How to cook: Sweet & Sour Pork

Sweet and sour pork

When I first published a sweet and sour pork recipe in June 2003, I thought it was a pretty good one. Well, it was. In a manner of speaking. The pork was tender and moist with a crisp crust, the sauce was a wonderful balance between sweet and sour, and the addition of crisp vegetables provided that interesting contrast in texture and color that Chinese dishes as so famous for.

Today, seven and a half years later, I have learned a lot more about Chinese cooking and ingredients and I have a much better recipe. At this point, I am not even so sure if sweet and sour pork is a traditional Chinese dish at all. Some claim it is American Chinese, that is, it was invented in America by Chinese immigrants — at least, the version that we have become familiar with.

So, I am relegating the old recipe to page two of this post and I am putting on the forefront the updated version. Just what is new with this version? First, of course, is the sweet and sour sauce which, for the past couple of years, I have been making without starch.

Second, I discovered that there is a huge difference in texture if the pork is coated with tapioca starch rather than corn starch or flour. The crust that forms is lighter and it stays crisp much longer even after the pork pieces have been tossed in the sauce.

Third, you can add just about anything to create that wonderful interplay of colors and textures. In this new sweet and sour pork recipe, I added thinly sliced Thai chilies, fresh pineapple and mushrooms.

Sweet and sour pork


Ingredients

  • 1/2 kg. of pork shoulder
    two generous pinches of rock salt
    two generous pinches ground black pepper
    1/2 c. of tapioca starch
    1/2 c. of fresh pineapple, cut into small pieces
    2 Thai chilies (or any variety of finger chili), thinly sliced
    1 onion, diced
    1 small carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
    1/2 c. of mushrooms (I used Korean bunashimeji but you can substitute use skiitake, enoki or straw mushrooms)
    about 2 c. of peanut oil (or any cooking oil with a high smoking point) for deep frying

    For the sweet and sour sauce:

    1/4 c. of rice vinegar (or 1/8 c. vinegar and 1/8 c. of water, if you’re using a stronger vinegar)
    a splash of rice wine
    1/4 c. of sugar
    a generous pinch of salt
    2 cloves of garlic, minced
    a small piece of ginger, grated
    a pinch of annatto powder for color, optional

Instructions

  1. Make the sauce. Put all the ingredients in a pan and cook over high heat, without stirring, until the sugar melts. Turn the heat down to medium-low and cook, uncovered, until reduced to about half. Don’t wait for the sauce to become too thick — it thickens as it cools.

    While the sauce boils, prepare the pork and other ingredients.

    Heat the cooking oil in a wok or frying pan.

    Cut the pork into strips then thinly slice. Place in a bowl. Add the salt and pepper. Mix lightly. Add the tapioca starch and mix to coat each piece of pork.

    Fry in hot smoking oil, in batches if necessary, until lightly browned. Drain on paper towels.

    Pour off the cooking oil. Wipe the wok or frying pan. Add a tablespoonful of the hot oil. Over high heat, stir fry the vegetables. Add the carrot slices first. After 30 seconds, the onions and chilies. Then, the mushrooms and, finally, the pineapple. When everything is hot (please don’t overcook), return the pork to the pan. Pour in the sweet and sour sauce and toss until evenly distributed. Alternatively, you can transfer the pork mixture to a platter and pour the sauce directly over everything.

    Serve the sweet and sour pork immediately. Best with white rice.

Cooking time (duration): 30 minutes

Number of servings (yield): 4

Meal type: lunch