Baking Soda And Cornstarch Are Essential For Velvety Soy Chicken And Broccoli

Searching for a stellar stir-fry recipe? The classic combination of chicken and broccoli paired with salty soy and sweet oyster sauce is a guaranteed winner. This lauded recipe has earned its culinary stripes because it's super-quick to prepare and is a garlicky powerhouse of flavor and texture thanks to a couple of magic ingredients: baking soda and cornstarch. These two simple pantry staples — the first added at the start in the soy marinade and the latter at the very end in a liquid slurry — are essential to preparing a velvety soy chicken and broccoli that melts in the mouth.

Mixing a touch of baking soda into the soy-based marinade tenderizes the chicken, which helps to keep it juicy and succulent when it hits the intense heat of a blazing wok. This phenomenon occurs because baking soda changes the chemistry of the chicken by raising its surface pH level, preventing the proteins in the poultry from seizing and becoming tough. So, when the time comes to stir-fry your marinated chicken, it remains beautifully tender instead of becoming rubbery and overcooked. The cornstarch slurry thickens the yummy liquid that's settled in the base, creating a smooth, velvety sauce that clings to the chicken and broccoli. Unlike a slurry made with all-purpose flour, which can lead to a lumpy or grainy finish, the cornstarch creates a smooth sauce that boasts an appetizingly translucent sheen.

Cornstarch is an excellent flavorless thickener

Cornstarch has a neutral aroma and taste, so it can be added to stews, curries, and gravies to create a thick sauce that doesn't compete with the existing flavors in a recipe. In soy chicken and broccoli in particular, cornstarch enhances rather than masks the meatiness of the oyster sauce by changing the viscosity of the liquid and bringing the fragrance of aromatics like garlic and ginger to the fore. Cornstarch also thickens at a faster rate than alternatives, like potato starch or arrowroot, which is why it's perfect for use in speedy stir-fries where vegetables are cooked quickly to help retain their crisp texture and nutrients. 

Much like cornstarch, baking soda is also a versatile, multi-use ingredient that tenderizes far more than just chicken in a stir fry. In fact, it's a key ingredient in chickpea masala and British mushy peas because it speeds up the softening process and encourages a creamy texture. You can even add it to a pan of boiling garbanzo beans, which raises the pH of the cooking water to tenderize legumes faster. Once softened to your liking, you can blend up the beans with a dash of tahini and seasonings to make the creamiest hummus ever.