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I am trying to make chicken breast taste better and a technique I found was velveting. However, I'm finding some conflicting information on how to properly do it.

The way I velvet right now is I cut up my raw chicken breast (800-1000g), then add about 10g of baking soda, then add a bit of water, just enough to submerge the chicken breast pieces. Then I leave it on my countertop for like 15-20 minutes. Once that's done, I drain and squeeze the chicken pieces a bit, then I coat with some sesame oil and let it marinate for a bit more.

My question is, is this technique correct? Am I supposed to just mix chicken with baking soda and nothing else, no water? Am I supposed to wash off the baking soda once it's done? What if I want to add spices, at what step does that come in?

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    Your description is confusing: first you say that there is water to submerge the chicken, then you ask about mixing chicken with baking soda and no water. If the chicken is submerged, the baking soda will dissolve in the water and most of it will remain in the water after the chicken is removed.
    – dbmag9
    Aug 7 at 19:18
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    Yes sorry for the confusion. So I've read different ways to velvet, and that's why I'm asking what is the correct way. One way told me just add baking soda, let it sit for a while, then wash it off. Another way said just add baking soda, then when ready, directly stir fry. One said add baking soda and water and let the chicken brine like that. And obviously there are other techniques I read. As you can seee, there is conflicting info, so I want to correct my understanding here. Aug 7 at 19:21
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    Ah. So velveting is not going to make chicken tenderer, nor is it going to improve the taste. It’s purely a matter of the outer texture, plus some superstition. Basically, there is nothing you can do to affect the inside of a piece of meat by applying chemicals to the outside. (That’s why your body doesn’t dissolve when it touches baking soda.)
    – Sneftel
    Aug 7 at 19:25
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    There is nothing you can do to protect the moistness of meat by applying chemicals to the outside. The best you can do with applying stuff to the outside is to affect the outside texture. Inner moistness is purely a matter of cooking temperature.
    – Sneftel
    Aug 7 at 19:31
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    @Sneftel brining definitely affects the inner texture, I wouldn't be so sure baking soda doesn't affect it without some experimentation.
    – Esther
    Aug 8 at 18:07

2 Answers 2

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There is some controversy about the ingredients for velveting, but the idea behind the Chinese technique, is that meat (chicken, pork, or fish) is marinated, then given a hot oil blanch, before being stir fried. The purpose of the technique is create a smooth and silky texture.

Baking soda is indeed mentioned, but less commonly than egg white and cornstarch. Some, leave those three ingredients out altogether, and simply marinate in oil and still call the technique "velveting." Most common seems to be a combination of egg white, cornstarch, and Chinese cooking wine.

The marinade is not washed off before use. Here is a good explanation. I haven't looked for any science on the topic, but it would be interesting to see if it has been studied. If I find anything, I will update.

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    You don't wash off a cornstarch velveting marinade, but I think you should if you are using baking soda as it's an unpleasant flavor.
    – GdD
    Aug 8 at 9:27
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    @GdD if you're tasting the baking soda after velveting you have way too much baking soda. Besides, as it's passed through oil (or even blanching in vigorously boiling water) the bicarbonate should fully decompose leaving no residual alkaline taste
    – Tristan
    Aug 8 at 13:37
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    I remember asking my mom (some 30+) years ago how some Chinese restaurants made the beef tender. Her response was they used baking soda for 10 minutes, but as @GdD mentioned, must be washed off very well. At home, she NEVER did baking soda, only corn starch. My impression was baking soda was the fast way, while corn starch was the long way...
    – gns100
    Aug 8 at 17:11
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This is a complete guess, as I do not eat chicken. But I used to.

If you cover chicken strips in sodium bicarbonate (or soak them in a solution) you are marinading it in an alkaline solution. My guess is that if you do this long enough, the first millimetre or so of the chicken will break down a little and absorb some of that bicarbonate.

If you then stir fry it at high temperature, especially with something acidic, such as lime (the fruit juice!), then the acid and alkali will react by foaming which will further break down and soften the chicken surface.

It would need a long marinade and the other acid ingredient to work, I guess (though heat does activate baking soda) but I would think that without a high heat the chicken won’t cook fast enough for the effect to be noticeable.

So the blanching in hot oil as mentioned above makes some sense.

On the other hand, why bother? Instead use great ingredients - fresh free range organic poultry cooked just beyond pink is out of this world and doesn’t need to be treated with anything.

The best stir fry I have had have all been home cooked, with minimum ingredients - maybe some fresh ginger and garlic with pak choi..

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