A traditional Chinese sweet and sour pork recipe (Cantonese Style) made with crispy pork, pineapple, peppers and onions tossed in a sticky sweet and sour sauce – better than takeout!
Sweet and sour pork doesn’t need an introduction. It’s an internationally famous dish and most cultures have a different spin on it, which I think is absolutely fantastic! Koreans have Tangsuyuk, Japanese have Subuta, the Caribbeans also have their version as well – and I’m sure there are plenty more versions out there! The more the merrier I say. 🙂
This version of sweet and sour pork is the Cantonese version I grew up with. The Cantonese version has pineapple in it and it has a bit more of a balance between the sweet and sour flavor, whereas the American Chinese version is a bit on the sweeter side. If you prefer your sweet and sour pork more on the sweeter side, you can add 1-2 additional tablespoons of sugar to the sauce during the cooking process. Other than that, there isn’t much of a difference between the two – both are delicious either way. 🙂
Sweet and sour pork is definitely one of my favorite dishes. I like my pork super crispy in sweet and sour pork so I make the sauce slightly thicker so that thickness coats the pork but doesn’t make it soggy. A thinner sauce tends to make the crispy batter soggier, quicker. For the sweet and sticky sweet and sour sauce, I’m a huge fan of the balance of both sweet and sour so it’s a 50/50 mix of vinegar and sugar to create that with a bit of soy to take the edge off the sharp vinegar.
INGREDIENTS FOR SWEET AND SOUR PORK
For this sweet and sour pork recipe, you can find all the ingredients at your local grocery store.
WHAT CUT OF PORK WORKS BEST FOR SWEET AND SOUR PORK?
For sweet and sour pork, I like to use pork shoulders (or pork butt) because of the marbling of fat within the meat. The fat marbling makes the bite-sized pieces tender, moist and flavorful. If you are looking for a healthier or leaner alternative, you can use pork tenderloin but it might turn out slightly less tender and less moist since it is leaner.
FRESH PINEAPPLE vs CANNED PINEAPPLE
I personally find that fresh pineapple tastes amazing in this dish, mostly because it has a lot more flavor and is a lot juicier than canned pineapple but that doesn’t mean canned pineapple can’t be used 🙂
I know that cutting a fresh pineapple is time-consuming, so in a pinch, I will use canned pineapple. So this is completely your preference whether you want to use fresh pineapple or canned pineapples! If you have the time, try using fresh pineapple, if you’re pressed for time then go for the canned stuff.
SWEET AND SOUR SAUCE
For my sweet and sour sauce, I like to use tomato paste instead of ketchup because I find that tomato paste has a lot more flavor than ketchup and it has a lot more umami than ketchup does as well. The bonus to tomato paste is it gives a natural bright sharp red color to the dish as well.
GRATING ONION, GARLIC, AND GINGER INTO MARINADE FOR MORE FLAVOR
To give any type of meat that is going to be deep fried or grilled an added flavor boost, I highly recommend grating in fresh garlic, onion, and ginger to marinate the meat in. If you have a small food processor it may be a bit easier to blitz it all together but using hand grater is a lot easier to clean and it is more convenient. The grated aromatics also gives the meat extra substance for the potato starch to stick which makes crispier bite-sized pork when you are deep frying it.
2 STEP PROCESS FOR BATTERING PORK
- Step 1: Take half the potato starch and mix it throughout the meat. Use your fingers to separate the meat and make sure that each piece of meat is coated during this step. When potato starch gets moisture on it, it can be a bit tricky to work with since it acts very gluey, which is why it is easier if you slightly separate the meat before you do this step. It is crucial that you let it sit for at least 5 minutes after you have coated the meat. You will notice that the potato starch will start to look moist and gummy – This step will make a sticky batter that won’t fall off the meat and make it flavorful because the marinade will be absorbed by the potato starch.
- Step 2: Once the potato starch has absorbed the moisture from the meat and the marinade, coat each piece of pork one by one in the potato starch again. I like to use a large plate of potato starch where I can dip the pieces of meat in one by one. This will give us the crispy coat that seals in the flavorful batter on the inside.
HOW TO GET CRISPIER PORK
To get crispy pork, I use potato starch instead of corn starch. I also don’t use eggs as a binder in this at all because I find that it makes the pork slightly gummy and not crispy enough. I also find batters made with eggs usually don’t stick to the meat very well after it has been fried.
The grated ginger, garlic and onion marinade will provide enough moisture to bind the potato starch to the meat without sacrificing crispiness.
It is also crucial that you don’t cook the crispy pork in the sauce for too long because it will make the batter soggy. You want to quickly add in the crispy pork and toss it in the sauce and once everything is well coated, take it off the heat right away.
IF YOU LIKE SWEET AND SOUR PORK, TRY THESE RECIPES!
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Sweet and Sour Pork
Fruits and Veggies
- 1 cup pineapple (highly recommend using fresh pineapple, but canned pineapple works too)
- 1 pepper (any color, cut into 1-inch cubes)
- ½ white onion (cut into 1-inch cubes)
- 1 lb pork shoulder (cut into 1-inch pieces)
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 small onion (grated, approximately ¼ cup)
- 4-5 slices ginger (grated, approximately 2 tablespoons)
- 3 cloves garlic (grated, approximately 1½ tablespoons)
Sweet & Sour Sauce
Corn Starch Slurry (To Thicken Sauce)
- 1 tablespoon corn starch
- 1 tablespoon cold water
- Cut the onions and peppers in 1-inch chunks and set aside
- If you are using fresh pineapple, core and peel it and then cut them into 1-inch chunks and set aside. If you are using canned pineapple, drain it and cut them into 1-inch chunks if you are using pineapple rings. Put them in a bowl and set aside.
Marinating the Pork
- Cut the pork into 1-inch chunks and place it in a bowl.
- Grate the ginger, garlic, and onion and place it in the bowl with the meat.
- Add soy sauce to the bowl and mix everything very well.
- Let it marinate for 1 hour.
Battering & Deep Frying the Pork
- Once the meat has finished marinating, in the bowl or plate - separate the meat slightly so they are not clumped together.
- Add half the potato starch over the meat and gently toss it in the potato starch until each piece has been coated with potato starch. Let it rest for 5 minutes until the potato starch has absorbed the marinade and moisture, and the batter looks gummy and moist.
- Add the rest of the potato starch on a large plate and dip each piece of pork into the potato starch one by one until each piece is well coated.
- If you are using a deep fryer, set the temperature to 350F (180C) and wait for the oil to get to temp. If you are using a frying pan, set the heat to medium heat and make sure there is at least 1 inch of oil in the pan.
- Add the meat in when the oil is hot, careful not to overcrowd the pan. (Depending on how big your pan is, you may need to do it in 2 batches). Cook the meat for approximately 5 minutes until it is crispy and browned.
- Remove the crispy pork and let it drain on a rack or a plate with something absorbent like newspaper or paper bag and set aside.
Putting It Together
- In a clean frying pan, add in 2-3 tablespoons of oil, and set the stove to medium heat.
- Add in the tomato paste when the oil is hot and toast the tomato paste for 1-2 minutes until the oil has turned orange
- Add in the white vinegar, water, sugar and soy sauce and mix well and let it cook for 5 minutes.
- In a small bowl, dissolve the potato starch in cold water. Slowly pour it into the sauce but make sure you are constantly stirring it so it doesn't clump.
- Once the sauce has thickened, add in the peppers, pineapples, and onions and cook it for 1-2 minutes. Use your spatula to separate the onion chunks into smaller pieces.
- Add in the crispy pork and coat each piece with the sweet and sour sauce once the meat has all been coated, turn off the heat. Try not to cook the crispy pork in the sauce for too long, this will make the batter soggy. You just want to quickly coat the crispy pork with the hot sweet and sour sauce for a 1 minute and then plate it.
- Plate it and serve with rice! Enjoy! 🙂
- To get the crispiest pork, try to use potato starch. If you can't find it, you can substitute it with corn starch but it won't stay as crispy for as long.
- If you are using potato starch to deep fry the meat, make sure to not overcrowd the pan if you are using a shallow pan. Put the meat in one at a time fry them without touching each other. I find that potato starch likes to stick when you are initially frying it and if the pan is crowded (meat is all touching) you will end up with a giant ball of crispy meat instead of small crispy bite-sized meat.
- To keep everything crispy, it's important that you don't cook the crispy pork for too long in the sauce - which will make the batter soggy. You want to quickly coat the meat with the sauce at the very end for a minute.
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