Why is it difficult to find good sweet and sour pork at many Chinese restaurants? I remember that in high school I used to get a darn good version at a Chinese restaurant in San Clemente, California, where I grew up. Okay, that was in the early 1980s and the people who owned the place were kind of high-endish Hong Kong-ers. But really, sweet and sour pork does not need to be tiny cubes of grisly meat coated by an excessive amount of batter that are deep-fried then served coated by a maraschino-red cloyingly sweet sauce. Is that sauce sold by the gallon because it tastes the same at so many Chinese restaurants. Aiyah!
My husband and I adore southern Chinese sweet and sour pork -- what we basically think of as the quintessential dish despite their many versions in Chinese cuisine. However, we don’t order it out any more. Last week, he asked me to make it at home. The recipe I decided to try is by Christopher Tan and Amy Van. It is included in their remarkable book on historic Chinese cooking in Singapore.
What’s with Singapore? There’s a huge Chinese community there with high standards for excellent Asian food. In Chinese Heritage Cooking, the authors take time to distinguish the various Chinese communities in Singapore by spotlighting the best of their best dishes. Amy and Chris approach each recipe with care and thoughtfulness, loading up the recipes with practical and cultural tips. The result is a deep lesson in the nuances and broad spectrum of Chinese cooking. There’s also a lot of history but it’s not wonky.
Another reason why I chose this recipe was because Chris and Amy incorporate pineapple and plum sauce into the dish. There’s fresh tomato too. No ketchup, a modern addition, the authors say. The end result is well balanced, with a certain elegance that I've yet to experience in restaurant renditions of sweet and sour pork.
I made the dish twice last week. Yep, it’s that good. Finally, we’re going to Singapore at the end of the year and why not get into the mood by cooking its food?
Tips: For fresh pineapple, look in the produce department of your grocery store. I got a tub of pineapple cubes at Whole Foods for a few dollars. It’s enough for this as well as nibbling. In a pinch, use frozen. If you’re desperate, use canned.
Because I don’t like bell pepper’s strong flavor, I used a red Hatch and a green Anaheim. Yes, there's deep-frying involved but it's so worth it.
Sweet and Sour Pork
Yield: 2 to 3 servings with 2 other dishes
- About 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 teaspoons Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
- 2 teaspoons unseasoned rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon regular soy sauce
- 2 tablespoon plum sauce
- 3/4 teaspoon cornstarch
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) water
- 8 ounces (240 g) boneless pork shoulder
- 2 teaspoons Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
- 1 teaspoon plus about 1/3 cup (60 g) tapioca starch or cornstarch
- 1/2 teaspoon oyster sauce
- Scant 1/2 teaspoon regular soy sauce
- 2 tablespoon beaten egg
- Canola oil for deep-frying
- 1/4 small onion, cut into wedges
- 3 to 4 ounces (90 to 120 g) pineapple cubes, fresh or thawed preferred
- 1 rounded teaspoon minced ginger
- 3 ounces (90 g) mild red and/or green pepper, cut into thumbnail-size squares
- 1 small ripe tomato, peel with a vegetable peeler if you like, then cut into 6 wedges
- 1 green onion, white part only, cut into thin slivers
- For the sauce, combine the salt, sugar, rice wine, vinegar, soy sauce, plum sauce and water in a measuring cup. Taste and adjust the flavors for pleasant tart-sweet-salty flavor. Add the 3/4 teaspoon of cornstarch and stir to blend well. Set aside.
- Trim and cut the pork into pieces the size of a cherry or small ice cube. Put into a bowl and add the rice wine, 1 teaspoon starch of your choice, oyster sauce, and soy sauce. Cover and marinate for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, prep the remaining ingredients, if you haven’t, and get a pot of rice going!
- Heat about 3/4-inch of oil in a wok, deep skillet or low saucepan to about 350F (175 to 180C). As that happens, add the egg to the pork to coat well. Put the starch on a plate and dredge the pork. Let sit to get absorbed and set, about 3 or 4 minutes.
- In batches, fry the pork for 2 to 3 minutes, until pale golden. Let drain on paper towel and/or a rack. To crisp the pork, raise the heat on the oil until very hot (about 375F / 190C). Slide all the fried pork cubes back into the oil and refry until a rich brown and crisp. Re-drain. (It’s a pain in the butt to pour the oil out and clean what you just fried in, so use a clean skillet or wok for the next step.)
- Heat a large skillet or wok over high heat. Swirl in 2 teaspoons oil, then add the onion and pineapple. Fry for about 2 minutes, stirring and flipping, until the pineapple picks up some dark brown streaks. Add the ginger and pepper. Cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute, until the peppers are crisp tender.
- Add the tomato and pour in the sauce. Cook, stirring, for 30 to 45 seconds, until the sauce bubbles and thickens. Add the pork and stir to combine and coat. Transfer to a serving plate, garnish with the green onion and enjoy with lots of rice.
Adapted from: Christopher Tan and Amy Van’s Chinese Heritage Cooking
Related [helpful] posts:
How do you like your sweet and sour pork? If you use fruit in yours, what kind? I'm thinking of trying recipes with lychees.