~ Sweet & Sour Sauce for Seafood, Poultry or Pork ~
Duck sauce, sweet and sour sauce, and, brown sauce -- if you associate them with Chinese and Chinese-American cuisine, you'd be correct. All three are cooked, pantry-staple condiment-sauces that are thickened with cornstarch. The first two cousins are used primarily as glazes and dipping sauces. The latter, brown sauce, is used mostly to finish quick stir-fries. You can find my recipes for ~ "Would You Like Duck Sauce With That?" "Yes!" ~ and, ~ A Chinese Staple: Real-Deal Basic Brown Sauce ~ by clicking into Categories 8 or 13. Today's topic is:
Chinese-Style vs. American-Style Sweet & Sour Sauce:
The first Chinese immigrants to the United States were mostly Cantonese. Canton, China, is home to the famous dish "sweet and sour pork", where it is traditionally eaten on Chinese New Year. When the Cantonese arrived, they brought their love for fresh ingredients and bold bright flavors. Sweet and sour flavor combinations, common to many cultures, are achieved via the perfect balance of two ingredients: sugar and vinegar. The sugar can be white or brown, and, honey can be substituted if the sauce is to be used to dress a salad. Cantonese "sour" is what makes their version of sweet and sour unique. It comes from acidic rice vinegar and soury fruit juice in combination with a bit of salty soy sauce, peppery chile, pungent gingerroot and an occasional pinch of aromatic clove. Chinese sweet and sour sauce quickly became a favorite of us Americans, who, took it upon ourselves to add: tangy ketchup. Don't roll your eyes:
Tangy, acidic, sweet and spicy ketchup is a wonderful addition to this sauce.
Even the Chinese have adopted it, and, when you order "sweet and sour" anything here in the USA (typically a dish of batter dipped chicken, pork or shrimp), the sauce usually contains ketchup -- if said sauce is homemade. Sadly, too many places purchase manufactured sauce, and, sadly, that is the only sweet and sour sauce many Americans have ever experienced. My best description of store-bought: It's an inferior concoction of corn syrup, citric acid and red food coloring. When tasted next to homemade sauce, it is an insult to the tastebuds.
My recipe for sweet and sour sauce comes from Chef Martin Yan. The author of many Chinese cookbooks, most Americans got to know him as the host of the acclaimed YanCanCook show on PBS. I had the pleasure of getting to know him a bit while working by his side on a cooking demo for our local WPSU PBS station, and, having him as a guest right here in my kitchen too.
The following recipe appears on page 88 of his book, Chinese Cooking for Dummies. Of this book I will say, if you are a Western cook who fears cooking Chinese fare: This is the best Chinese cooking school book you will ever purchase!
"If Yan can cook -- so can YOU!" ~ Chef Martin Yan
Two excerpts from his (the following) recipe: "North America's favorite Chinese restaurant sauce has finally come to your own kitchen, and, when you make it yourself, you can control the sweet and sour flavors to the proportion that's just right for your palate." "Sweet and sour sauce wouldn't be sweet and sour without an ample helping of acidic ingredients such as rice vinegar and orange juice, but, any starch-thickened sauce becomes thin and watery if you add too much acid, so, if you are playing with proportions, don't get out of hand when upping the sour."
1/2 cup ketchup
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup orange juice (Note: Pineapple juice is a common substitution and it tastes great. That said, Chef Yan uses orange juice in his sweet and sour sauce recipes, so, Mel does too!)
1/3 cup rice vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2-3 tablespoons, peeled, thinly-sliced, then minced ginger
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch mixed with 1/4 cup water
~Step 1. In a 1-quart measuring container, stir together the water, ketchup, dark brown sugar, orange juice, rice vinegar, soy sauce and red pepper flakes. Set aside. Peel, thinly-slice and mince the ginger as directed and set aside. Stir together the cornstarch and water. Set aside.
~Step 2. Place the vegetable oil in a 1-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the ginger and sauté, stirring constantly, until fragrant, 45-60 seconds. Add all of the liquid mixture from Step 1 and adjust heat to simmer steadily, stirring occasionally, about 2 minutes.
~ Step 3. Add cornstarch/water mixture and simmer gently until nicely thickened, about 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer to a food storage container. Use as directed in specific recipe or store in refrigerator 1-2 weeks.
Long live the saucy sweet & sour in of all of us!
Special Equipment List: 1-quart measuring container; cutting board; chef's knife; 1-quart saucepan; large spoon; 2-cup food storage container w/tight-fitting lid
Cook's Note: My recipe for ~ Sweet & Sour Broccoli-Orange-Cashew Chicken ~, is a spin-off of another Martin Yan recipe. It uses the Chinese (no ketchup) version of sweet and sour sauce to glaze the finished stir-fry. It can be found by clicking into Categories 3, 13 or 19.
"We are all in this food world together." Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)