Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Junky Chinese, refined: Sweet and Sour Pork (the Red kind!)

He who asks is a fool for 5 minutes, but he who does not ask remains a fool forever. – Chinese Proverb

The ubiquitous Chinese restaurant. Photo: ferret111, Flickr ccl
About a week and a half ago I posted a recipe for lemon chicken because of a specific ask by a friend of mine. At the time I opined about the possibility of rescuing “Sweet and Sour” in the same manner I did the lemon chicken.

It’s not that there aren’t very admirable and delicious recipes for sweet and sour around. Probably some taste quite “authentic” as well. I did not know this, but sweet and sour actually originated in China. What we know in Canada as sweet and sour is so often on the horrible side I thought for sure it had to be a North American invention.

Breading and frying the pork is easy. Just don't crowd the pieces.
From Wikipedia:
Sweet and sour pork is a Chinese dish that is particularly popular in Cantonese cuisine and may be found all over the world. A traditional Jiangsu dish called Pork in a sugar and vinegar sauce is considered its ancestor.

The origin of sweet and sour pork was in 18th century Canton or earlier. A record shows that the renowned Long Family in the prosperous neighbouring Shunde county, used sweet and sour pork to test the skills of their family chefs. It spread to the United States in the early 20th century after the Chinese migrant goldminers and railroad workers turned to cookery as trades. The original meaning of the American term chop suey refers to sweet and sour pork.

This is the sauce. The floating bits are pieces of a chicken
bouillon cube.
So there – sweet and sour actually has some culinary history. Well, I’m not after authenticity. I’m looking for a hybrid. You see I actually enjoy the “junky” versions on occasion. 

How to make something that sickly sweet yet sour (and tasty) is another problem altogether. My mission was to replicate the “best” parts of those quick take-out dishes while actually trying to make the whole thing an appealing meal.

This one I pulled off in spades. It’s sweet. It’s sour. It’s RED – sort of. I have no idea how they get that lurid red colour in the sauce. And I’m sure none of us really want to know either.

Try this one if you’re a fan of take-out sweet and sour pork. You’ll be pleasantly surprised!

Sweet and Sour Pork
Prep: 30 min (includes frying pork)  |  Cook: 20 min  |  Serves 4
1/2 cup vegetable oil (+ more if needed)
1 medium pork tenderloin
1 egg, beaten
1 cup cornstarch
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tbsp ginger, peeled and chopped
1 medium onion
1 medium carrot
1 green pepper, seeded and chopped
1 tbsp cornstarch, mixed with 2 tbsp water

Sweet & Sour Sauce
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup + 1 tbsp white sugar
1/2 cup + 1 tbsp white vinegar
2 tbsp soy sauce
10 drops red food colouring
1 tsp salt

Sweet, sour and delicious. Kind of junky, kind of not...
Beat the eggs in a bowl and place the cornstarch on a plate or in a plastic bag. (I find a plastic grocery bag easier to use to coat the meat.)

Cut the pork into bite-sized pieces. Heat the oil in a wok. Dip the pork into the beaten egg; shake off any excess and place in the cornstarch. Coat well and shake off any excess. You can do several pieces at a time if using a bag.

Fry 8-9 pieces of pork at a time in the hot oil. Do not crowd the pork. Let brown on one side and then turn and brown on the other. Each side should take about 2-3 minutes. The pork will not be quite cooked through. Remove the fried pork to a dish and repeat until all the meat is done.

Mix all the sauce ingredients in a bowl and set aside. Chop the onion and green pepper into 1” pieces. Peel the carrot and cut it on the diagonal into thin slices.

Wipe the wok clean, add a little more oil. Fry the garlic and ginger for about 1 minute until fragrant. Add the onion and carrot and cook until they are slightly softened. Then add the green pepper and fry for a few minutes more.

Pour in the sauce and bring to a boil. Mix the remaining cornstarch and water and add to the sauce. Stir until thickened. Add the breaded pork and toss well. Reduce the heat to medium and let cook for 5 more minutes. This finishes cooking the pork.

Serve on hot white rice.


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