Dining out it so bloody expensive now. The pandemic saw huge increases in home cooks upping their skill set to try and replicate meals from our favourite restaurants. The bread baking thing was kinda cool too. I hope everyone still has their pandemic sourdough starters alive and well!
Did you notice when you tried to make chicken fingers at home, you followed a recipe to the last milligram of flour. You marinate and season the strips in the perfect concoction of buttermilk and hot sauce. You’ve finally mastered the moisture so the exact KFC secret blend of herbs and spices coating sticks. They look incredible!
You take that first bite and the chicken breast strip tastes barely seasoned. It’s kind of tough too. What the hell??? Same goes for your stirfry. The chicken is rubbery and flavorless. The bottom of your bowl is also a watery mess. What the hell is going on?
The same thing goes for stirfry. You’ve marinated and seasoned the chicken perfectly. You’ve coated your wok with expensive oil and have it just at that perfect temperature. The chicken hits the wok, and your house begins to smell amazing!
Time. All of the dishes we are talking about are quickly cooked. These proteins don’t have the chance to break down the collagen, connective tissues and muscle fibres in slow, consistent temperatures. So some really awesome chefs of the past have figured out some great methods to skirt around that non-negotiable point.
The processes I’m about to talk about are commonly referred to as “velveting” the meat. It works on beef as well. It’s a relatively non-invasive method of getting your protein to restaurant-level tenderness. It’s also a staple in every single dish you’ve ever eaten from a take-out joint. Ever notice how the beef strips in your beef and peppers is always super soft and tender? You think the Express Wok is using tenderloin to achieve this? Ha!
Pub Style Chicken Tenders/Sandwich Methods
I’m a smasher when it comes to chicken fingers. After I slice the tenders, they get evened out with a tenderizer. It helps cook your chicken evenly and more uniformly. Buttermilk soak (lactic brine) definitely does help break down muscle fibre in the protein. Enzymes and acids present in buttermilk are incredibly effective at softening the meat. It also helps add that flavour and assists in having your coating stick. But, there is a more effective and less flavour-altering alternative if the buttermilk method isn’t your jam.
A quick 20-30 minute soak of your strips in sodium bicarbonate wet brine is all you need to help them get to that consistency you’re looking for. 1 teaspoon of baking soda dissolved in 12oz of water raises the pH levels on the surface and makes it more difficult for the proteins in the meat to bond.
Dry brine is the preferable method if you have the time to spare. This method is great for roasts, ribs and larger pieces of meat. You want to evenly coat the protein with sodium bicarbonate at a ratio of about 1%. So, if you’ve got 10lbs of steak or chicken, ideally you’re evenly sprinkling about 1.6oz of NaHCO₃ on all sides. The recommended brining time for this method is between 3 hours for thick steaks and overnight for roast cuts and ribs.
The secret to Asian stir fry has more than one job
For a stir fry, the time tested method of velveting involves a marinade consisting of a mixture of egg white and cornstarch. A seasoning element is also recommended (soy sauce or Shoaxing wine) and a quick exclusive“deep” fry in the wok before adding your veg. The beauty of this method is along with enzymes in the egg and starch breaking down the muscle tissue, it also acts as a thickener for your stir fry. It falls off the meat when you add the other elements of your dish and dissolves in the mix. Viola! No more watery “sauce”!
Try these methods! Google “velveting” and see how many tips and tricks that are out there might suit your dish. Save some money and learn how to make this stuff at home. You’ll be amazed how much cash you save, and you can totally wear track pants and hoodies to dinner now! 😉