The Easiest Way to Velvet Meat Is the Cheapest

I’ve read a bundle of different recipes on effectively velveting meat. This technique, primarily done for Asian stir-fry dishes, is also mighty useful in a lot of Italian pastas that can be seen as substitutionally equivalent. I find it most effective on shrimp, which love to ramp from “dangerously undercooked” to “tennis ball” in seconds without it. Unfortunately most people overdo it when the easiest way to velvet meat just happens to be the most effectual and cost-effective.

Your typical velveting recipe is something like:

  • 1 tsp baking soda per 1/2 lb of meat
  • 1 & 1/2 tsp of soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp rice wine
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 tbsp corn starch, dissolved separately into 1/4 c of cold water

Your measurements vary. It’s pretty forgiving.

Don’t use liquids when velveting meat

It’s also redundant, because mixing some mildly alkaline ingredients with some mildly acidic ones neutralizes the pH, and anyway, separating yolks from whites is a pain, and then you’ve got to do something with the yolk. (The solution is to make mayo or an extra-tasty egg sandwich around here.) But egg whites are only mildly alkaline, so why crack and separate when a sprinkling of soda will do it cleaner and faster? I’m here to tell you from experience you can skip all that.

(Tip: you can bake your baking soda to make the extra-alkaline soda ash, and you should, because you do it once and then you have a lifetime supply to make chewy ramen noodles and rich breads like pretzels.)

Just dust your protein with baking soda or soda ash to cover the top, do the same with some salt and corn starch for texture and moisture, toss the whole shebang (and dust the top a second time but very lightly and honestly, you can even probably skip that much). Stick it in the fridge and go to work. When you call it a day, add the soy sauce and rice wine for FLAVOR, as the meat will have already converted, and return to fridge. Or don’t, and just add whatever flavors you like. Italian herbs, etc. You can add all these earlier on to season the meat even better, but the important thing is to keep the acidic ingredients out of the picture until the end game to avoid mushy proteins. Everything should be incredible by dinnertime. Hurrah for chemistry.

Why dry-velveting meat works

Acids toughen up proteins into tight curls. Alkali ingredients do the opposite, I guess? Look,. I’m no Kenji, I’m just telling you what’s saved me time and trouble. The soy sauce adds salt at the cost of acid, so I salt first for other changes to the protein structure, then add the soy sauce for flavor only in lighter amounts. You can add sugar for certain textural effects besides the addictive sweetness, but corn starch also makes this a smoother chew. Go light on the application; better to have half-velveted meat than half-inedible.

Why you don’t need to overcomplicate velveting meat

People will debate “no more than 20 minutes” vs. “at least a few hours to have any effect.” The truth seems to be what’s done, once done, is done. I’ve never noticed terrible results or terribly different ones either way, and that’s with seafood. For mammals and fowl I’d say you can expect longer rub to equal better results, owing to tougher proteins.

To recap: dust your meats with whatever looks like “not much” baking soda, and you’re done. You don’t want it to come out so basic it has a fishy, earthy taste. The only important thing is the baking soda, but add salt and corn starch if you’re smart.

And voila. Everything else might not be gravy, but it sure does make a nice base for one.