If you turn to takeout because you don’t think you can replicate that tender and succulent texture of meat found in Chinese or Thai restaurant stir-fries at home, I’m here to share that your solution is a decades-old technique called velveting.
Velveting preserves moisture and makes the toughest cuts of meat tender as they cook. Growing up in a family of Thai chefs, we’ve come to rely on several indispensable cooking methods to make the best stir-fries, and velveting is one of them. As my dad always says, velveting “makes for a better, softer texture for next-level stir-fries.”
The best part? It’s incredibly easy to do, even for new cooks, and involves pantry staples that you likely have on hand.
What Is Velveting?
Velveting means marinating uncooked meat in an alkaline mixture—typically, a cornstarch slurry, baking soda, or egg whites—to render it more tender. The marinade also acts as a protective barrier, absorbing extra moisture, to prevent the meat from drying out and becoming tough when cooked.
Velveting is especially helpful when cooking with tough and fibrous cuts of meat (think: beef, chicken and turkey breasts, and pork) but can also be used on seafood like scallops and shrimp to keep them from overcooking.
Though the technique originated in China, a lot of Thai cooking is influenced by the Chinese, so velveting is a staple at my family’s Thai restaurant and at home. It’s how we achieve tender meats, cooked to perfection in recipes like Pad See Ew and Pad Thai, as well as countless stir-fries.
How Do You Velvet Meat?
Velveting is a low-effort, high-reward technique for cooking beef, chicken, pork, and more. Begin by slicing or dicing the meat against the grain. It doesn’t matter how big or small as long as they’re uniform in size.
Place the meat in a bowl and coat with either of the two velveting mixtures below:
1. Baking Soda
When velveting with baking soda, the proteins in the meat become denatured, resulting in a dreamy tenderness that you’ll never want to cook without. This is my grandmother’s go-to technique, as it enhances the raw meat’s ability to hold onto moisture, preventing it from drying out while it cooks.
Sprinkle approximately 1 teaspoon of baking powder per pound of meat, ensuring that it evenly coats each piece. Cover the bowl and set it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. The baking soda may turn the meat a bright red—that’s completely normal.
My dad has always velveted with a cornstarch slurry, a mixture of cornstarch and just enough liquid to turn it into a smooth paste. It should be thick enough to stick to the meat, but not so thick that it forms clumps.
Though my dad prefers soy sauce for the flavor, water or oil works just fine. Use roughly two tablespoons of cornstarch and one tablespoon of liquid for every pound of meat. The goal is to coat the meat with a thin layer of cornstarch slurry without creating a thick batter.
After coating the meat with the slurry, refrigerate it for about 30 minutes. Then, rinse off the cornstarch under cold running water, removing all of it and patting it dry before cooking.
Tips For Velveting
Don’t let it sit too long: Velvet the meat for at least five minutes or up to an hour. The longer it sits, the more tender it will be. However, if you velvet for longer than an hour, the meat will become too soft—more akin to goo than a tender cut of protein.
Rinse well before cooking: After velveting the meat, rinse off the baking soda or slurry to avoid clumps in your stir-fry. Pat the meat dry after rinsing. Now it’s ready for the best stir-fry you’ll ever make at home.