10 Secrets to Super Tender Meat in Chinese Restaurants

by Ella

Chinese cuisine is renowned for its unique flavors and delightful textures, with tender meat being a hallmark of many classic dishes. The secret behind achieving such succulence lies in the artful techniques and meticulous preparation methods employed by Chinese chefs. In this article, we delve into the various approaches Chinese restaurants adopt to tenderize their meat, from traditional age-old practices to modern innovations. Understanding these methods can provide valuable insights for home cooks and gastronomy enthusiasts seeking to replicate the magic of Chinese cuisine in their own kitchens.

10 secrets of tender meat in Chinese restaurants

1. Meat Selection: The Foundation of Tenderness

The journey towards tender meat begins with the careful selection of high-quality cuts. Chinese chefs prioritize fresh meat from reputable sources. Factors such as the animal’s age, diet, and marbling are crucial in determining the tenderness of the final dish. For example, younger animals tend to yield more tender meat, while marbling contributes to a juicier texture and enhanced flavor.


2. The Art of Marination

Marination is a quintessential step in Chinese cooking that elevates the taste and tenderness of the meat. A typical marinade includes a combination of the following elements:


a) Soy Sauce: Soy sauce contains enzymes that help break down the connective tissues in meat, making it tender. Moreover, it imparts a delightful umami flavor that enhances the overall taste.


b) Rice Wine or Shaoxing Wine: Rice wine not only adds complexity to the marinade but also tenderizes the meat. The alcohol content in Shaoxing wine helps to break down proteins, resulting in a softer texture.


c) Ginger and Garlic: These aromatic ingredients not only infuse the meat with delightful flavors but also contain enzymes that break down proteins and tenderize the meat.

d) Cornstarch: Cornstarch is a common thickening agent used in marinades. It helps the meat retain moisture during the cooking process, preventing it from becoming dry and tough.

3. Velveting: A Traditional Chinese Technique

Velveting is a traditional Chinese method that imparts exceptional tenderness to meat, particularly in stir-fry dishes. The process involves coating the meat in a mixture of egg white, cornstarch, and rice wine, and then briefly blanching it in hot water or oil. Velveting creates a protective layer around the meat, sealing in moisture and preventing overcooking.

4. Slow Cooking: Patience Rewarded

Many Chinese dishes that boast tender meat are cooked using slow-cooking methods. Slow braising or simmering at low temperatures allows the collagen and tough fibers in the meat to break down gradually, resulting in a melt-in-your-mouth texture. This is often used in dishes like Chinese red-braised pork belly (Hong Shao Rou) and braised beef stew.

5. Stir-Frying: High Heat, Swift Cooking

Stir-frying is a popular cooking technique in Chinese cuisine that requires quick cooking over high heat. Chefs slice the meat thinly across the grain, ensuring tenderness in each bite. The high heat seals in the natural juices, preventing the meat from drying out and maintaining its tender texture.

6. Tenderizing Agents: An Array of Options

Chinese chefs have explored various natural tenderizing agents that work wonders for meat. For instance:

a) Pineapple and Papaya: These fruits contain enzymes called bromelain and papain, respectively, which are potent natural tenderizers. They are used in marinades or as a meat tenderizing powder.

b) Kiwifruit: Kiwifruit contains actinidin, an enzyme that breaks down proteins and effectively tenderizes meat when used in moderation.

c) Tofu: Silken tofu, when pureed and used as a marinade, can lend a delicate tenderness to meat, especially in vegetarian Chinese dishes.

7. Mechanical Tenderization: Pounding and Beating

In some traditional Chinese recipes, especially those requiring larger cuts of meat, chefs employ mechanical tenderization techniques. By pounding or beating the meat with a mallet, the tough fibers are broken down, resulting in a more tender texture.

8. The Role of Aging

While not as prevalent in Chinese restaurant settings as in Western culinary traditions, aging meat is a technique used by some chefs to enhance tenderness and flavor. Controlled aging allows enzymes to naturally tenderize the meat over time, leading to a unique dining experience.

9. Cooking with Precision: Temperature and Timing

Achieving tender meat also depends on the precise control of cooking temperatures and timings. Overcooking can cause proteins to contract and squeeze out moisture, resulting in tougher meat. Professional Chinese chefs are well-versed in monitoring and adjusting cooking conditions to ensure the perfect balance of tenderness and flavor.

10. Modern Innovations: Sous Vide Technique

In recent years, modern culinary techniques have also found their way into Chinese restaurant kitchens. One such method is sous vide, a precise and controlled cooking technique that involves vacuum-sealing meat and cooking it in a water bath at a consistent low temperature for an extended period. This method ensures optimal tenderness and flavor retention.

Read more: 6 Reasons Why Chinese Beef Is So Tender

How to make tender meat at home (take beef as an example)

It’s easy to adapt the techniques used by Chinese restaurants to make tender beef at home. Skip the tenderizing chemicals and try the baking soda and cornstarch steps. Remember to start with some thinly sliced beef which is sliced against the grain.

It’s convenient to tenderize more cheap and fibrous cuts, like brisket, round, chuck, and shank.

Whether you want to replicate your favorite beef chop suey or chow fun, or make luscious beef stroganoff, use these handy tips to tenderize beef like a Chinese chef.

Method 1: Tenderizing With The Baking Soda Method

Even if you don’t marinate the beef afterward to add flavor and texture, baking soda is a powerful tenderizer that will soften any meat.

However, baking soda has an unpleasant flavor, so you must ensure you don’t use too much, and you must rinse it off. Here are some guidelines:

Place your thinly chopped beef in a bowl.

Combine ½ teaspoon of baking soda and ¼ cup of water.

Pour the baking soda mixture over the beef and massage it in with your fingers.

Allow the meat to soak for 45 minutes to an hour.

Rinse the beef thoroughly and drain in a colander.

Use the meat as is or marinate it as below.

Method 2: Marinating Using The Cornstarch Method

Letting the beef sit in a tasty marinade will add lots of flavors and create a velvety coating that gives your beef that restaurant edge.

Create a marinade combining one tablespoon of cornstarch, one tablespoon of soy sauce, one tablespoon of light sesame oil, and an egg white. Add other seasonings like a tablespoon of Shaoxing wine, rice vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, finely chopped onion, puréed ginger, or crushed garlic to the marinade.

Pour the marinade over the chopped, rinsed, and drained beef.

Marinate for 15 minutes to an hour.

Cook the meat as desired.

Besides these methods, you can use other liquids with acids and enzymes to tenderize your meat such as fruit juices or buttermilk.


Chinese restaurants achieve exceptionally tender meat through a combination of time-honored traditions, inventive methods, and a deep understanding of the science behind cooking. The artful blend of marination, slow-cooking, stir-frying, and the use of tenderizing agents creates dishes that tantalize the taste buds and leave a lasting impression on diners.

As home cooks and food enthusiasts, we can learn from these practices and adapt them to our own kitchens. By prioritizing meat selection, mastering marination techniques, experimenting with tenderizing agents, and paying attention to cooking precision, we can come closer to replicating the magic of Chinese cuisine and savoring the delight of tender, succulent meat in our homemade dishes.



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