Punchinello's Chronicles

August 18, 2010

Chinese All-Purpose Meat Marinade

Filed under: Chinese Take-out Cooking — Punchinello @ 3:24 pm
Tags: , ,

I finished up a previous post about the basic ingredients you’ll want to have on hand when cooking Chinese take-out food. Before setting up the recipe for beef fried rice, there are two preparations you’ll need to take care of. The problems I had with fried rice were all about texture. I could get the flavors, for the most part, but there still was something missing. Neither rice, nor the meat (beef) felt quite right to the tongue and mouth.

Examine beef fried rice (or shrimp or pork) and you’ll find that it seems as though you can taste every single grain of rice, each one individually. They don’t stick together, but they’re not mushy. Additionally, the meat has a very tender texture that’s also “silky,” like satin. Having tried to make this for years, on and off, those two problems were the hardest to solve.

It all comes down to the perfection of cooked rice, and a particular marinade that I ran across by accident. After I began using this marinade, I realized I could use it in many kinds of dishes. It’s designed for any kind of cheap meat, and we know that in China (and Asia, generally) meat’s at a premium. So cheap cuts of meat need to be tenderized.

There’s really no way around the fact that you’re going to need 2 days to make beef fried rice! Think about the leftovers you had as a kid, and how some of them became favorite meals. They’re….LEFTOVERS!…right? That means they’ve already been around for a day! Same with beef fried rice: it’s a dish made up of leftovers!

When we figured out that the meat used in beef fried rice more often than not is flank steak, we thought we were all set. Fried it up, and something still was missing. It was only after we started marinading the meat that things became perfect. This marinade works best for 4 hours.

It’s possible to marinade the meat overnight, but it’ll just continue to break down in the fridge. If you can do it for the four hours, starting in the afternoon, that’s ideal. Otherwise, at least let it marinade for 1 hour. The cornstarch will still give you the “satin” texture.

A lot of times, in the summer, we know we want fried rice so I’ll make a few cups of rice the night before and let it sit in the fridge. I’ll also cut up the meat the night before, cover it in a small bowl and leave it in the fridge as well. The next day, before we go fishing, I’ll mix up the marinade and pour it over the meat. Re-cover, and let it sit while we’re out. When we get home, I’ll stir up the meat one time, then go about preparing for cooking.

Principles of Tenderizing Meat

The key points to understand in regards to meat tenderization are the interaction of acid with flavor. Both soy sauce and teriyaki sauce work as acid to break down the cells in meat. Additionally, wine acts as an acid. The advantage of combining rice wine with soy or teriyaki sauce is that you also get a lot of flavoring without disguising the meat flavor.

Look at just about any marinade and you’ll find that “something” keeps the marinade on the meat. It’s usually olive oil. With this marinade, it’s cornstarch.

Recipe for All-Purpose 4-hour Marinade

Note that for flank and chuck steak, or pork you’ll want to marinade for 4 hours. But if you choose top sirloin for beef fried rice, you can likely marinade for only an hour. The time depends on the toughness of the type of meat. It’s easy enough to experiment as you go along, and you’ll definitely be able to tell the difference in tenderness.

  • Tough meat – 4 hours
  • Tender meat – 1 hour

This marinade easily takes care of about 1/2 pound of meat. If you need more, simply double the measurements. A little goes a long way! You’ll use:

  • 1 Tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 Tablespoon cooking rice wine (sufficiently salty on its own)
  • 2 Tablespoons Soy sauce (regular not dark)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  1. First put the cornstarch in a small bowl. It’s dry, and the other liquids will make the slurry.
  2. Secondly, add in the rice wine and begin to stir it around. Continue until lumps are gone (easy and quick).
  3. Add in the remaining ingredients and continue to stir.
  4. Pour over cut meat right away. If you let it sit, the cornstarch will start to settle. Simply stir it up again.
  5. Use fingers to mix the marinade in with all the meat, coating each piece.
  6. Cover, put in the fridge and let sit minimum 1 hour, ideally 4 hours. Stir around every so often, at least once halfway through. It’s not critical to mix again, just makes it nicer all around.

Note: The sugar adds an excellent flavor, but in some instances (like Beef and Broccoli) you won’t want that slight amount of sweetness. As you go along, you’ll make your own decisions. The original recipe called for 1 Tablespoon of sugar, along with additional salt, but I found that made it way too salty or way too sweet. The sugar counteracts the salt, and the rice wine has plenty of salt — IF you use cooking wine. If you use a higher quality saki, then you may want to add salt.

The 4 hours isn’t an exact and critical time measure. Let it sit “about” four hours, to really tenderize the meat. The soy and teriyaki do a great job of tenderizing, so even in half an hour you’ll notice a difference. But around four hours results in a sort of perfect balance between meat texture and tenderness. The more tender the original meat, the less time necessary. Flank and chuck work better with 4 hours. Sirloin can easily go just two hours.

Teriyaki Variation Marinade

You’ll use the basic marinade for many things, but you might also like this variation. It’s the same as the other, except exchanges half the soy sauce for teriyaki sauce. I just use Kikkoman, as it’s easy to find.

  • 1 Tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 Tablespoon rice cooking wine
  • 1 Tablespoon Soy sauce (light regular)
  • 1 Tablespoon Teriyaki sauce
  • sprinkle of sugar, or none as per your taste


After you’ve tried this marinade, you’ll find it’s very simple to make. The key variants are the teriyakI sauce, and the amount of sugar. Try the basic marinade as written and see what you think. Use that in your first few versions of beef fried rice. Then you can remove the sugar and taste the results. I think you’ll find that the sugar works and helps replicate what you’re getting from the take-out restaurant.

The cornstarch will quickly thicken to almost a glue-like texture if you’re frying meat. That’s fine, and you can easily deglaze your pan. While it’s hot, after you’ve removed the meat, you deglaze with either water or wine, depending whether you’re making gravy or just trying to clean the pan.

In beef-fried rice, I’m finding that if I first fry the meat a little, then add fresh bean sprouts, I accomplish two things. First, I deglaze the pan. Secondly, I soften the bean sprouts.

I also use this marinade when making my Chinese-Greek souvlaki (recipe later). It adds to the Greek marinade, and I use the marinade to make a sauce for the shishkabob meat. As such, I’ll add in some more liquid to smooth out the cornstarch.

For the marinade itself, when its cold and sitting in the fridge, you want it to be thick and like glue. That’s what helps it stick to the meat.

Related – Table of Contents



  1. If you want the nice texture to your fried rice, refrigerate your rice overnight. You probably know that though.

    Comment by Jeff — March 17, 2011 @ 2:49 pm | Reply

  2. Refrigerating overnight reduces excess moisture, and helps with the re-cooking during frying. But for the best texture, the rice has to be cooked to its ideal texture. That’s not so easy to do, unless you’re a professional or experienced cook. An electric rice cooker can do this, and I’ve found that letting the completed rice sit in the cooker for an extra hour produces exactly the perfect texture, every time.

    Even after taking the rice out of the cooker, it still has to sit (uncovered) in the fridge overnight to get the best results during frying. Finally, cooking fried rice works best with only about 2 cups of cooked rice. Otherwise, larger amounts of rice cool down the hot oil in the wok during frying, and produce soggy results.

    Comment by Punchinello — March 18, 2011 @ 1:46 pm | Reply

  3. Thanks. This is what I was looking for. But I was surprised baking soda is not used in your tenderizer marinade, as I have heard it is used a lot in the restaurants.

    Comment by Michael — September 27, 2012 @ 1:09 pm | Reply

    • Baking soda is used, from what I’ve read, for “velvet” chicken and a few other dishes. It tends to give a slight glaze and smoothness. What I wanted was the texture and taste of the meat used in fried rice. That being said, this particular marinade works in all sorts of other dishes involving meat. We even use it in Greek souvlaki as part of the overall marinade.

      Comment by Punchinello — October 2, 2012 @ 3:09 pm | Reply

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