Question: Using Cornstarch in Marinades in Chinese Stir-fry Dishes
Why do many Chinese stir-fry recipes use cornstarch in the marinade?
Lately, readers have asked why many Chinese recipes include cornstarch (or any starch, for that matter) in the marinade. Adding a starch to the marinade before stir-frying is a common Chinese cooking technique. The starch binds together the liquid ingredients in the marinade and seals them to the meat, poultry or seafood being marinated. This technique is particularly important in quick cooking stir-fry dishes as it helps give the food more flavor. When a Chinese recipe calls for cornstarch in the marinade, always add it last unless the recipe specifically calls for blending it with the other ingredients before adding it to the food being marinated.
Made from the endosperm of corn, cornstarch is commonly used in marinades (and sauces) because it is readily available at most supermarkets. However, in China tapioca starch, water chestnut starch or a combination of the two is commonly used. (Adding tapioca starch to a shrimp marinade will give the shrimp a nice shiny coating). You can also use arrowroot starch if desired.
An added advantage of using starch to a marinade is that it helps thicken the liquid ingredients in the stir-fry dish, meaning you may not need to add a sauce in the final stages of cooking.
How to thicken a sauce with cornstarch
Examples of Chinese Recipes Using Cornstarch in the Marinade