Plain Talk about Food | Velveting a Chicken

The Chinese hold some of the best-kept secrets in the world of cooking; a few of these I have long-ago discovered and use in many of the recipes I cook today. 

We laughingly use the phrase ‘another rubber chicken dinner’ when we are on our way out to a public dinner event. Well, dear reader, read on, and you will never serve another rubber chicken dinner at your dining table again.

Have you ever wondered how the chicken and meat contained in Chinese stir-fried dishes have such a unique texture, remaining juicy and having a velvety and moist texture after undergoing such a high heat during the frying process?

I found the answer to this secret from my good friend Joan Surber, owner of the Chopstix restaurant in Felton years ago. Joan passed away in March of 2007 of cancer. I think of her often as being so kind and generous to her fellow man, often housing and feeding those less fortunate. I remember the story that Joan welcomed a family to camp on her lawn until they could get back on their feet, and the countless meals she served to a diner who could not afford to, nor did, pay.

My Hubby and I would go to Joan’s restaurant at least once a week; you didn’t simply eat there, being there was more of a community dining experience. Joan’s elderly Papa, who lived somewhere in the Bay area, would drive down and sit at the little two-stool bar eating his dinner while visiting with the customers; at times, Joan’s son Ken would join him. On our way out we would always give Papa a hug.

One bright sunny morning in November of 2006, Joan and I sat on the bench in front of the then Union Bank near her restaurant, the Chopstix. Joan told me of her battle with cancer and that she had little chance of survival as this was the same disease her mother had succumbed to years before. We hugged and cried together in that beautiful sunshine in the town that Joan so loved. She told me of her family and how sorry she was for them…never thinking of herself… so like Joan. A mere month or so passed and as I held her oh so thin hand while saying goodbye to Joan in the rest home for the final time, we shed more tears…I had come to love Joan as though she were a sister to me.

Shortly after Joan’s passing, Hubby Norm and I were invited by Ken, to join the family for a holiday dinner at their home, an honor we appreciated. I cannot pass by the Chopstix restaurant without feeling a tug on my heart. What a loss to our community when Joan passed.

Joan shared this recipe with me for ‘velveting both chicken and beef’ which keeps the meat of both, moist and tender, that I am passing on to you today.

The layer of cornstarch over the meat forms a barrier against the heat of the oil or water in the pan preventing the moisture inside the meat from escaping. The blanching or flash-frying is another step that enforces the barrier; the outside of the meat cooks so quickly that it seals the juiciness of the chicken. So simple and easy you will love the method below. Come on…try this.

Velveting Poultry or Beef. Serves 4. (I prefer Sirloin beef in this recipe.)

Place 1 lb. meat or poultry into freezer until very firm (15-20 min). This will make for easy slicing. Slice (very thin) into 1/8 in. slices.

In a small bowl mix 1 Tbsp. Chinese Rice or Shaoxing wine with ½ Tbsp. cornstarch and 1 tsp. salt. Any white wine would be a good substitute.

Add meat to bowl and mix thoroughly with the cornstarch slurry, making sure every bit is well coated Cover and rest for 45 minutes, no more or less.

Oil Method. Heat 1 cup of peanut oil in wok or 2 in. deep pan until very hot. Add meat/poultry and cook for a minute or two. Meat will be a pale white in color. Remove from pan and leave to cool while rest of ingredients such as vegetables or sauces are cooked. The meat is then added to the pan along with the vegetables for a quick saute’.

Water Method. (A healthy and easier alternative). Simply boil enough water to cover the amount of meat you are velveting, then add the meat and cook until it becomes opaque…one to two minutes. Drain the meat and set aside.

Chicken or Beef Broccoli Restaurant Style.

In a bowl combine and set aside:

1/4 cup oyster sauce

2 tsp. sesame oil

1/3 cup Sherry wine

1 tsp. soy sauce

1 tsp. gran. sugar

1 tsp. corn starch

In a wok or non-stick frying pan add 3 Tbsp. veg. oil with

1 slice raw ginger and 1 sliced clove of garlic. Fry 1 min. and discard.

Stir into oil 1 lb. broccoli florets and cook 5-6 min. Drain and add

sauce into pan along with reserved chicken or beef. Quickly stir until all

ingredients are heated through. Pour over steamed rice.

Eating this wonderful dish will take you back to Joan’s Chopstix of yore.


Colly Gruczelak, a Ben Lomond resident, loves people and loves to cook. Contact her at

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