Thursday, March 11, 2010

Sweet (and sour) memory

Born half Chinese and half German-American, and reared in a New York City suburb densely populated by Italian-Americans,  my younger sister and I were obligated to like pork. On our round woodish-laminate dinner table, we often found pork schnitzel (breaded cutlets), bacon, baked ham, Italian pork sausage, Black Forest ham sandwiches, Chinese pork sausage (la chang), ro sung (fried finely-shredded seasoned pork), prosciutto, Chinese ribs, bratwurst …

So on Saturdays when my parents took me and mei to a little Chinese restaurant crammed into a shopping strip in Emerson, NJ, it was only natural that I’d ask for sweet and sour pork. Sometimes I'd want egg foo young or a pu pu platter. Occasionally they'd indulge me, but my made-in-Taiwan mother didn’t herself care for those American favorites. (She also cruelly denied me fluffernutter sandwiches, Cap'N Crunch cereal and a host -- or should I say Hostess -- of other childhood necessities.)

Most times I'd be left scorning the hot tea poured into my water glass and the crunchy duck or ma po tofu on my plate. At the end of the meal, after my dad separated the check from the fortune cookies and orange wedges, I'd peel myself from the reddish-brown genuine Naugahyde-covered banquette and vow that when I grew up I would eat whatever I wanted. (Then when I grew up, what would I order but crunchy duck and ma po tofu...)

Still, in recent years, I’ve been craving and learning to cook some of my old Chinese-American restaurant favorites. But preparing regular sweet and sour pork takes more time than I usually have.

In this dish, using whole cutlets saves me from having to cut a gajillion bite size pieces, then dip ALL of them to get the special coating on every piece, then deep fry the multitude. And pan frying the chops in a skillet cuts down on the cooking oil (and helps reduce the amount of grease that pops and splatters all over the stove and floor).

The list of ingredients looks long, but throw together the sauce ahead of time. Then later, prep the other ingredients, or if you're really short on time, buy bagged pre-cut fresh or frozen vegetables.

Sweet and Sour Sauce


2 1/2 Tablespoons ketchup
2 teaspoons plum sauce
2 teaspoons oyster sauce
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon hot sauce or red pepper flakes (optional)

1. Combine all ingredients in a cup. Set aside.

Easy Sweet and Sour Pork*
Serves 4

4 pork cutlets or thin loin chops, lightly seasoned with salt and pepper (or marinated with 2 teaspoons soy sauce and 1 teaspoon rice wine or cooking sherry)

1/4 cup flour mixed with
1/4 cup cornstarch

canola oil or peanut oil (enough to fry chops)

1 red bell pepper, cut into 1 inch pieces**
1 green or orange bell pepper, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1-inch piece ginger, grated
1 8-ounce can pineapple tidbits
5 scallions, cut into 1 inch pieces (reserving some of the green portion to garnish if desired)

1 recipe sweet and sour sauce
1 Tbsp cornstarch dissolved in
1/4 cup cold water


1. Dredge chops in flour-cornstarch mixture.

2. Pour enough oil to cover bottom of a hot skillet.

3. Fry both sides of cutlets in skillet until golden brown, and transfer to a plate in a 275 degree F oven.

4. Remove all but 1 tablespoon of oil from pan. Cook peppers and onions over medium flame to desired degree of tenderness and add scallions, smashed garlic and ginger. Cook another minute. Mix in pineapple chunks and sauce. Remove from heat.

5. When ready to serve, return pan to heat, add cornstarch dissolved in water and let thicken. Serve with chops and rice.

* If you don't eat pork, use chicken.

** Once cooking starts, there is little time for mixing or slicing, so prepare sauce and vegetables ahead of time. I make the sauce and slice the vegetables early in the day or even a day before cooking this for dinner.

*** You could coat cutlets or chops in breadcrumbs or panko bits or a tempura batter if you prefer.


MaryMoh said...

Looks very delicious. Sweet and sour is my family favourite. I usually cook sweet and sour chicken or sweet and sour fish. It's just so good with rice.

Ali said...

Freaking yum.

Great blog name, btw.

Cyn said...

MaryMoh, glad you all like sweet and sour too. It usually goes over well with everyone, which is nice some nights. There are some days I really don't feel like arguing with my older son whether he has to take a bite of something.

Ali, thanks!

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