Ask someone to describe Cantonese cooking and 9 out of 10 dudes will shout out “sweet and sour pork” exuberantly like a bad cliche.
Sweet and Sour Pork is an iconic and classic Cantonese dish.
Called “咕嚕肉” or “goo lou yok” in the Cantonese dialect, it is difficult not to like this dish as it is sweet and tangy, with pork that is sometimes crispy yet coated with the most delectable and fragrant liquids, adorned with the a kaleidoscope of vibrant colours and happy condiments.
There are many varieties of sweet and sour pork and every restaurant and home cook have their own favourite method of cooking and ingredients.
Some are boring, others are downright outlandish and some will just bring tears to your eyes.
So what kind of sweet and sour pork do I like ? Maybe it’s easier if I started with what I don’t like in my SSP.
I don’t like insipid. I don’t like pastel colours. I don’t like angry colours that make it seem like artificial colouring has been added.
I don’t like watery, nor drowned.
I don’t like funky. I don’t like weird.
I don’t like carrots, pineapples, lemon rinds, oranges, celery, heavy batter in my SSP (these are actual recipes).
I like my SSP to be robust, unapologetic, a little crusty, sharp, tangy.
Well ….. a little gangsta …if you know what I mean.
I recently met a SSP that I more than like when I went to eat at this restaurant called “Eat First” (see pic above). So I decided to reverse engineer it.
I’m a mule when it comes to cooking so don’t ask me why I used the ingredients I did or the proportions. It just feels right at the moment.
Ask me 3 months from now and the ingredients and proportions in my recipes may change.
Which cut of pork to use
Your friendly neighbourhood butcher will probably recommend pork belly.
I know my girls will avoid it like the plague so I had to consider other options.
Some people use pork shoulder (sometimes also known as pork butt don’t ask me why). Pork neck or pork collar meat is sometimes also used.
I sought the counsel of my brother the Gangsta friendly butcher (his whole body is covered in legit gangsta tattoos- I like). He always has a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth like the lady in “KungFu Hustle”. He was the real deal.
His immediate answer without hesitation in English was “Brudder- pork flank”. The recommendation turned out well . Besides he was clutching a monster cleaver so pork flank it is.
Don’t ask me what proportions I bought. He showed me a piece that looked like the picture above and I just nodded.
If I had to be completely precise and scientific about it, I would say a shitload.
Brudder cut it into chunks for me. After it was fried up, it shrank. So the next time, I will ask him to cut it a little bigger.
Men always think it is bigger than it actually is. And we seldom factor in shrinkage.
Seasoning the pork
I washed the pork pieces thoroughly with salt, then strained it dry.
I marinated the pork with the following:
1. 1.5 tablespoon of fish sauce (not usual so can skip this )
2. A generous amount of pepper
3. 1.5 tablespoon of light soy
4. Half a tablespoon of sesame oil
5. 1.5 tablespoon of Chinese rice wine
6. A teaspoon of salt
7. 1.5 tablespoon of oyster sauce
I covered the marinated pork in plastic and plonked it in the fridge for 2-3 hours.
An hour before cooking, I took the pork out from the fridge for it to come back to room temperature.
I drained the excess liquid out and added two tablespoons of tomato ketchup and 2 heaped tablespoons of sugar and mixed well.
I wanted to see some granules of dark sugar on my pork when frying to give it colour and a crusty exterior. Putting the sugar in too early doesn’t allow that to happen.
Coating and frying the pork
I mixed 2 heaped spoons of rice flour with 2 heaped spoons of corn flour and coated the pork cubes thoroughly.
I heated a generous amount of oil in a wok until smoking and fried the pork in batches. I had to turn the heat down to medium and turn the pork constantly to get all sides browned and properly cooked.
Because of the sugar and ketchup, the pork turned a dark colour which was what I wanted to achieve. But it had to be turned constantly to avoid burning.
Cooking time was about 7-8 minutes in total. Set aside the fried pork.
Condiments for the SSP
1. Two peppers de-seeded and cut into chunks
2. Two to three large tomatoes quartered
3. Three purple big onions quartered
4. 2 big chillies de-seeded and cut into large slices (I didn’t have big chillies and had to contend with my left over green birds eye chillies)
5. In a bowl, add 4 tablespoons of tomato ketchup , 1.5 tablespoons of oyster sauce, 1.5 tablespoons of sweet Thai chilli sauce, half a tablespoon of Chinese rice vinegar and 1 tablespoon of Worcester sauce(optional)
6. Mix 1.5 spoons of corn flour in 2 cups of water and stir well to form an emulsion
1. In a large wok, heat about 6-7 tablespoons of oil until close to smoking. I cooked this dish over a big fire throughout.
2. I fried the peppers first over high heat as the peppers took longer to wilt and I don’t like the taste of raw peppers
3. When the peppers started to brown at the edges, I added the big onions and cut chillies
4. After about 10 seconds of stir frying, I added a tablespoon of minced garlic
5. The tomatoes goes in next. Stir fry on high heat for another 30 seconds
6. Add in the fried pork and toss well
7. Add pepper, a teaspoon of salt and a table spoon of Chinese cooking wine
8. Add in the bowl of tomato ketchup and other sauces as set out in 5 above. Stir well.
9. Add in the bowl of corn flour emulsion. Add more water if necessary until desired consistency of the gravy is achieved.
Once the gravy starts boiling, the dish is done.
Let me know how your dish turns out.