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Yes, the word "velvet" is being used here as a verb. "Velveting" is the reason why your take-out Chinese food has meat that is so tender, it is falling apart. It's also the reason why it's tough to get that tender texture when doing a simple stir fry at home…even in cast iron. I learned to cook and began cooking for myself in 2010, and it wasn't until ten years later (January of 2021) that I first heard about velveting. Many stir fry recipes say to coat your meat in corn starch before stir frying. Using this technique, the meat is instead marinated, then drained of excess liquid and then stir fried.
Velveting is a simple technique that does require two additional steps, and one additional pan, when preparing for a Chinese style stir fry. The quick description of this technique:
When a stir fry is done in this manner, the meat remains tender and juicy instead of seizing up and drying out when it contacts a blazing hot wok.
The basic marinade for velveting one pound of meat (sixteen ounces) is:
Whisk egg white, vinegar, cornstarch, and salt together in a bowl until marinade is smooth. Add meat; cover with plastic wrap and marinate in the refrigerator, about 30 minutes.
Bring water and oil to a boil in a pot over high heat. Reduce heat to medium.
Pour excess marinade off the meat. Add meat to the pot; boil until white on the outside but still raw in the middle, about 1 minute. Remove the meat with a slotted spoon and place in a colander to drain the excess liquid.
Store in the refrigerator in a sealed container until ready to use, up to a few hours. Heat until meat is no longer pink and juices run clear.
Place the beef in the freezer for 30 minutes before slicing. This will make it much easier to cut the beef.
While the beef is in the freezer, prepare velveting marinade: whisk together egg white, corn starch, rice vinegar, kosher salt until there are no clumps in the marinade.
Cut beef into thin slices and place into a bowl. Mix in the marinade until the beef is entirely coated. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or foil, and refrigerate for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
Prepare a pot of rice, so the beef and broccoli can be served over rice.
Place a heavy cast iron wok into the oven (yes, the oven!) and heat the oven, plus the wok, to your oven's maximum temperature, usually 500 to 550 degrees Fahrenheit.
Place a separate saucepan on the stovetop, add water and peanut oil, and bring to a boil. When the water is boiling, remove the marinated beef from the refrigerator. Add about 1/3 of the beef to the boiling water and gently stir it for 30 seconds, breaking up the meat as you stir so that it isn't clumped together. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon, and place into a colander. Repeat with the rest of the beef, blanching a second and third batch in the oil, then draining in the colander. After draining, place the beef into a bowl and stir in soy sauce, and white sugar.
Now we're ready to stir fry! When the wok is ready, take the marinated beef out of the refrigerator. Have the broccoli florets ready. Turn your stovetop burner up to about 3/4 of the way high. This is all we need for a cast iron stir fry! Let the stovetop burner heat for about five minutes.
Using heavy gloves or oven mitts, take the blazing hot cast iron wok out of the oven, place it on the hot burner, and add peanut oil to the wok. Wait about a minute for the oil to get good and hot.
Add marinated beef to the wok and stir fry until the meat is cooked: when it's tender enough that you can cut a piece in half with your wok spatula. Remove the meat from the wok and reserve in a metal bowl.
Add more oil to the wok if necessary. Add broccoli florets to the wok. Add ginger and garlic. Stir fry until they are bright green and almost tender, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add the cooked beef to the broccoli, and stir it all around until everything is hot and ready.
Serve over rice.