Chinese The Chinese Cook Book

Sweet and Sour Pork

Listed in Wallace Yee Hong’s The Chinese Cook Book (1952) as “Tiem-Shoon Gee-Yoke” I believe the more phonetically correct spelling lists this recipe as “Tiem Shuen Gee Yok.” ‘Sweet and Sour Pork,’ as we call it in the West, is a traditional Cantonese dish that is still massively popular in Chinese-American restaurants to this day.

As a kid growing up in Toronto through the 80s and 90s I was exposed to all manner of Chinese cuisine of varying authenticity. In truth, I loved it all. I had an insatiable love for Chinese food and gobbled down with equal impunity the strangest hand written specials in the heart of Chinatown or the down and dirty neon red fast food take out. And, of course, in terms of Sweet and Sour anything, it was the thick, viscous, almost glowing red sauce of the fast food chains that I (and I imagine most Westerners) associate with Sweet and Sour Pork.

That’s not the case here. Hong foregoes any superfluous coloration (either with food colouring or the more traditional Hawthorn candy) and focuses entirely on flavour. The fried pork itself is fairly straightforward, tenderized with MSG and coated in a simple flour based batter (which is typical of the era for type of cuisine as far as I’ve come across). The great Oriental mystery of the sweet-sour sauce is revealed simply as equal parts sugar and vinegar thickened with cornstarch. I’m sure the hipsters out there can enhance this basic combo by using Demerara cane sugar and organic apple cider vinegar or some such, but I just went with what was probably the more period correct options for the 1950s: white sugar and white vinegar. The result was amazing and unlike anything I had previously eaten labelled as sweet and sour pork. I think that is thanks, in large part, to the freshness of home preparation. This dish had a zeal and vitality that I had never experienced before in a restaurant setting. The brightness of the acidity shown through much more prominently, cutting through the grease and heaviness of the fried pork. Contributing to this is the inclusion of the optional but recommended addition of preserved ginger which amplified the robust zest of the dish. Overall, this is a big win for me and possibly my favorite pork dish in the book. If I had one criticism (and this goes for the entire book) is that it is not always clear what each ingredient is exactly. For example, is the preserved sweet ginger actually dried candied ginger or more like the pickled ginger you find at sushi restaurants? Both would work well in the dish, but I have come across a few ambiguities that I have had trouble working out.

Ingredients

1/2 tsp MSG
1 tsp light soy sauce
1 tsp rice wine vinegar
1/2 tsp fresh ginger, minced
1 1/2 lbs raw pork, cut into 1 inch cubes
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup flour
3 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp heavy (dark) soy sauce
1 cup sugar
1 cup vinegar
1 cup sweet pickles, sliced
2 green peppers, sliced
1 tomato, cut into wedges
1 cup pineapple, cubed
1/2 cup preserved sweet ginger
Peanut oil for frying

Directions

  1. Mix together MSG, light soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and fresh ginger. Marinate pork in mixture for 10 minutes or longer.
  2. Make a batter with the eggs, flour and 2 tbsp of cornstarch. Dip pork in batter and fry in hot peanut oil until golden. Set aside.
  3. Create a slurry of 1 tbsp cornstarch, the heavy soy sauce and 1/2 cup water. Set aside.
  4. Dissolve sugar in vinegar along with 1 cup of water under low heat in a large skillet or wok.
  5. Add sweet pickles, green peppers, tomato, pineapple, and preserved ginger. Cook for 2 minutes.
  6. Pour in your heavy soy sauce slurry and stir fry over high heat for an additional two minutes.
  7. Add fried pork and cook until sauce has thickened.

Check out more recipes from The Chinese Cook Book here.