Baking soda in Chinese cooking?

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Baking soda in Chinese cooking?

Postby Jenise » Tue Sep 24, 2013 4:18 pm

So last night before dropping off to sleep, I read this recipe in the latest Food and Wine. The title beckons in a good way, as I love cucumbers but have never stir fried them in Chinese, and I love spicy and chicken, and the picture's pretty attractive. But then I get into the details....


Spicy Stir-Fried Cucumbers with Shredded Chicken

12 oz skinless, boneless chicken breast cutlets, pounded 1/8 inch thick and thinly sliced crosswise
5 garlic cloves, smashed
1 tblsp finely chopped peeled ginger
1 tsp baking soda
salt and pepper
1/4 c distilled white vinegar
1 tsp sugar
3 tblsp canola oil
12 dried red chiles, 10 whole, 2 crumbled
1 lb seedless cucumbers, preferably Persian, cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces
1 Serrano chile, thinly sliced
1/4 c chopped cilantro springs

Two things startled me. 1) Baking soda? I read to find out where it goes. With the chicken! It's tossed with the garlic, ginger, S & P and chicken, before the chicken goes into the pan. I have never ever seen baking soda used this way before. Has anyone else? Paul? What in the hell does it do? Is it a tenderizer?

And 2) the cucumbers. I hate it when the recipe says one thing and the picture shows something entirely different. I personally think 1.5 inch lengths of cucumber would be pretty unwieldy here. And what does the picture show? Half inch thick slices that were cut on the diagonal and then halved lengthwise. Now I realize the food stylist got in there and prepared those cucumber pieces separately to make them look like they'd been in the stir fry all along, mildly browned around the edges and not wilted or weeping a cucumber's natural high moisture content, but still. Does the recipe work as written or not? Don't lie.
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Re: Baking soda in Chinese cooking?

Postby Karen/NoCA » Tue Sep 24, 2013 8:28 pm

Yes Jenise, it is to tenderize. The baking soda will help neutralize the amino acid in the meat fiber, making the meat tender. I have never done this but have seen recipes calling for it. It is used in Chinese cooking along with cornstarch.I ruined a recipe once by throwing in baking soda. It foamed up and made a mess. I don't recall the details now, but I still shy away from using it.
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Re: Baking soda in Chinese cooking?

Postby Jenise » Tue Sep 24, 2013 9:19 pm

Karen/NoCA wrote:Yes Jenise, it is to tenderize. The baking soda will help neutralize the amino acid in the meat fiber, making the meat tender. I have never done this but have seen recipes calling for it. It is used in Chinese cooking along with cornstarch.I ruined a recipe once by throwing in baking soda. It foamed up and made a mess. I don't recall the details now, but I still shy away from using it.


That's what I figured, though I don't consider chicken breast, properly cooked, tough. Will have to do a trial sometime--some with, some without, and see what kind of difference I detect. Re your foam--there must have been some acid in there. Throw BS in vinegar sometime--kaboom!
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Re: Baking soda in Chinese cooking?

Postby Karen/NoCA » Wed Sep 25, 2013 11:03 am

I think I mentioned on here one time about seeing a meatball recipe where baking soda was called for. I have been meaning to try it.
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Re: Baking soda in Chinese cooking?

Postby Mark Lipton » Wed Sep 25, 2013 12:15 pm

Yes, the intent is to tenderize the meat with baking soda, a traditional Chinese technique. I have my doubts as to its efficacy, but it does seem to have some effect. Papaya or pineapple juice will do a much better job of tenderizing IMO.

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Re: Baking soda in Chinese cooking?

Postby Thomas » Wed Sep 25, 2013 12:48 pm

Mark Lipton wrote:Yes, the intent is to tenderize the meat with baking soda, a traditional Chinese technique. I have my doubts as to its efficacy, but it does seem to have some effect. Papaya or pineapple juice will do a much better job of tenderizing IMO.

Mark Lipton


Pineapple juice is a fantastic tenderizer. I've never tried papaya, 'cause I don't particularly like that thing!

Of course, one can marinate in advance, but that does take planning :wink:

I don't trust myself to dump baking soda into a stove-top recipe. It's probably called baking soda for a reason.
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Re: Baking soda in Chinese cooking?

Postby Jenise » Wed Sep 25, 2013 5:06 pm

Karen/NoCA wrote:I think I mentioned on here one time about seeing a meatball recipe where baking soda was called for. I have been meaning to try it.


Do you have it on hand, can you share that?
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Re: Baking soda in Chinese cooking?

Postby Carrie L. » Wed Sep 25, 2013 5:44 pm

I remember my Mom asking a server in a Chinese restaurant a VERY long time ago (I think I was a teenager) how they keep their broccoli and other veggies so nice and green when they have been stir fried, and the reply was "baking soda."
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Re: Baking soda in Chinese cooking?

Postby Jenise » Wed Sep 25, 2013 6:57 pm

Carrie L. wrote:I remember my Mom asking a server in a Chinese restaurant a VERY long time ago (I think I was a teenager) how they keep their broccoli and other veggies so nice and green when they have been stir fried, and the reply was "baking soda."


Yes, that's a great trick. Baking soda both pops and sets color. They wouldn't have stir-fried with it, but blanched them first and then just add them to the stir-fry to heat through.
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Re: Baking soda in Chinese cooking?

Postby Karen/NoCA » Wed Sep 25, 2013 8:55 pm

Jenise, I looked in my stack of "to try recipes" not there. I thought is was from a Cook's Illustrated and found one for Swedish Meatballs using baking soda. Then there is this one for Turkish meatballs that uses very few ingredients and sounds delicious.

http://almostturkish.blogspot.com/2008/01/inegl-meatballs-inegl-kftesi.html
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Re: Baking soda in Chinese cooking?

Postby Jenise » Thu Sep 26, 2013 2:39 pm

Thanks for finding that, Karen. So the helpful ratio is 3/4 tsp to 1 pound meat and 24 hours of 'rest' before cooking. Interesting. Can't say I love the idea of sacrificing 24 hours of freshness for a little tenderness--presuming it works as advertised.
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Re: Baking soda in Chinese cooking?

Postby Paul Winalski » Thu Sep 26, 2013 8:20 pm

Thanks to Carrie for jogging my memory on this. Baking soda can indeed work as a preservative of green color when cooking vegetables. I think that is why it was employed here. The only other use of baking soda that I know of in Chinese cooking is its more conventional use as a leavening agent in deep-fry batters and in breads.

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Re: Baking soda in Chinese cooking?

Postby Jenise » Fri Sep 27, 2013 1:54 pm

Paul Winalski wrote:Thanks to Carrie for jogging my memory on this. Baking soda can indeed work as a preservative of green color when cooking vegetables. I think that is why it was employed here. The only other use of baking soda that I know of in Chinese cooking is its more conventional use as a leavening agent in deep-fry batters and in breads.

-Paul W.


Paul, no, in this recipe it's in the chicken prep, separate from the vegetables! I'm glad that's as unusual to you as it is to me.
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