I grew up with two kinds of sweet and sour pork. Like any American child living in close proximity to a Chinese take-out, I ate a good amount of Ping-pong ball-sized pork laced with red food coloring and accompanied by canned pineapple. At home, my mother would also prepare her version, using bone-in chunks of pork encased flavored with a subtler orange-vinegar sauce.
In Beijing, I once took a home-style cooking class in which the teacher revealed that her secret ingredient for sweet and sour pork, also what “the better restaurants in Beijing use”, was a bottle of locally produced ketchup. Why not the American brand Heinz? Too sweet.
Sweet and sour pork is thought to have originated in Guangdong province. But now that the Cantonese have flung themselves afar, each place they have landed has its own local variation. I’m sure Canada, the UK, Austalia, and other immigration hot spots have slightly different sweet and sour composites.
The version I made today is Cantonese “gulou yuk” by way of the American suburb, and polished with an aesthete’s mindset. Instead of tougher, fatty cuts of meat with the possibilty of bone, I use lean pork tenderloin, easier to chew and more convenient to eat while concentrating on “24″ or the Olympics. I mixed a little pineapple juice to dilute the orangey flavor, but left out the pineapple chunks. The cornstarch coating is thin enough for the sweet and sour flavors to seep into the meat. The caramelized onions add a complimentary sweetness, and the yellow bell peppers give the final dish a colorful zing.
Other Cantonese recipes to try:
Sweet and Sour Pork
Serves 2 as a main entree, or 4 as part of a multi-course meal
1 pound pork loin, cut to 1-inch-long, 1/2-inch-thick pieces
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce, or 1 tablespoon light soy sauce and 1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons rice wine
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1/2 of a large red onion, chopped to large pieces
1 yellow bell pepper, chopped to large pieces
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon pineapple juice
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon cornstarch, dissolved in 2 teaspoons water
Salt to taste
Peanut oil for frying
1 cup cornstarch for dredging
Cilantro spring for garnish (optional)
Chop the pork loin to 1-inch-wide, 1/2-inch-thick pices. Mix together the soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil, and cornstarch. Add pork to the marinade and let sit for 30 minutes.
In a sauce pot, heat 1 tablespoon peanut oil. Stir-fry onions and peppers for a few minutes until slightly softened and edges of onion begin to brown. Add orange juice, pineapple juice, vinegar, and sugar; simmer liquid on low heat for about 5 minutes. Stir in cornstarch mixture to thicken the sauce, then salt to taste. Turn off heat and keep the mixture warm.
Heat a wok about 1/3 of the way with peanut oil until the temperature registers 375 degrees on a deep-fry thermometer. Shake excess marinde off pork pieces, then dredge them one at a time in cornstarch until well-coated. Shake off excess cornstarch. Working in batches, fry pork until cooked through and golden brown on all sides, about 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer pork with a slotted spoon to paper towels.
Reheat sauce in the sauce pot. Add pork and carefully stir to coat. Transfer to communal plate and serve with rice.