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Velveted Chicken or Shrimp Stir-Fry with Lemon Sauce

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Serves four.

  • by from Fine Cooking
    Issue 28

The classic Chinese technique of velveting (marinating in a cornstarch-egg white mixture and then blanching in oil or water) keeps the chicken or shellfish tender and juicy. Assemble all of your ingredients for the stir-fry before you start the velveting process.  Serve the stir-fry with rice or with Chinese egg noodles or fettuccine. If using noodles, cook a half pound until al dente before you begin to stir-fry. Toss the hot noodles with a little salt and a tablespoon of oil to keep them from sticking; stir them into the stir-fry just before adding the sauce.

For the aromatic mixture:
  • 2 tsp. finely chopped garlic
  • 2 tsp. finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 3 Tbs. scallion (green and white parts), cut into thin rings
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. dried red chile flakes
For the lemon sauce:
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • Finely grated zest of 1 scrubbed lemon
  • 2 Tbs. soy sauce
  • 1 Tbs. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted homemade or low-salt anned chicken stock
  • 3 Tbs. corn, peanut, or canola oil
  • 1 small yellow onion, cut in half and then in thin wedges
  • 1 small leek (white and light green parts), halved lengthwise, cut crosswise into 1/8-inch slices, and rinsed well
  • 6 oz. asparagus, trimmed and cut on an exaggerated diagonal in 1-inch lengths
  • 1 small red bell pepper, cut in 1/4-inch strips
  • 6 oz. baby bok choy or Napa cabbage, sliced into wide ribbons (leave the small, tender bok choy leaves whole)
  • 1 lb. velveted chicken, shrimp or scallops 
  • 1-1/2 tsp. cornstarch dissolved in 2 Tbs. cold chicken stock or water
  • Cooked rice or par-cooked Chinese egg noodles (see note above).
Prepare the aromatics and sauce:

In a small dish, combine the garlic, ginger, scallion, and chile flakes; set aside. In a small bowl, combine the lemon juice, zest, soy sauce, sugar, salt, and stock; set aside

Make the stir-fry:

Heat a large wok or skillet over high heat until very hot. Add 2 Tbs. oil; swirl to glaze the pan. Reduce the heat to medium high. Add the aromatics and stir gently until fully fragrant, 20 to 30 seconds, adjusting the heat so they foam without browning. Add the onion and leek and toss until translucent, 2 to 3 minutes, adjusting the heat so they sizzle without scorching and adding a bit more oil if needed to prevent sticking. Add the asparagus and bell pepper; sear and toss until just half-cooked, about 2 minutes. Add the cabbage and toss just until it wilts. (If serving with noodles, add them now.)

Stir the lemon sauce and add it to the pan. Toss to combine, raising the heat to bring the sauce to a simmer. Fold in the velveted chicken or shellfish. Stir the cornstarch mixture to recombine and pour it into the pan. Continue stirring until the sauce turns glossy, about 15 seconds, and then turn off the heat. Serve immediately on a bed of rice (unless you’ve added noodles).

nutrition information (per serving):
Size : with 1 1/2 cups rice; Calories (kcal): 660; Fat (g): fat g 14; Fat Calories (kcal): 120; Saturated Fat (g): sat fat g 2; Protein (g): protein g 34; Monounsaturated Fat (g): 4; Carbohydrates (g): carbs g 98; Polyunsaturated Fat (g): 7; Sodium (mg): sodium mg 1350; Cholesterol (mg): cholesterol mg 65; Fiber (g): fiber g 6;

Photo: Scott Phillips

I've been looking for a Chinese lemon sauce for years since that was a favorite at a local, authentic restaurant. I saw this and decided to try it. Best lemon sauce I've tried. I need to work on technique as the aromatics burned quickly. Next time I may try the velveted chicken. I used grilled chicken which is great, too.

i really liked the velveting technique which produced a very succulent chicken, however, the sauce was overwhelmingly tart and lemony for my taste, and didnt have an authentic asian flavour.

This is the recipe where I learned velveting. I can't imagine not velveting chicken for my stir fries. The difference is astounding. BTW use water, not oil for the blanching; it tastes better. The rest of the recipe is excellent although the prep is more tedious than usual for a stir-fry, and the cooking parts should be followed faithfully. For this dish actually works best; my usual just toss it all in and cook as little as possible isn't as good. Great job on this one. I must have made it 100 times in the last 10 years.

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