Cuisine Fiend

velvet fish and asparagus stir fry

Thu, 25 July, 2019

Velveting or cornstarching is a Chinese cooking technique which stops fish or meat from drying out when fried. Marinating, poaching then stir frying sound like a lot of effort but it’s all well worth your while.

velvet fish with asparagus

Velveting is a Chinese cooking technique and it makes sense: dipping meat in corn starch creates a sort of soft coating, a little fluffy, a little fuzzy, just like velvet. That’s all very well but when I first time ever saw a recipe for velvet fish – it was Sam Sifton’s from NY Times Cooking – I got terribly excited expecting an thrilling new kind of fish that I’d never come across before.

Anti-climax, of course, when it read ‘halibut, cod or flounder’ and the ‘velvet’ element simply meant marinating the fish chunks with help of a spoonful of corn flour, which I’d sure done before. But then things got much worse when I googled ‘velvet fish’. It’s a disease. Parasite or some such nasty infecting fish in aquariums. That didn’t sound appetising at all.

velvet fish and asparagus stir fry

Still, I was keen on trying the technique that involved poaching the marinated (velveted) fish in water briefly, to next gently stir fry it in a fragrant sauce. It reminded me slightly of chicken general Tso where marinated chicken meat gets deep fried, then cooked in a sticky sauce. Although to be honest it sounded like an awful lot of cooking-processing for delicate fish flesh.

It isn’t; it’s a gorgeous outcome. I’ll say the fish does need to be very firm, otherwise it will fall to bits if not handled extremely gently. Sam Sifton’s version features mushrooms; I made mine with sliced, lightly stir fried asparagus and they make the dish light and bright all round.

stir fried velvet fish and asparagus

It does involve quite a bit of work and several dishes so I suggest you use the same wok for the poaching and cooking the sauce – every little helps as far as washing up is concerned. The fish can be served classically with plain steamed rice on the side, but if you end up with any leftover, don’t toss it: it makes a fantastic fish butty.

velvet fish and asparagus stir fry

Servings: 2Time: 1 hour


  • 1 small egg white, beaten
  • 1 tbsp. cornflour
  • 1 tbsp. Shaoxing wine or dry sherry
  • ½ tsp fine sea salt
  • 250g (9 oz.) firm white fish fillets: halibut, brill, turbot, cod or haddock
  • For the sauce:
  • 1 tsp oyster sauce
  • 1 tbsp. dark soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp. light soy sauce
  • ½ tsp white rice vinegar
  • ½ tsp red wine or balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp. cornflour
  • 3 tbsp. groundnut oil
  • 3 chopped spring onions, white part only
  • 1 tbsp. finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 5-6 asparagus spears, sliced diagonally ½ cm thick


1. Whisk together the egg white, cornflour, Shaoxing wine and salt in a large bowl. Cut the fish on the diagonal into 1cm thick slices. Toss in the bowl with the marinade to coat thoroughly and set aside for about 30-40 minutes.

marinating velvet fish

2. Stir all the sauce ingredients together until the sugar and cornflour dissolve. Add a couple tablespoons of water and set aside.

3. Bring a large saucepan or wok half-filled with water to the boil over high heat; add a tablespoon of oil to the water. Lower the fish slices into the water carefully, in batches if necessary so as not to crowd the pan. Turn the slices over and remove from the water with a slotted spoon as soon as they turn opaque. Remove onto a plate.

how to velvet fish

4. Empty the wok and wipe it with paper towels; or heat up a clean frying pan with 2 tbsp. of oil. Add the spring onions, garlic and ginger and stir fry for 30 seconds. Add the asparagus and stir fry for a couple of minutes.

sauce for velvet fish

5. Pour in the sauce and simmer for a minute or two until it thickens; add some water if it looks too thick. Transfer the fish gently into the sauce and turn over to thoroughly coat each piece and to heat the fish up. Serve immediately with plain rice or noodles.

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Hello! I'm Anna Gaze, the Cuisine Fiend. Welcome to my recipe collection.

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