Thursday, June 10, 2010

Deliciously Sweet, Contrarily Sour

Recipe: Sweet and Sour Pork

This dish is a bit like my job search.  You times sweet, and other times, um, sour. Pungent. Acrid. Biting. I totally broke out the thesaurus on that one.  Anyway, I had a bit of a rough week, on the job front, that is.  I wish I had some of this on hand to brighten things up because, while in life sour is generally inauspicious, in food it can be part of a necessary balance.  A delicious, delectable balance.  I'm putting the thesaurus away now, I promise.

I made this many weeks ago.  Remember Husband's birthday cake?  Yeah, this was the dinner that preceded dessert.  It turned out far better than I ever dreamed!  See, I'm not actually even a fan of sweet and sour sauce.  I don't like my food cloyingly sweet.  The recipes I see usually call for gobs of sugar (thus the cloy!*), ketchup, cider vinegar, and orange juice.  I know most Chinese food I eat is anything but authentic, but that doesn't even include soy sauce!  It's like the food culture supposedly inspiring the dish is completely lost.  After some hunting around, and massive experimentation in the kitchen, I finally rejiggered** something that has notes of the original Americanized dish, and hints of a more "traditional" Americanized, Chinese-influenced dish. [Phew!  That one was hard to type with a straight face!] That's right, I threw in a little ketchup and sugar, along with some darn soy sauce!  And oyster sauce!  And if we're using vinegar here, it should be rice wine vinegar, right?!

Getting the sauce just right was pretty hard.  The recipe below is definitely not hard and fast measurements.  If it's not sweet enough, add more juice or plum sauce (or ketchup if you must).  If it's not sour enough, add more vinegar.  For salt, add more soy.  For acid, more pineapple juice. You get the idea.  The oyster sauce, I think, gives it a bit more depth of flavor (umami if you'll pardon my buzz word), and the plum sauce gives it some sweetness without that ketchup tang.  But if you don't have plum sauce and oyster sauce on hand, by all means leave them out.  Don't buy them just for this one dish.  A bit more sugar and maybe some Worcestershire sauce would be acceptable substitutes.  Just keep tasting it and adjusting until it tastes just right to you.  This was the blend that was to Husband's taste bud's liking.

I know battered and deep fried chicken is what you normally get at the Chinese fast food joints, but who needs that?  Not only is it unhealthy, but it's unnecessarily unhealthy.  That's the worst kind!  Sure, battered and fried meat is flavorful, but you're lathering your food in sauce.  A flavorful sauce!  And I think the stir-fried pork provided a nice texture contrast to the soft vegetables.

Now I want to talk a little about mirin.  Have you heard of it?  Do you have a bottle in your pantry?  I highly recommend that you do!  It's a sweet rice wine, and I love it.  It has a sweet, mild flavor that goes well in all kinds of Asian-inspired dishes.  I like to use it instead of sugar.  It gives the sweetness I need and a bit more flavor. There's definitely more recipes with mirin on the way, so stock up!  I buy it at my local Asian market, but I've seen it at the major grocery stores too, right by the rice wine vinegar.

It's funny that I went into this dish not even liking sweet and sour sauce, and I came out of it with a new recipe in my arsenal!  Win!  Think you don't like it too?  Give this one a try.

*Is cloy a word?  Did I invent another word?  I guess that's what happens when you're bananas for bourbon.  New words tend to pop up in your repertoire.

**See what I mean?

Sweet and Sour Pork

Makes about 6 servings

1 lb pork loin, sliced into bite sized pieces
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 can chopped pineapple in natural juices (not the kind in syrup), drained and juice reserved
3 stalks green onion, sliced into rounds
vegetable oil

For the marinade:
1 1/2 TB soy sauce
3 tsp mirin (sweet rice wine)
1 1/2 TB sesame oil
1 1/2 TB corn starch

For the sauce:
3 TB ketchup
2 tsp plum sauce
2 tsp oyster sauce
2 tsp corn starch
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp rice wine vinegar
1/2 inch knob of ginger, minced
1/4 cup reserved pineapple juice
1/4 cup orange juice

  1. Mix all the ingredients for the marinade and place into a container or ziplock bag with the pork.  Marinate for about 30 minutes.
  2. Whisk together the sauce ingredients, adjusting quantities to taste, and set aside.
  3. In a wok or saucepan over medium-high heat, add 1 TB of vegetable oil and stir-fry the pork until it is browned on all sides, about 5-7 minutes. Remove the pork from the wok and set aside.
  4. Add another TB of vegetable oil, if needed, and stir-fry the bell peppers, onion, and garlic until softened and aromatic.  Add the sweet and sour sauce, pork, and pineapple, and simmer until thickened and lovely, about 10-15 minutes.  Sprinkle in the green onions at the very end.
  5. Serve over jasmine rice (preferably brown), and enjoy!


  1. Yummy! I never had the courage to try sweet & sour pork at home.. Thanks for sharing, this may inspire me to try it out finally! Great blog too! :0)

  2. You can do it, Rice! It's easy!