For the past few weeks I've been working on a new project that has left me little time for cooking. (On the bright side, that project involves dumplings and will be revealed soon!) In the meantime, I thought this would be a good opportunity to update a recipe for sweet and sour pork that I first shared about 5 years ago.
Since 2008 I've made this multiple times, and retested it over and over for my cookbook. It's the best I've found for making crispy pork that's reminiscent of takeout without all the grease and gloppiness. I hope you enjoy it!
I grew up with two kinds of sweet and sour pork. Like any American child living in close proximity to a Chinese takeout, I ate a good amount of ping pong ball-sized pork laced with red food coloring. At home, my mother would also prepare her version, using bone-in chunks of pork 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 Daily Show reruns. The cornstarch coating is thin enough for the sweet and sour flavors to seep into the meat. I prefer using fresh pineapple, but if you like your dish sweeter, use canned pineapple and reserve some of the can juices to add to the sauce in place of fresh pineapple juice.
Sweet and Sour Pork
Serves 4 as part of a multi-course meal
- 1 pound boneless pork loin, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 2 cups peanut or vegetable oil for frying, plus 1 tablespoon for stir-frying
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
- 1 cup fresh or canned bite-size pineapple chunks
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 3 tablespoons water
- 2 tablespoons ketchup
- 2 tablespoons fresh pineapple juice, or juice from the canned pineapple, or substitute orange juice
- 1 1/2 tablespoons cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons sugar
Special equipment: Instant-read oil thermometer
- Prepare the batter for marinating the pork: In a medium bowl, stir together the eggs, cornstarch, and flour. The batter should be liquidy enough to coat the pork. If the batter looks too dry, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of water and stir again. Add the pork and stir gently to coat. Let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes.
- Prepare the sauce: In a small bowl, stir together the water, ketchup, pineapple juice, cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, and sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Set aside.
- Heat the peanut oil in a wok until it registers 350 degrees F on an instant-read oil thermometer. Working in 2 or 3 batches, add the first batch of pork cubes and fry until golden brown on the outside and cooked through, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the pork with a slotted spoon and drain on a plate lined with paper towels. Remove any excess bits of batter from the oil with a slotted spoon or fine-mesh strainer. Continue frying the rest of the pork.
- Transfer the oil to a heat-proof container. (It will take about 1 hour to fully cool, after which you can transfer it to a container with a tight lid to dispose of it.) Wipe up any food remains in the wok with paper towels, being careful not to touch the metal directly with your hands.
- Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in the wok or a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and ginger and stir-fry until just aromatic, about 20 seconds. Add the pineapple and the sauce and stir to coat the vegetables. Let ehs auce simmer for 2 to 3 minutes to allow the pineapple to become tender (about 1 minute for canned pineapple.) Return the pork to the wok and toss until well-coated with the sauce. Transfer to a plate and serve.