Velveting is a Chinese cooking technique used on chicken to ensure it stays moist during the cooking process. I "discovered" it about 14 years ago when I started cooking a lot of Asian food, but I didn't even know it had a name until this summer.
I'd been hunting cottontails, and I'd remembered this recipe for Cantonese Lemon Chicken in The Essential Asian Cookbook. Chicken breast never tasted juicier than it did with this recipe, so I thought it would be great for rabbit, because rabbit also dries out easily. Coincidentally, about a week later when I was reading the August/September issue of Saveur (whose logo, coincidentally, is a rabbit), I discovered the term "velveting."
Velveting is ridiculously simple, and an excellent way to ensure bite-sized pieces of white meat retain their juices - not only for immediate consumption, but after re-heating as well. You can also add any flavor you want - it doesn't have to be Asian.
Here's the essential backbone of "velveting" (there are photos at the end for each stage):
- 1 pound of meat, cut into bite-sized pieces (I like pieces that are 1/4-inch thick, cutting across the grain, and as long as they need to be)
- The white of 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- A little more than 2 tablespoons of liquid (the Asian version calls for 1 tbs. water, 2 tsp. sherry and 2 tsp. soy sauce; in the dish shown here, I used half water and half sauvignon blanc)
- About 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- Salt to taste
Put all the meat back in the pan and add any other ingredients you'd like to use. In the dish shown here, I used chopped garlic, toasted pine nuts and sliced scallions. Cook just long enough for the flavors to blend, stirring constantly. Serve over rice. Or whatever.
One note: When I made the Asian version of this recipe, the 2 teaspoons of soy sauce in the marinade didn't make it salty enough for me, so I added more in cooking. I'm a salt fiend, though, so I recommend you taste it for yourself and add salt to your tastes.
How does velveting work? The starch-protein marinade creates an invisible seal around the meat, trapping moisture without adding any noticeably eggy or starchy taste.
The reason I was so excited about this recipe is that I've found it difficult to cook some wild game in a way that reheats easily so I can take it to work, but velveting really does the trick. I ate velveted rabbit every day last week and the rabbit remained juicy to the end.
The funny thing about this recipe is that the original one I followed used the whole egg, including yolk, which is not part of the traditional velveting process. But 14 years ago I aspired to be very thin, so I used egg whites instead to remove that fat from the recipe. Turns out I'd accidentally made it more authentic.
Try this out next time you've got some game that dries out easily, like cottontail or pheasant breast. I think you'll find it's actually much more effective than wrapping dry meats in bacon, and not much more work at all.
Now, for the photos:
Sliced cottontail backstrap (OK, the rest of my rabbit didn't look this pretty). I slice the meat across the grain about 1/4 inch thick.
The marinade: cornstarch, water, sauvignon blanc and lightly beaten egg whites.
The meat soaking in the marinade in a shallow container. Make sure the marinade coats everything.
The meat, browned just how I like it. I swear it doesn't dry out!
Additional ingredients of your own choosing. Shown here: garlic, toasted pine nuts, sliced scallions.
The finished product. Yum!