~A Chinese Cantonese Classic: Sweet & Sour Pork~
Sweet and sour pork is one of the most well-known Chinese dishes in the world, and, amongst Americans, it's extremely popular. Marinated, crisply-fried cubes of pork butt or loin, and, stir-fried bell peppers, onion and pineapple -- the two unite at the end when they get tossed together in a perfectly-balanced sweet and savory, ginger-laced ketchup-based sauce to coat. Pork, "the other white meat", is the Cantonese classic, but, if you prefer poultry over porcine, boneless, skinless chicken breast is a common substitution in Chinese and American kitchens.
Classically served as a "sauced-pork dish" with fried rice for accompaniment, in American home kitchens, it's not unusual to see the pork, vegetable and pineapple mixture spooned atop a bed of freshly-steamed white rice. The colorful end result is pretty to look at and a joy to eat -- it's a welcome change of pace from humdrum dinnertime fare. It makes adults happy and kids tend to love it too, so, if you are looking to introduce Chinese flavors to your youngsters, experience has taught this mother and grandmother: sweet and sour pork or chicken is a kid-tested safe bet.
Relatively speaking, sweet and sour pork is not hard to make and all of the prep (which is minimal compared to other Chinese dishes) can be done a day ahead. While some basic deep-fry and stir-fry technique is helpful and fresh ingredients are important, the secret to this dish is achieving the perfect sugary sweet and vinegary sour balance in the easy-to-make sauce. The sauce is the heart and soul of this dish -- it's the center of the sweet and sour pork universe!
The first Chinese immigrants to the US were mostly Cantonese, and, Canton, China is the home of the famous "sweet and sour pork" dish eaten annually for Chinese New Year. With the Cantonese came their love for bright, bold flavor and fresh ingredients -- their sauce is a perfect balance of sugar, vinegar, chile pepper and ginger. It was we Americans who added ketchup to it, and, don't laugh, it's so good, the Chinese adopted it. If you've never tasted homemade sweet and sour sauce, prepare to be wowed, because: unless you're eating it in a place that makes their own, sadly, it's a concoction of corn syrup, citric acid and food coloring.
Anyone, anywhere can do better than that in 3 easy steps in less than 10 minutes!
1/3 cup each: brown sugar, orange juice and 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.
Part Two: Cutting, Marinating and Frying the Pork
2-2 1/2 pounds pork loin, trimmed of all visible fat, cut into 1/2"-3/4" slices, slices cut into 1/2"-3/4" cubes (boneless, skinless chicken breast may be substituted) (Note: I purchase a 3 pound piece of pork loin & after trimming the math works out right.)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon firmly packed cornstarch
1 tablespoon sugar
2 large eggs
additional cornstarch, for dredging, about 3/4 cup
~ Step 2. To marinate. In a 1-cup measuring container, whisk, the soy sauce, orange juice, cornstarch, sugar and eggs. Add the marinade to the food storage bag containing the pork, seal the bag and toss to coat. Set aside for about 1 hour.
While the meat is marinating, use your time wisely -- get your "mise en place".
"Mise en place" is a fancy French phrase meaning, "everything in its place" so no time gets wasted from the beginning to the end of the cooking process. Preheat deep-fryer containing corn or peanut oil to 360 degrees according to manufacturer's specifications. The frying process goes fast so, set up a "deep-frying" assembly line in this order: marinated pork, cornstarch, bowl for dredging, deep-fryer for frying and a baking dish lined with paper towels for draining.
Load them onto an Asian spider (or large slotted spoon), lower them, all-at-once into the hot oil, and, deep-fry until just cooked through, about 2 minutes. Repeat this process, adding about 2 more tablespoons of cornstarch to the bowl each time, until all of the pork has been dredged and deep-fried. Note: The deep-frying can be done 2-3 hours in advance of preparing the stir-fried fruit and vegetables.
Part Three: Prepping Pineapple & Veggies, &, a Quick Stir-Fry
4 tablespoons corn or peanut oil
1/4 cup minced, fresh ginger
1-1 1/4 cups each: 1/2"-3/4" diced green & red bell pepper, and, yellow or sweet onion
3 cups 1/2"-3/4" chunked fresh pineapple
6 cups deep-fried pork cubes, and, 1 1/2-2 cups sweet and sour sauce, from above recipe, both slightly-warm
Note: Relax. I'm here to tell you, you do not need a stir-fry-type pan or a wok to successfully stir-fry. I am using a nonstick skillet to prove my point.
~Step 2. Add peppers and onion and sauté, stirring constantly, until vegetables are starting to soften, 1 1/2-2 minutes. Add pineapple and continue to sauté, 1 1/2-2 minutes. Add pork and sauté until heated through, 1-1 1/2 more minutes.
~ Step 3. Adjust heat to very low or turn the heat off. Add 1 1/2 cups of the warm sauce and toss until all ingredients are evenly coated. Add more sauce, if needed, until it's coated and tastes the way you want it to. Serve immediately with fried rice or white rice to the side, or, with a bed of fried or white rice underneath each portion.
Whether you prefer a bowl or a plate, with or atop a bed of rice...
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; 1-gallon food storage bag; 1-cup measuring container; small whisk or fork; deep-fryer; 12" stir-fry-type pan or skillet
Cook's Note: Once you start making your own yummy sweet and sour sauce, I'm certain you'll be looking for others ways to enjoy it. One of my favorites, made outdoors on the grill or indoors on a grill pan: ~ Stick It: Sweet & Sour Shrimp & Pineapple Kabobs ~ can be found in Categories 3, 10, 13, 14 or 17.
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)