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Velvet fish and asparagus stir fry

Updated: Thu, 4 August, 2022

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

velvet fish and asparagus stir fry

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 a thrilling new kind of fish that I’d never come across before.

There was a bit of an anti-climax, of course, when it read ‘halibut, cod or flounder’ in the list of ingredients. The ‘velvet’ element simply means marinating fish chunks with help of a spoonful of corn flour, which I’m sure I’d done before.

Things got much worse when I googled ‘velvet fish’. It’s a disease! It’s a parasite or some such nastiness infecting fish in aquariums. That doesn’t sound appetising at all, does it?

Thankfully, in cookery it has nothing to do with parasites or infections.

velvet fish with asparagus

What is velveting?

Velveting is a Chinese cooking technique whose purpose is to seal and coat fish or meat pieces before stir-frying and thus keep them moist and juicy.

It makes perfect sense: dipping meat in corn starch creates a sort of soft coating, a little fluffy, a little fuzzy, just like velvet. Thus marinated (velveted) fish is poached in water briefly, to be next gently stir fried in a fragrant sauce.

It reminds me slightly of chicken general Tso where marinated chicken meat gets deep fried, then cooked in a sticky sauce. But you might think that what is good for chicken, might an awful lot of cooking and processing for delicate fish flesh.

It isn’t though. it’s a gorgeous outcome. But I’ll say the fish does need to be very firm, otherwise it might fall to bits if not handled extremely gently.

velvet fish in a spicy stir fry

How to velvet fish

The marinade consists of an egg white, corn flour, salt and a little Shaoxing wine. It’s not a paste! It should be quite runny so the fish slices are coated very lightly.

After about half and hour, it’s time for poaching. Best to do it in a wok: the recipe does involve quite a bit of work and several dishes so I suggest you use the same wok for the poaching and the stir frying. Every little helps as far as washing up is concerned.

It will need less than a minute in barely simmering water before it turns opaque and has to be lifted with a slotted spoon. Needless to say, at all the stages the fish must be handled gently.

velveting fish

The wok, emptied of the water and wiped with a paper towel, can be re-employed for cooking the sauce.

The vegetables stir fried to accompany the fish can be anything you like. Sam Sifton’s version features mushrooms and I make mine with sliced asparagus and they make the dish light and bright all round.

The vegetables are lightly stir-fried with the usual aromatics, spring onions, ginger and garlic, then sauce is added and cooked for a couple of minutes, with a drop of water if necessary to loosen it up.

The fish goes back to the wok and it needs, again, careful handling, and only long enough to warm it up and coat in the sauce.

how to cook velvet fish

The fish can be served classically with plain steamed rice on the side, but if you end up with any leftover, don’t bin it: it makes a fantastic fish butty.

More fish stir fry recipes

Scallops, asparagus and baby aubergine chunks stir fried one after the other, coated in spicy sweet sauce are so, so good. It’s important to cook the ingredients separately but you use just one pan.

A very easy recipe for stir fried salmon with lemon and ginger which is best served with noodles. The sauce for the stir fry salmon is made with caramelised lemon, palm sugar and ginger.

Fish stir fry is a even greater dish if you souse the fish with Thai flavours. Still, make sure you use firm fish: cod, haddock, hake, monkfish or similar.

More Asian seafood recipes

Whole grilled trout with Thai style marinade, oven or barbecue ready. Asian flavours of ginger, chilli and coriander go well with trout's meaty flesh.

Chinese five spice seasoned prawns in a warm layered salad served with crispy fried noodles – simply fantastic!

Prawn fried rice spiced with cinnamon and star anise is light, healthy and extremely satisfying.

velvet fish

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
  • For the stir fry:
  • 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.

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.

4. Lower the fish slices into the water carefully, in batches if necessary so as not to crowd the pan.

5. Turn the slices over and remove from the water with a slotted spoon as soon as they turn opaque. Remove onto a plate.

6. 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.

7. Add the asparagus and stir fry for a couple of minutes.

8. Pour in the sauce and simmer for a minute or two until it thickens; add some water if it looks too thick.

9. 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.

Originally published: Thu, 25 July, 2019

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

I have lots of recipes for you to choose from: healthy or indulgent, easy or more challenging, quick or involved - but always tasty.


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