Monday, September 12, 2011

Wild game cooking: The Velveted Rabbit

Yeah, you heard me right. I'm not talking about The Velveteen Rabbit, the children's novel, but velveted rabbit.

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
Directions: Put the cornstarch in a small bowl, add water/liquids and stir with a fork to a smooth consistency. Add the lightly whipped egg white and stir. Add this mixture to the meat and let it to sit for 10 minutes. Then cook the meat in small batches in a hot frying pan with as much or as little hot oil as you'd like, adding salt to taste. I let it get nice and browned on one side before flipping it, then stir it around to finish cooking the meat.

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!

© Holly A. Heyser 2011


murphyfish said...

Cheers for sharing Holly, me thinks this'll be on my menu soon.

DBTED said...

Cottontail is good, but properly prepared Jackrabbit is a whole lot better! Anyone want to share some recipes for Jack's?

Holly Heyser said...

Thanks, Murphyfish! It's amazing how well velveting keeps the meat juicy.

DBTED: I love jack rabbit too, but I haven't had a shot at one lately. Hank's site has a ton of recipes here. My fave is Sardinian Hare Stew, which he made with jack rabbits we got from a pear orchard - nomnom!

Cecilia said...

Great post! I've noticed how the meat in Asian cuisine is usually so moist and tender, and remains so even when eating the leftovers. Now I know how and why and will use this method very soon. Thanks!!

Holly Heyser said...

Thanks, Cecilia! I love that t's not just the fat that's doing the trick here. It's better with more fat, of course, but it also worked fine back in my low-fat days (and good riddance to them!).

The Suburban Bushwacker said...

Good work Holly

I had no idea it was called velveting either, certainly works.

Ken Harris said...

On Guam in the 1970s we got only Australian beef. It was terrible. It would have made good shoe leather. But the velveting technique worked wonders. Not only did the meat taste good, you could chew it and swallow it.

Holly Heyser said...

Good to know! Hank's gone for nine weeks this fall. I'll just velvet everything.

KimB said...

I love this preparation as well. I found this neat trick years ago from an old spiral bound chinese cookbook and have forgotten about it - until now! Seriously excellent. Thanks for the reminder on this!

Holly Heyser said...

You're welcome! Asian is what I used to cook most before I surrendered the kitchen to Hank, so I've been thinking a lot about how to make those recipes work on game.