called my mom a saint! After 37 years she has Dad (and us kids) well trained to do the stuff she doesn't want to (I have been wrapping dumplings & wontons as long as I can remember). Dad even does the "everyday" cooking (under mom's supervision of course :D) now. The executive chef (aka Mom) only does the special dishes and critique the product. The two of them are well suited, mom boss, dad does as told...both love food. That's probably why I am still single, I am looking for a trainable guy willing to do dishes who loves food...Guess I am going to be single forever...shhh don't tell my mom. Anyways..that is WAYYY off topic :D

                                            Your method I suspect is what restaurants do (which I am not familiar with, except to eat it). It's not that common for home dishes. We never cook restaurant dishes at home (why when it's so much fun and easier to go out and eat it? :D And no one has to do the dishes).

                                            I only started buying Chinese cook books in the last two months, so can't say what recipes usually call for in stir frying, and I am looking for the CANTONESE "home cooking" dishes (usually the non stir frying ones) that I failed to learn from my mom. The only book that come close right now is the Grace Young book...and her recipes are a bit old fashion (also have way too many of the health restoring soup stuff..I have no interest in them, I spend most of my youth hiding from mom to avoid drinking them :P). Her stir fry recipes are usually all vegetables..which come to think of it, is what is usually done. I throw meat in stir fry because I am a one dish meal person. Chinese meals are usually multiple dishes. Wei Chuan's Chinese cooking made easy...more in line with restaurant food...but it usually use the soy sauce, pepper, starch, wine as marinade.
                                            This topic is making me crave my mom's cooking. D'oh.

                                            1. re: gnomatic

                                              Here's a Cantonese cookbook that isn't bad: http://tinyurl.com/5r3c9a It's not exactly banquet cooking, but good basic recipes. It seems to be out of print, but you can pick up a used copy from Barnes and Noble for two bucks plus shipping.

                                              About the most complicated I've gotten for a lot of years now when making Chinese food for friends is maybe four dishes such as sweet and sour pork ribs, lo mein, egg foo yong (because it's so easy and but doesn't look like it) and maybe a whole fish. And my sweet and sour is nothing nothing nothing close to the yucky red stuff in restaurants. My sauce is brown and sweet and pungent, and if you inhale when eating it, it will take your breath away. The recipe comes by way of some nuns in China, and uses cucumbers in the sauce. Delicious! Unfortunately the cookbook has been hiding since the last move. <sigh>

                                              If you lived where I live, you'd cook Chinese at home! I've found one restaurant that is really good at only one thing: duck, fairly good on a few others, and standard (for this area) atrocious on the rest. But I grew up on Chinese (restaurant) food that NEVER had a stem of broccolli to be seen! But it did have celery. Hardly see that any more.

                                              But I am fortunate. Several large Asian markets near by. Lucky me! I've decided that as soon as I can find some really great pork belly, my next new undertaking will be dongpo rou, that sweet "almost dessert" pork dish. And who said Chinese food isn't fattening? '-)

                                      2. No wok here though I do want one and I use the same large pan for when I 'stir fry" meat and veg so I feel your pain. Have you ever tried tossing the coated chicken pieces into a small strainer and sort of smacking the side with your palm to knock loose the excess starch?

                                        1. Honza, if you love Chinese cooking consider getting Nancie McDermott's Quick & Easy Chinese. I just got a copy and we have already made Mabo Dofu, Chicken & Cashews, and Orange Beef. I had no problems with the cornstarch and meat. And, have loved all of her recipes so far.


                                          1. Someone earlier mentioned cleaning the pan out by deglazing with water after cooking the meat, which is what I do at home.

                                            Keep in mind that in restaurants, the meats that are coated in a water/egg white and cornstarch mixture are really deep-fried in oil first, not pan fried (or even steamed/boiled). Then it's added to stir-fried veggies and the sauce. Most recipes just adapt this to home kitchens by saying to pan-fry the meat.

                                            1. First, I have not read all of the responses. That said, I'll add that that is one weird recipe! Others have mentioned and possibly assumed that velveting the chicken is the objective. Not with that mixture! The "marinade" for velveting chicken is quite simple: One large egg white, one tablespoon of cornstarch. Mix it up and add about a pound of cubed or sliced chicken breast. I do mine in a zip lock bag, which makes it easy to see that everything is coated. Let it rest in the fridge or on the counter in cool weather for half an hour. Then deep fry in hot peanut oil in small batches, and ONLY UNTIL the meat turns white, them immediately remove it to drain on paper towels. Drain the oil from your wok and proceed with your regular recipe. If you've made more than you need, the velveted chicken can be kept in the fridge for a day or two. I've never frozen it, but no reason why it shouldn't turn out okay.

                                              This process can also be used for beef and shrimp, but for beef, I usually prefer tenderizing it with baking soda, also a traditional Chinese cooking method. Slice beef thin and across the grain, sprinkle with baking soda and a few drops of water if the beef isn't moist. Stick it in a zip lock bag and allow to sit about a half an hour, then rinse off all of the baking soda and pat dry. Proceed with your recipe as usual, including marinading for flavor if your recipe calls for that.

                                              You can also use papaya extract to tenderize beef, but if not watched carefully it can get mushy very fast. My norm is to use baking soda to tenderize beef, and cornstarch velveting for chicken.

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: Caroline1

                                                caroline, i was wondering how our favorite cantonese place does its beef so nicely. it is tender, but not mushy! i googled a recipe for the dish on the net and found another kind of baking soda tenderizing trick. it seems odd to me, however, to soak meat by submerging in water with baking soda. http://yireservation.com/recipes/sizz...

                                                1. re: alkapal

                                                  As Caroline mentioned, the bicarb in baking soda works as a meat tenderizer and it works well. The downside is the meat loses some flavor if you use too much baking soda or marinate it for too long. I normally use 1/2 tsp of baking soda for 1 lb of meat.

                                              2. If you're using a stainless steel pan, make absolutely sure you get the inside completely clean after dinner. Tiny bits of scorched food can survive even thorough cleaning and cause problems with sticking the next time you use the pan. Try Barkeeper's Friend or another mild abrasive.

                                                If you're using a carbon steel or cast iron pan, use nothing but hot water and a brush for cleaning, followed by a trip to the stove to heat it up enough to dry it. That's it. As the schmutz builds up, the pan should perform better and better.

                                                Non-stick lined pan? Soap and water, that's it. Unless you start getting a really nasty schmutz build up, which can be removed by simmering a mixture of dishwasher detergent and water in the pan for an hour or so. Note: do NOT use this method if the non-stick lining has any serious nicks or cuts, as the boiling detergent/water will get to the underlying metal and start dissolving it. After the boil technique, re-season the pan.

                                                Finally, make sure the pan is seriously hot before adding the chicken, and don't overload the pan.

                                                1. You have to put the coated meat in hot oil (it should sizzle and make tiny bubbles when you put that meat in), and you shouldn't fry so many pieces at once (this will lower the temperature of your oil).
                                                  When you put the coated meat, do not stir it. Let it be until it gets golden browned, then either turn it on the other side or remove it from the pan (if it's browned all over). Do the meats in batches, if you've got a lot.
                                                  Note: you don't want the pan too hot that it turns the browned bits black....so re-adjust the heat as you go along.
                                                  The little brown bits that's left to the pan will add to the flavor of your sauce. After you've cooked all your meat, you can discard some of the oil (optional). Then pour in your marinade (without the thickener), and use that liquid to deglace your pan. Scrape the browned bits (you'll see that they'll come off easily), then add your thickener.

                                                  It is for this reason that I parcook the vegetables first, and do the meats last. I hope this helps.

                                                  13 Replies
                                                  1. re: angustia

                                                    Dear Angustia and other stir-fryers,
                                                    I am a fan of cornstarch. I velvet my chicken before stir-frying, and add in a cornstarch slurry to thicken my sauce at the end. But here's what I don't understand about the presence of cornstarch in stir-fries: I've read that if cornstarch gets to hot, it doesn't thicken, so how does cornstarch stand up to the high heat of stir-frying? Is this why we wait to add it until the cooking is almost done, and perhaps the pan is less hot? I guess that for velveting, the object isn't really to thicken but more to tenderize and develop a fond, so I can see how the high heat wouldn't compromise cornstarch's function for velveting.
                                                    Thanks and best,
                                                    Becky Wolsk at www.textislepatchworkblog.com

                                                    1. re: BeckyDC

                                                      what is cornstarch slurry ?


                                                      1. re: susmita

                                                        Hi Susmita,
                                                        It's a mixture of cornstarch and water, to help the cornstarch blend better before it is put in with the rest of the stir-fry. I whisk about a quarter-cup of constarch into an equal amount of cold or room temperature water. It blends better if you whisk the grains into the water, rather than pouring the water over the cornstarch.

                                                      2. re: BeckyDC

                                                        Becky, HOW you use cornstarch determines its behavior. For example, when I make tempura, I use 1/3 cornstarch to 2/3 flour (cups) plus an egg yolk and ICE water for my batter because the cornstarch promotes a crispier crust than flour alone. For velveting chicken (or beef or shrimp), I use corn starch and an egg white to coat the meat as a marinade, let it rest in the fridge for 20 min to a half hour, then briefly flash deep-fry (0r sometimes poach) it and drain before using it the way I would use any protien when cooking a stir fry. The slurry (corn starch mixed with a liquid to keep it in suspension when added to a hot pan) is added at the end of a stir fry to thicken the "sauce" that has already condensed from the vegetables. Instead of a simple water and cornstarch slurry, I use a mixture of things like soy sauce, shao xing wine or sake or mirin, a few drops of sesame oil, and whatever else strikes my fancy at the moment, then suspend the corn starch in this mixture before adding it to my wok at the very end and stir until the sauce is transparent. When I make sweet and sour pork ribs, I first steam the ribs until done and tender, then cool and toss them in a bag with pure cornstarch to coat them well, shake them off and deep fat fry them to produce a crispy exterior, then coat them with sweet and sour sauce at the very last minute before serving. If I'm making lemon filling for a lemon merangue pie, I use corn starch as the thickener and stir the pot until the filling reaches the proper consistency before removing it from the burner. The difference between cornstarch and flour when used as thickeners is that the cornstarch turns transparent as it cooks but flour does not.

                                                        There are dozens of ways to thicken a sauce using at least as many thickeners. Thickeners include things like floour, corn starch, rice flour, arrowroot, egg yolks, whole eggs.... The fun is in learning about them all and how to use them because they don't all work alike. And with corn starch, it WILL break down and go all "liquidy" agian if you overcook it. And the thickened stir fry will slowly break back down under long term (several hours) refrigeration. Hope this helps.

                                                        1. re: Caroline1

                                                          Thank you so much for taking the time to write this thorough, clear answer.
                                                          Happy cooking,

                                                          1. re: Caroline1

                                                            Just curious - what determines whether you flash deep-fry or poach you protein?

                                                            1. re: Bryan Pepperseed

                                                              Honest answer? How lazy I am at that particular moment. I don't use the velvet and poach method very often, and when I do use it, it is usually for dishes where it will be added when there is already a fair amount of sauce/liquid in the pan. Poaching is not satisfactory when tossed into a hot wok, no matter how much oil is already there. It WILL stick! I normally use a small diameter pan with about an inch or so of peanut oil to "flash fry" the velveted chicken, then remove it with a spider the minute it turns white and drain on paper towels. Then I proceed with a stir fry (or whatever) and use the velveted chicken in the usual order of things. The end result is always VERY tender chicken!

                                                              1. re: Caroline1

                                                                Thanks Caroline. I was guessing it was a time/effort thing as opposed to a "type of protein" thing or perhaps a "type of cut" thing.
                                                                Unless you relpy saying something to the contrary, I'm going to assume that you're sort of telling me not to get to obsessed with monitoring the oil temp and just take it out when it changes color.

                                                                1. re: Bryan Pepperseed

                                                                  Well, you don't want the oil to be too cool when you flash-deep-fry the velveted chicken or it will just soak up and retain the oil. I only use peanut oil (highest smoke point of cooking oils, and before any one jumps on me, yes, safflower oil has about the same smoke point BUT for me and many others, safflower oil has an unpleasant taste) and heat it pretty hot but not quite smoking. And be careful not to crowd the oil. If you're doing a large amount of chicken, do it in batches. Depending on how you've cut your chicken (thin slices or cubes) it will turn white fairly fast, BUT with cubed chicken, it may take a tiny bit more time, depending on the size of the cubes. Even though there are several recipes on the web that say to cube chicken for velveting, I find the most satisfactory results come with thinly sliced chicken.

                                                                  FYI, velveting is not a technique traditionally used in Western cooking, but I have found tthat when I want to make drop-dead tender schnitzel or paillards of chicken that will be fried in any way, the cornstarch/egg white tenderizer works wonders. Just coat on both sides, let it stand in the fridge for about 20 minutes, do the flash fry thing in deeper oil, then go on about schnitzelling! My kind of "fusion!" For schnitzel, I most often use pork because veal is so ridiculously and stupidly expensive (hey, they have to keep a calf a lot longer and feed it and house it to turn the veal into beef, so why does the meat cost more if you save all that money?), but the technique works with all protiens I've ever tried it on. But I wouldn't try it with any kind of fish. Anyay, good luck with it all!

                                                                  1. re: Caroline1

                                                                    Thanks for the schnitzel tip (BTW, I've been wondering the same thing about the logic behind the price of veal myself) just so I'm clear, after you've flash fried it do you coat with egg again before breading?

                                                                    As for velveting in general, the reason for my original post was because after my first attempt came out perfectly, my subsequent attempts seemed to be much more of a struggle to keep my oil from being too hot and causing the meat to "sizzle" - which according to the ONE youtube video I've watched should be avoided.
                                                                    During the time since posting I've put on my Alton Brown/Harold McGee hat and tried (contrary to my nature) to take an analytical approach to my problem. My current theory is that I screwed up after my first attempt and started to use a different pan for my oil. The second pan I used was smaller in diameter (which I wanted in an attempt to use less oil) but it also had thinner walls. The current plan is to go back to the original pan to confirm my theory and then find a pan that will still work but use less oil. The good news is that all my attempts have resulted in finished products that were worth the effort. ;-)

                                                                    1. re: Bryan Pepperseed

                                                                      Hi, Bryan. Yes, I do the egg-breadcrumbs trick with velveted schnitzel before frying. I'm pretty sure I have also done buttermilk-breadcrumbs with velveted schnitzel and had it come out incredibly tender as well, even though buttermilk is, of itself, a tenderizer for chicken. I just can't remember if I've ever simply gone straight to a buttermilk soak for pork or chicken paillards for the schnitzel treatment or not. No reason why it souldn't work as well as velveting, or at leastt very close.

                                                                      I think you're on the right track with pan size and results. Duplicating your first method should bring a like result. BUT...! Logic says that an oil thermometer should bring a like result in any pan, as long as you're not crowding. But as any chef can tell you, cooking is part science and part voodoo. Good luck!

                                                            2. re: Caroline1

                                                              Thanks for explaining how to use cornstarch. I am always trying to improve my simple Asian dishes...sometimes they turn out OK, sometimes not.

                                                              So many ways to do things in a stir fry. There is an art to creating a perfect stir fry...I just have not gotten there yet, but with folks like you guiding us...we are bound to make it!

                                                              I got bumped out of posting this for Caroline!...this is for you.

                                                        2. I’m having the same problem as the original poster. After reading the tread I think I might be adding to much food at once. How much is to much?
                                                          Tonight I thinly sliced 1 whole chicken breast, it was organic so it was not a giant breast I would call it medium size. I then marinated it in 1T corn starch, 1T sherry, ½T soy and a t sesame oil.
                                                          I heated the wok to smoking added 1C of peanut oil and allowed it to reach smoking, added a little peanut oil to the marinated chicken stirred well one last time and then dumped it in the oil. 50% of the chicken stuck together in one big lump, it was quite a chore to separate the meat I had to use 2 forks, I let the chicken cook until all the pieces were white, then I removed each piece to drain. Each piece kept sticking to the tongs so much so after removing all the chicken pieces each tong side had a big glob of corn starch on it.

                                                          Same thing happened a week ago with ¾ of a lbs of med shrimp (41-60) done in a egg white/corn starch marinade.
                                                          Is a whole chicken breast or ¾ of lbs of shrimp to much to do in one cooking? Or am I doing something else wrong?

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: tecatefil

                                                            I am not an expert at using wok, but I have learned to only put a few pieces of any thing in at a time, let sit in the oil for a few seconds to let the protein brown before starting to stir things around in the wok.

                                                            Cooking in small batches allows you to maintain the high heat. Keep your cooked batches in a warm oven until all is cooked.

                                                            If you cook in small batches you can place things in the hot oil so they won't be touching each other & this will prevent the globs you are experiencing.

                                                            Also, sounds like you are using an awfully lot of oil. Again, small batches only require a tablespoon or so of oil. After taking a batch out & you see you need a tablespoon more for the next batch, be sure & let that oil heat up to a smoking hot heat before adding your protein.

                                                            Hope this helps.

                                                          2. The easiest thing to do is to leave the cornstarch out of the marinade entirely!

                                                            You don't need it there.

                                                            What cornstarch is useful for is as a sauce thickener. So, just mix a little cornstarch (1 TBSP, or more depending on volume) in a dish with some warm water, to make a thin paste, and use it at the end to thicken your sauce - depending on how thick or thin you like your 'juicey, gingery-garlicky-soy-sesame,sherry, Asian, stir fry goodness'- spread over your 'sticky rice'.

                                                            And for that, in case you do not know, all you do is wash long grain rice repeatedly to get the starch off and cook it pretty much 1:1 - maybe a little more water than rice for about 9-10 minutes.

                                                            Take it off the heat and allow it 'steam' and then 'dry'.

                                                            How do you say 'Voila'- in Chinese ?:p