Corn starch is commonly used as a thickening agent in sauces and stews in the Western world. However, it also plays a prominent role in achieving juicy and succulent meat in stir fries and other preparations in Asian cuisine. This versatile starch helps to form a protective barrier for meat to keep valuable moisture inside and also creates the browned coating that makes meat so appealing. Use these simple techniques to create a better stir fry or a twist on your classic fried chicken recipe by employing corn starch.
Corn Starch Basics
Corn starch is commonly used in Asian cooking to coat meat. There are two main preparations that use corn starch for coating -- deep-fried meats and pan-fried meats. In both cases, the meat is typically marinated in a soy sauce and cooking wine mixture to add flavor to the meat before it is dredged in corn starch or a corn starch and flour mixture. The corn starch performs in two ways when used for coating meat -- it locks in moisture and it creates a crisp, browned coating.
Corn Starch for Stir-Fried Meats
Another method, called velveting, is traditionally used in Chinese cooking and is what helps to create such succulent, juicy meat in stir fries. To velvet chicken or beef, marinate it in one part soy sauce, one part sherry and four parts water for up to an hour. Drain the marinade and coat the chicken or beef in a mixture of flour, corn starch and sesame oil. Brown the meat quickly on both sides before removing from the pan and setting it aside to add at the end of the stir fry to finish cooking.
Corn Starch for Deep Frying
Corn starch is most suitable for frying small pieces of meat because of its quick browning. It creates a crisp and crunchy browned exterior when fried. To fry chicken using cornstarch, marinate bite-sized pieces of chicken thighs or breasts briefly in a blend of soy sauce, cooking wine and ginger. Drain and dredge chicken pieces in corn starch or a 1:1 mixture of corn starch and flour. Heat oil in a large pot and fry chicken pieces until cooked through and well-browned.
Corn Starch Tips
The easiest way to dredge meat in corn starch is to use a sealed container or bag. Corn starch is finer than flour and can make a mess easily; place corn starch in a zippered bag and add meat. Shake the bag and remove the meat onto another plate to minimize the mess and direct contact with the meat. Corn starch browns quicker than flour when fried and should not be used to deep fry larger cuts of bone-in meat because it will burn before the meat is finished cooking.