It was raining on Saturday and I was restless, in need of something bright tasting, a fun experiment. I set my sights on air-fried sweet and sour pork. A while back, I’d made a version in the Instant Pot that was super easy. But I missing classic sweet and sour pork, which involves deep-frying the pork cubes to a delicate crunch, then you quickly stir-fry vegetables, add a tangy sauce and once it thickens, return the pork to coat it lightly.
When done right, sweet and sour pork is elegant, nothing like the red-hued, cloying versions at many restaurants made with canned pineapple. And, what’s up with the tiny bits of pork in those renditions? Wanting to do right by sweet and sour pork but not wanting to deep fry or make a mess, I decided to give an air-fry makeover to Christopher Tan’s old school sweet and sour pork recipe posted a few years back.
Tips for Air-Fry Makeovers
Keeping moisture at bay is the most important part of air-frying. Chris’s recipe had a fairly wet marinade on the pork, which was fine because the meat was deep-fried. In an air-fryer, cooking goes fast, and if things are too wet, they stick to the basket. I scaled back on the liquid ingredients for the marinade, only using a little soy sauce, white pepper and cornstarch, which helps control moisture too.
The entire batch of pork was cooked in my Cuisinart toaster oven air-fryer, which has a relatively large capacity. If you’re using a smaller air-fryer, cook the pork as 2 batches.
Air-frying is not fat free. You need a little fat to give things a rich flavor. That’s why oil sprayers are helpful. I use a pump-style sprayer because commercial sprayers like Pam really don’t have that much material in them; I once used up two canisters for one recipe. Plus, the oil can be a little funny. When I got into air-frying, I splurged and bought a high-end oil pump sprayer that except for a few hiccups, works quite well; you can put whatever kind of oil in there. If you don’t have an oil sprayer, drizzle or brush on some oil before air-frying the pork.
To make things cook evenly and to make sure the major ingredients commingle well, cut them roughly the same size. The pork is hard to get into perfect cubes but so what? Do your best. Ditto for the bell pepper and pineapple.
To move quickly through the stir-frying process, line up ingredients in the order that they’re needed. If two things are added to the pan at once, keep them together so you may efficiently dump them into the pan. Organize yourself at the front end so you don’t have to run to the re-read the recipe as you’re cooking.
- You can make the sauce with readily available ingredients. That homemade plum sauce from last year came in handy!
- Use pork with some fat. You only need 10 ounces for this recipe. I often ask a butcher to cut a slab from a pork shoulder roast. Marbled boneless pork chop will work too.
- Cornstarch is the go-to for this recipe but if you like, use potato starch, such as Bob’s Red Mill brand. Don’t use tapioca or sweet potato starch, which is a bit sticky and gloppy.
- Fresh or thawed pineapple works well for this recipe. I prefer fresh and if I haven’t cut up a whole pineapple, I’ll buy pre-cut chunks at the market.
- To easily peel a tomato, use a serrated vegetable peeler. The one I use is part of this affordable OXO set.
Serve this air-fried sweet and sour pork with lots of rice or some other grain of your choice. Add a simple stir-fried spinach and you’ve got a great, healthy meal.
Vietnamese Food Any Day News!
- Check your March 2019 issue of Rachael Ray magazine. Yours truly has an article on easy Viet cooking. The issue is all about women impacting the food industry so I’m very honored to be included.
- I’m heading to Seattle! On Monday, 3/18, join me at Book Larder for book talk, demo and tasting. The Seattle Kitchen Radio taping is unfortunately sold out.
- On March 24, join me in Los Angels at Now Serving for a conversation with the amazing Evan Kleiman, Beard award winner and Good Food radio show host.
- In early May, I’ll be teaching in Boston. The 5/4 Dim Sum Party class sold out in 24 hours and the 5/5 Vietnamese Street Food Any class is filling fast. Yowza.
Air-Fried Sweet and Sour Pork
- About 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 1/2 teaspoons Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry such as Fino or Amontillado
- 2 1/2 teaspoons unseasoned Japanese rice vinegar
- Brimming 1 tablespoon soy sauce regular or gluten-free
- 2 1/2 tablespoons plum sauce homemade or store bought
- 1/3 cup water
Pork and other ingredients
- 10 ounces boneless pork shoulder or fatty pork chop
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 2 pinches ground white pepper
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch plus 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 2 tablespoons beaten egg
- 2 teaspoons canola or other neutral oil
- 1/2 small red or yellow onion cut into ½-wide wedges
- 4 ounces pineapple cubes fresh preferred
- 1 1/2 teaspoons minced ginger
- 1/2 red bell pepper 4 ounces, cut into thumbnail-size squares
- 1 small Roma tomato peeled with a vegetable peeler and cut into 6 to 8 wedges
- 1 slender green onion white and green parts, cut on the steep diagonal
- For the sauce, in a measuring cup, whisk together the salt, cornstarch, sugar, rice wine, vinegar, soy sauce, plum sauce and water. Taste and adjust the flavors for pleasant tart-sweet-salty flavor. Set aside.
- Trim and cut the pork into ¾ to 1-inch chunks (the size of a cherry or small ice cube). Put into a bowl and add the 1 teaspoon soy sauce, white pepper, and 1 teaspoon cornstarch. Set aside to marinate while you gather and prep the remaining ingredients. Line up the ingredients by the stove so you can swiftly move through cooking process.
- To air-fry the pork, add the egg to the pork and stir to coat well. Put the ¼ cup cornstarch on a plate or in a bowl. Use a fork to transfer the pork to the cornstarch, turning to coat all over. Transfer to the air-fryer oven racks (or fryer basket, in batches), leaving a little space between pieces. To prevent sticking and add richness, use an oil sprayer to coat the pork all over and prevent sticking. (If you don’t have a sprayer, drizzle a little oil all over.)
- Preheat the air-fryer at 400°F for 3 minutes. Add the pork, cook for 3 minutes, or until gently sizzling; give things a shake and turn the pieces. Air-fry for about 2 minutes, until golden brown and sizzling. Let sit for 1 to 2 minutes to cool and finish cooking.
- 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. Stir in half of the green onion, then transfer to a serving plate or shallow bowl. Garnish with the remaining green onion and serve.