This how to velvet chicken guide is a one-stop resource for restaurant-quality stir-fries. Ever wonder why chicken in Chinese food is so tender and flavorful? Read on to learn how to tenderize chicken for stir fry, the best chicken stir fry marinade, and more!

Once you learn how to make chicken soft like restaurants, try my top recipes using silky Chinese chicken. For more stir-fry tips, read my Beef stir fry marinade and How to velvet pork, and look out for how to velvet shrimp for stir fry, coming soon!

Image shows chicken breast thinly sliced and seasoned with baking soda to tenderize the meat before stir frying
15-minute tender chicken marinade for the best stir fry!

Why velvet chicken

Velveting is a Chinese cooking technique to tenderize or silken chicken, beef, and other meats. There are different methods of velveting, including oil velveting, water velveting, velveting with baking soda, and using egg whites. I prefer velveting chicken with baking soda.

Whatever method you choose, velveting or silkening chicken is the secret to a tender and juicy stir fry. Velveting not only tenderizes the meat by preventing the tissue from seizing up, but it also helps lock in moisture. Velveting works particularly well for softening boneless and skinless chicken breasts.

The greatest effects of velveting are on the texture of the meat. It’s smooth and silky on the outside and tender and juicy within—not dry or rubbery. The addition of the perfect Chinese stir fry chicken marinade is what gives stir-fry meat a great depth of flavor.

Ingredients for velveting chicken (chicken stir fry marinade)

Mixing a balanced marinade for Chinese chicken stir fry is an essential part of how to velvetize chicken. Here I give you the ingredients needed for two styles of velvetting chicken: a home-cook method using baking soda as chicken tenderizer and a hot water technique using egg white.

Ingredients to tenderize chicken with Chinese ingredients for stir fry

Home cook method

(Mimics Chinese restaurant style to tenderize chicken using baking soda)

  • Chicken breast: Boneless and skinless, thinly sliced.
  • Coconut aminos: Or use half the amount of soy sauce
  • Tapioca starch: Velveting chicken with cornstarch, arrowroot, or potato starch will also work.
  • Baking soda: Marinating chicken in baking soda changes the pH, which helps keep it tender. Too much baking soda will give the chicken a metallic taste, so we use a small amount.
  • Coarse sea salt, olive oil, white or black pepper

Hot water velveting method

  • Chicken breast: Boneless and skinless, thinly sliced.
  • Egg white: Whisk it well before adding to the marinade.
  • Coarse sea salt, black or white pepper
  • Tapioca starch: You can also velvet chicken with cornstarch, arrowroot, or potato starch.

Substitutions and variations

  • Chicken thighs: There’s no need for velveting chicken thighs, as they are much more tender and moist than the breast. Just dice it and add the marinade without baking soda.
  • Using beef: The ingredients and methods are slightly different for velveting chicken vs beef, so read about how to make tender beef stir fry for tips.
  • Add depth to the sauce: Adding a small amount of toasted sesame oil, vegan oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, or Chinese rice wine (or dry sherry) will give depth of flavor. For more info on these ingredients, see my Chinese pantry staples guide.
  • Add aromatics: Minced garlic and ginger are great additions to add to stir-fries!

How to velvet chicken (tenderize chicken for stir-frying)

There are three main components to tenderizing or silkening chicken for stir fry: Thinly slicing the meat, the velveting process (essentially marinating and then flash-coking the meat), and then cooking the velveted chicken to doneness in a hot wok.

Person demos thinly slice chicken breasts with baking soda and a quick marinade before stir frying

Step 1. Slice chicken breast for stir-fries

To prepare your chicken for the stir fry marinade, thinly slice it into uniform pieces – hold your knife at a 45-degree angle to make the slice wider and flatter. Slice the chicken against the grain into thin pieces (about ⅛”).

If it’s difficult to slice, can freeze it for 30 minutes to firm it up before slicing.

Step 2. Velveting

The velveting process includes marinating the meat for 10-15 minutes and then flash-cooking it to seal in moisture. It’s the first step to tenderize the chicken. Here are three methods of velveting:

  • Oil velveting (restaurant method) – What do Chinese restaurants use for chicken? A process called zǒu yóu (走油) in Mandarin, which means flash-frying in hot oil for 1-2 minutes. It requires a lot of oil which is high in fats and is quite messy for home cooks.
  • Hot water velveting (mixed with egg white) – This method uses thinly sliced chicken breasts mixed with whisked egg white, seasoned with salt and pepper. When blanched in hot water, the egg white seals in moisture, keeping the chicken breast tender.
  • Homecook method (easy and fast) – This method uses a small amount of baking soda, starch, and oil. The baking soda helps tenderize the chicken breast, the oil seals the moisture to keep the chicken tender, and the starch forms a thin crisp crust when stir-frying in a hot wok. You won’t taste the baking soda in the marinade, so no need to rinse and dry the meat.

This is a popular way to marinate chicken for stir fry and I use this method in all my Chinese chicken stir fry recipes.

Step 3. Cook the velveted chicken

Once the chicken is sliced, marinated, and flash-cooked, you will stir-fry it in a hot pan to finish the cooking process.

  • Get the skillet hot: Preheat a large saute pan or wok over medium heat until it’s too hot to place your palm near the surface.
  • Sear the chicken: Add and heat the oil. Spread the chicken into a single layer and stir-fry over medium-high heat without disturbing it until the meat is golden brown in color, about 2-3 mins.
  • Flip to cook through: Flip and sear the flip side, about 1-2 mins. The chicken should be cooked through and golden brown on the outside.

How to make ahead, store, and freeze

Velveting chicken for just 10-15 minutes will elevate your stir fry to a professional level. You can complete the process in advance of cooking and store velveted meat in the fridge or freezer for easy meal prep.

  • Make-ahead and Storage: Slice the chicken and sprinkle with baking soda. Coat in the marinade (oil, starch, soy sauce), cover, and refrigerate for at least 10-15 minutes.
  • If not using the marinated chicken the same day, store it in the refrigerator in an airtight container overnight for up to 1-2 days in advance.
  • Freeze: Store extra batches of marinated chicken in the freezer for easy meal prep! Add them to a freezer-friendly zip-lock bag, and keep them flat so it’ll be easier to defrost. Store in the freezer for up to 2 months. Defrost overnight in the fridge before stir-frying.

Recipes to make after silking chicken

Once you have velveted and flash-cooked your chicken, the possibilities are endless. Stir fry marinade chicken with your favorite sauce and veggies and serve over simple steamed rice, air fryer rice, or this yummy air fryer fried rice.

Here are some other chicken recipes to use your velveted chicken in:

Expert tips

  • Choosing the right cut of chicken: I recommend using boneless, skinless chicken breast.
  • Slicing and Marinating: Hold the knife at a 45-degree angle for wider, flatter slices. Cut against the grain into thin pieces (about ⅛ inch).
  • Velveting methods: There are 3 ways to velvet chicken.
    • Oil Velveting (Zǒu Yóu): Flash deep-fry chicken slices in hot oil for 1-2 minutes; a popular method in Chinese restaurants.
    • Hot Water Velveting (With Egg White): Marinate chicken with whisked egg white, starch, and salt and pepper, followed by hot water blanching to retain tenderness.
    • Home Cook Method (fast and easy): A popular Chinese chicken stir fry marinade method is to combine a small amount of baking soda, starch, and oil and marinate for 10-15 minutes. Stir-fry in a hot wok for meat that’s tender inside and crispy outside.
  • Stir-frying: After velveting, the chicken is not completely cooked through. Finish the cooking with a hot wok to sear in the moisture. Pair with fresh vegetables and a balanced sauce for a complete dish.


What is velvet chicken?

Velvet chicken is a Chinese cooking technique where boneless, skinless chicken pieces are coated in a mixture of baking soda, cornstarch, wine, and seasoning, then briefly cooked resulting in tender, velvety chicken that easily absorbs sauces. In some methods, egg white is also included. The velveting process keeps the chicken moist and tender during stir-frying.

How to velvet chicken breast?

To velvet chicken breast, thinly slice breast into thin and flat pieces, about ⅛-inch marinate in a mix of starch, baking soda, soy sauce, and oil for 10-15 minutes. Heat oil in a pan on high heat, add chicken in a single layer and cook 1-2 mins per side until just cooked through. This results in tender, silky chicken that stays moist when stir-fried

Do you velvet chicken with baking powder or baking soda?

You velvet chicken with baking soda, not baking powder. Baking soda works as a meat tenderizer on chicken because it changes the pH of the meat. This prevents the proteins from bonding tightly and gives it a soft and silky texture when stir-fried.

Do you rinse chicken after velveting?

No, you do not rinse the chicken after velveting. The marinate forms a protective barrier that helps to keep the chicken tender and juicy during the stir-frying process. Rinsing it would remove the marinade and diminish the velvety texture.

Why is Chinese stir fry chicken so tender?

Chinese stir-fried chicken is extra tender due to the velveting technique. Chicken is sliced into thin, even-sized pieces and then marinated briefly in a mix of baking soda, cornstarch, wine, and seasoning. This seals in moisture and tenderizes the chicken. The high heat and constant tossing of a wok or skillet cook the chicken fast to keep it tender and juicy. The velveting marinade and high-temperature stir-frying result in Chinese chicken that is succulent and silky smooth.

Should you marinate stir fry?

Yes, you should marinate, or “velvet”, meat before stir-frying to infuse flavor, add moisture, and tenderize it. The quick cooking of stir-frying doesn’t allow time for seasonings to penetrate, so marinating or “velveting” beforehand is key. The marinade should contain an alkaline ingredient like baking soda to tenderize the meat, as well as cornstarch, oil, and other flavorings. It only takes 10-15 minutes to marinate the meat.

More Chinese chicken marinade for stir fry recipes

Chicken is such a versatile meat that pairs well with just about any veggie and sauce. Here are some other classic Chinese chicken dishes to try!

A recipe image shows velvetized chicken with Chinese chicken stir fry marinade in a bowl
5 from 3 votes

How to velvet chicken (Chinese chicken stir fry marinade recipe)

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
Servings: 4 servings
Author: ChihYu Smith
Learn how to velvet chicken with Chinese chicken stir fry marinade that tastes just like Chinese restaurants, plus easy and pratical tips for home cooks to achieve tender stir fry every single time.
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Homecook style (method 1):

Hot water velveting (method 2):

  • 1 lb chicken breasts
  • 1 whole egg white, whisked
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • Pinch ground white pepper
  • ¾ tbsp tapioca starch, or potato starch or cornstarch



Slice chicken breast

  • Hold your knife at a 45-degree angle to make the slice wider and flatter. Slice the chicken against the grain into thin pieces (about ⅛”).


  • In a medium bowl, for homecook style, combine the chicken with ingredients from coconut aminos to pepper, if using. For hot water velveting style, combine the chicken from egg white to starch. Mix well and set it aside in the fridge to marinate for 15 minutes.

Cook the chicken

  • To stir fry the chicken: Preheat a large saute pan or wok over medium heat until it’s too hot to place your palm near the surface, about 2 to 3 inches away.
  • Add the oil and swirl it around the skillet. Add the chicken, turn heat up to medium-high, and quickly spread out the chicken into a single layer. Pan fry them without disturbing until they are golden brown color, about 2-3 mins.
  • Then use a spatula with a firm tip to flip and sear the flip side, about 1-2 mins. The chicken should be cooked through and golden brown on the outside.
  • To hot water velveting the chicken: Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add 1 tbsp oil to the boiling water. Add the chicken and stir the water gently to separate the pieces and prevent them from sticking to each other.
  • After about 1 minute, or as soon as the slices turn white, scoop them out and set aside to drain well before stir frying.
  • Please note that after water blanching, the chicken is not cooked through. Follow the stir-fry step above to finish cooking the chicken.


Serving: 0.25lb, Calories: 363kcal, Carbohydrates: 3g, Protein: 48g, Fat: 16g, Saturated Fat: 3g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g, Monounsaturated Fat: 9g, Trans Fat: 0.03g, Cholesterol: 145mg, Sodium: 904mg, Potassium: 840mg, Fiber: 0.02g, Sugar: 0.003g, Vitamin A: 68IU, Vitamin C: 3mg, Calcium: 12mg, Iron: 1mg
Course: how to, Main Course
Cuisine: Chinese, Taiwanese
Keyword: Chicken stir fry marinade, How to tenderize chicken for stir fry, How to velvet chicken
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