The Secret To Oddly Tender Chinese Meat
A while back, before I learned the secret, trying to cook a stir-fry at home was confounding. What I made never tasted like Chinese food. It tasted like American food with a Chinese sauce.
There was just something about the texture of the meat that wasn’t quite right.
You know what I’m talking about. Think about the most quintessential of East Coast Chinese-American classic dishes: Beef with Broccoli. And think about the beef. Think how it feels in your mouth, and how it just gives way when you bite into it.
Unless you know the secret, there is no way you can achieve this at home. And once I tell you, you are never going to believe it.
Yep. That’s it. I would have sworn it was some kind of commercial meat tenderizer. But it’s not. And you will probably need to try it out before you really believe it can be that simple.
So take the crappiest cut of beef you can find or some old frozen chicken. Chill them down until just frozen so you can slice the meat very thin.
In a bowl, mix together cornstarch, oil of your choosing (I often use peanut oil, but canola oil would be perfectly fine) and soy sauce in about equal quantities to make a runny paste. Add whatever Asian seasonings you like. I will generally put in fresh ground white pepper, dried ginger or galangal, and powdered garlic.
But you could use anything.
Stir the thinly-sliced near-frozen meat into the runny, seasoned cornstarch paste, and let sit covered for as long as you can stand. At least 15 minutes, but an hour or two is best. Although I bet it’s even better if you let it marinate overnight. I am just generally not that prepared.
When you are ready, take the marinated meat and cook the hell out of it in a well-seasoned cast iron skillet or other very nonstick pan on high heat in a little oil. When the crust of the meat is burnished, flip the meat over, and do the same to the other side.
You will cook this meat so long, you will never believe it will be edible.
Put the meat aside. Stir-fry your vegetables in the hot skillet. Before you sauce the vegetables, return the meat to the pan. Then sauce the entire dish.
If you want to feel incredibly virtuous, serve your stir-fry over brown rice. It’s easier than you think.
I can’t vouch for your skills at cooking stir-fry or for the recipe you use. But if you use this technique, at least the meat in your stir-fry will be authentic and improbably fantastic.
You may like it so much that you adapt this technique for inclusion in other cuisines. But if you do, please don’t call it fusion. I used the method with beef for a Tuscan white bean stew. I used olive oil for the fat, omitted the soy, and seasoned with salt, black pepper, crushed rosemary and powdered garlic.
I cooked the beef and removed it from the pot. Then I sautéed my aromatics in plenty of olive oil and stirred in the beans to coat. The beef was added back to the pot before adding stock and Parmesan rinds. And it was delicious.
Just don’t go crazy and use the miracle of the cornstarch to tenderize meat in Indian recipes. There is an entirely different technique for Indian food. But that will have to wait for another day.