Sweet and sour pork, a new version

When we eat in Chinese restaurants, we often order dishes that we had enjoyed before. For instance, we love Causeway Seafood Restaurant‘s and King Chef’s dim sum selection but, for me, nothing beats Din Tai Fung‘s steamed dumplings. Speedy and I think that HK Choi‘s pata tim and lechon macau are the best and President Grand Palace‘s roast duck is the most succulent…

In other words, although about seventy percent of the items in Chinese restaurants is the same, some versions are more memorable than others. And that is the obvious truth. There is no singular standard recipe for any dish. There are as many versions as there are cooks.

Take the ubiquitous sweet and sour pork. Why is the sweet and sour pork in Restaurant A better than the dish with the same name in Restaurants B, C and D? Same thing among home cooks. Why is your friend’s mother’s sweet and sour pork more mouth-watering than your mother’s version? Perhaps, the balance between sweet and sour is more pleasant. Perhaps, the pork is juicier and more tender. Perhaps, the crisp starch is thinner so there is more meat than starch.

I’ve been cooking sweet and sour pork for at least two decades, I have made so many versions and yet I keep experimenting. In this version, the kaffir lime leaves were added to the sauce, the pork seasonings included oyster sauce and, as to the usual carrot-pepper-onion combination that accompanies the pork, I added eggplants and used scallions instead of onions.

Recipe: Sweet and sour pork

Ingredients

For the sweet and sour sauce:

  • 1/2 c. of plain white sugar
  • 1/2 c. of rice vinegar
  • a splash of rice wine
  • a generous pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tsp. of grated ginger
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 2 to 3 bird’s eye chilies, chopped
  • 6 kaffir lime leaves, torn
  • 1 tsp. of paprika

For the meat component of the dish:

  • 1/2 k. of skinless pork shoulder
  • 1 tsp. of salt
  • 1/4 tsp. of pepper
  • 1 tbsp. of soy sauce
  • 2 tbsps. of rice wine
  • 1 tbsp. of oyster sauce
  • 1/4 c. of tapioca or corn starch
  • about 2 c. of oil for frying

The vegetables:

  • 1 c. of diced eggplants
  • 1 carrot, thinly sliced
  • 1 bell pepper, diced
  • 3 to 4 stalks of scallions (white and light green portions only), sliced diagonally

Instructions

  1. Make the sauce.
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  3. Place the sugar, rice vinegar, rice wine, salt, ginger, garlic, chilies and kaffir lime leaves in a small sauce pan. Bring to the boil. Lower the heat to medium and leave to boil, uncovered, for about 8 minutes. Add the paprika and continue cooking for another two minutes or until syrupy. The sauce will thicken some more as it cools.
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  5. Cool the sweet and sour sauce. Strain.
  6. While the sauce boils, prepare the pork by cutting into bite-size pieces. Place the pork in a bowl and add the salt, pepper, soy sauce, rice wine and oyster sauce. Mix well working the seasonings into the meat.
  7. Heat the cooking oil until fine wisps of smoke start to float on the surface.
  8. Add the starch to the pork and mix. The mixture will be sticky.
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  10. Cook the pork in batches. Drop pork pieces one by one to make sure they are separated. Cook until nicely browned. If the temperature of the oil and the size of the pork pieces are correct, each batch should cook in less than four minutes. Scoop out the pork pieces as they cook, proceed with the next batch, and so on.
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  12. When the pork is done, flash fry the eggplants (see the post on flash frying). Scoop out.
  13. Pour off the oil, leaving only a tablespoonful. Reheat. Stir fry the carrot slices, bell pepper and scallions with a bit of salt and pepper.
  14. Add the pork to the vegetables. Pour in the strained sweet and sauce sauce. Stir fry just until the pork is heated through. Add the eggplants and toss to coat each piece with sauce.
  15. Transfer the cooked sweet and sour pork to a platter and serve at once.

Preparation time: 15 minute(s)

Cooking time: about 20 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 4

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