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I eat at a lot of Chinese restaurants now and also while growing up. I often wondered how is it that the chicken, pork, and beef in dishes are always so tender. I can never replicate it when I cook. What do the Chinese chefs use to tenderize their meat?

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9 Answers

up vote 19 down vote accepted

One technique, but not the only, is velveting. Here the meat is tenderized in an egg-white/cornstarch mixture for 20+ minutes, then cooked briefly (a minute) in oil or simmering water with a small amount of oil prior to using in stir fries.

I've never velveted in straight oil but water/oil definitely gives the chicken that smoothness that Chinese Restaurants obtain and the shorter stir fry cooking time makes it much more tender.

Super thin slicing (you'll need to cut the meat semi-frozen to get such thin slices), plus cutting across the grain also lead to tenderness.

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+1 for velveting and super thin slicing while frozen. –  milesmeow Jan 18 '12 at 21:05
    
My mom uses corn starch with meat sometimes, and has claimed it was a tenderizer. I was unfamiliar with the other parts of this technique. Thanks for sharing –  Eric Hu Jan 20 '12 at 3:22
    
I've used corn starch and water to leather. Also gives it a bit of a crispness to it I believe. Learned the tip from watching the show Ken Hom's Hot Wok –  jamiebarrow Feb 13 '12 at 16:45
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Corn starch seals the meat and keeps the beef tender even without tenderizer. High heat short cooking, of course.

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Meat loses moisture as soon as the muscle fibers start to contract and it would do so even if you vacuum sealed it in plastic. –  Chris Steinbach Nov 14 '12 at 10:10
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Here is my "a-bit-late" stab at the answer.

Besides velveting the meat prior cooking, the meat in restaurants may be marinated with chemical meat tenderizers. The active ingredients are usually papain or bromelain, which are enzymes extracted from fruits.

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you can put a little vinegar and rub them properly for about 2 mins i always cook meat like that, they are tender and delicious, you can have a try.

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I believe it is their suppliers rather than their techniques which are decisive. You may not want to know what 'restaurant quality' pre-portioned meat-units look like.

In order to be tender and juicy, a great deal of added water is bound into the product with dubious adulterants -ah, additives. This is all generally legal and safe.

Some exceptions: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/news/chicken-injected-with-beef-waste-sold-in-uk-1696407.html

How the animal is raised makes a big difference: here in Beijing hormones are routinely added to pig-feed to fatten up an animal quickly without it over-developing muscles.

So, if you really want to know why their meat is so tender, ask for the names of their suppliers or, better yet, some of the packaging to investigate for yourself.

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Marinate the meat with pureed fresh ginger in your marinade. It will make it fall apart if allowed to sit for a few hours in the fridge. Corn starch slurries are just so you get that gloss and thickening to the sauce when you are doing the stirfry. Don't know of anyone that uses baking soda though I wouldn't rule it out.

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Probably they heat it a little bit and keep it warm instead of storing in a cold place like ice rooms.

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I sincerely hope not. –  Aaronut Jan 17 '12 at 14:17
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Water and corn starch slurry.

I talked to some of my Chinese food experts...i.e. moms. They actually suggest using a water and corn starch slurry. They would add this slurry to the meat, whether it is chicken, beef, or pork, and let it sit for a little while before cooking.

(One downside of this potentially is that it may thicken the sauce or liquid that your dish contains as this slurry is also used to thicken sauces and gravies.)

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Baking soda (Sodium bicarbonate).

If you find the meat has a spongy texture aside from being very tender, then very likely the restaurant put baking soda (Sodium bicarbonate) in the marinade. The sodium in baking soda chemically reacts with the meat and make the meat very tender and soft.

Below is an except from the cooking section in Sodium bicarbonate (Wikipedia):

Sodium bicarbonate was sometimes used in cooking vegetables, to make them softer, although this has gone out of fashion, as most people now prefer firmer vegetables that contain more nutrients. However, it is still used in Asian cuisine to tenderise meats. Baking soda may react with acids in food, including Vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid). It is also used in breadings such as for fried foods to enhance crispness.

Personally I found the meat too soft and would prefer if they can just marinate in oyster sauce or soy sauce with some oil - acids also has a tenderizing effect on meat, although not to the extend of baking soda.

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Interesting. Regarding the texture, I don't really recall the meat being spongy. –  milesmeow Jan 18 '12 at 8:18
    
I believe most takeout places use this method over the egg-white/cornstarch method because this is cheaper. One would think that the "nicer" places would use the former as the baking soda method impacts the flavor a lot but that's rarely certain until you try it. –  Allan Chow Nov 4 '12 at 0:32
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