Velvety Beef, Without Velveting

Say What? You may have read my 1.13.16 post “Jau-Yau…” an example of one of the more advanced stir-frying techniques, where chefs practice “jau yau,” or “passing through oil,” in which case bite-size pieces of meat, poultry or fish are blanched in oil before stir-frying, ensuring that the ingredients will be more succulent and flavorful.


Cooks Illustrated discovered that in order to produce a stir-fry with velvety, tender beef normally only found in Chinese restaurants, you need to choose the right cut of meat and treat it correctly. So you mean to tell me there is an easier way than jau-yau??

This recipe for Beef Stir-Fry with Bell Peppers and Black Pepper Sauce sounded like a good alternative to us. Problem was, it calls for flank steak and we forgot to buy it when we did our weekly grocery shopping. So when I realized the morning of the intended dinner that we didn’t have the main ingredient, I stopped at the grocery store on the way home.

Can you believe they did not have ANY flank steak? Not especially pleased with this turn of events, I found my only plausible choice was a few packages of “stir-fry beef round strips” that were already cut into appropriate-sized pieces. Suspicious though I was, saving a step or two, couldn’t hurt…

We know that flank steak, cut across the grain into bite-size pieces, delivers a great beef flavor and a moderate chew. But we didn’t know that soaking the meat briefly in a mild baking soda solution while adding some cornstarch to the marinade before flash searing it in a very hot pan—finishes the job of delivering meltingly tender, restaurant-quality beef stir-fry.

The beef strips marinate in baking soda and water for five minutes.

IMG_4229Marinated beef strips sear briefly in a hot wok before stir-frying.

The cooked meat is placed in a bowl while you stir-fry the veggies.

Wowser, absolutely no complaints from us—this meal was three thumbs up! (And may be even better if using flank steak.) We tweaked the directions to add the scallion greens at the very end instead of with the bell peppers. Otherwise, we are happy fans of the streamlined “Velvet Technique.”

Hmmm, we wonder if this could apply to chicken, pork and shrimp?

Pepper strips get a whirl around the wok for a good 4-5 minutes.

Scallion whites, garlic and ginger get their turn.

The remaining sauce is whisked into the ingredients for a final stir-fry.


  • tablespoon plus ¼ cup water
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • pound flank steak, trimmed, cut into 2- to 2 ½-inch strips with grain, each strip cut ­crosswise against grain into ¼-inch-thick slices
  • tablespoons soy sauce
  • tablespoons dry sherry or Chinese rice wine
  • teaspoons cornstarch
  • 2 ½ teaspoons packed light brown sugar
  • tablespoon oyster sauce
  • teaspoons rice vinegar
  • 1 ½ teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • teaspoons coarsely ground pepper
  • tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and cut into ¼-inch-wide strips
  • green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and cut into ¼-inch-wide strips
  • scallions, white parts sliced thin on bias, green parts cut into 2-inch pieces
  • garlic cloves, minced
  • tablespoon grated fresh ginger


  1. Combine 1 tablespoon water and baking soda in medium bowl. Add beef and toss to coat. Let sit at room temperature for 5 minutes.
  2. Whisk 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 tablespoon sherry, 1½ teaspoons cornstarch, and ½ teaspoon sugar together in small bowl. Add soy sauce mixture to beef, stir to coat, and let sit at room temperature for 15 to 30 minutes.
  3. Whisk remaining ¼ cup water, remaining 2 tablespoons soy sauce, remaining 2 tablespoons sherry, remaining 1½ teaspoons cornstarch, remaining 2 teaspoons sugar, oyster sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, and pepper together in second bowl.
  4. Heat 2 teaspoons vegetable oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat until just smoking. Add half of beef in single layer. Cook without stirring for 1 minute. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until spotty brown on both sides, about 1 minute longer. Transfer to bowl. Repeat with remaining beef and 2 teaspoons vegetable oil.
  5. Return skillet to high heat, add 2 teaspoons vegetable oil, and heat until beginning to smoke. Add bell peppers and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are spotty brown and crisp-tender, about 4 minutes. Transfer vegetables to bowl with beef.
  6. Return now-empty skillet to medium-high heat and add remaining 4 teaspoons vegetable oil, scallion whites, garlic, and ginger. Cook, stirring frequently, until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Return beef and vegetables to skillet and stir to combine.
  7. Whisk sauce to recombine. Add to skillet and cook, stirring constantly, until sauce has thickened, about 30 seconds. Toss in scallion greens and serve immediately over steamed rice.


Technique: Cutting Flank Steak for Stir-Fry

Cut steak with grain into 2- to 2 1/2 -inch strips, then cut each strip crosswise against grain into 1/4-inch-thick slices.

Velvety Beef, Without Velveting

The ultratender texture of the stir-fried beef served in Chinese restaurants comes from a classic technique known as velveting, which involves coating the meat and blanching it in a pot of oil before stir-frying even takes place. Here’s a more streamlined way to protect and tenderize the meat.

TRADITIONAL VELVETING: Marinate in cornstarch and egg white; blanch in oil to set coating   RESULTS: Good but messy and time-consuming

STREAMLINED VELVETING: Keep cornstarch; add baking soda   RESULTS: Extra-supple meat and less fuss

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