This takeout classic has delicious roots in Cantonese cooking. Now, it is tempting to dismiss sweet-and-sour pork as gloppy, Americanized Chinese food. And, let’s face it, it often is. Been there, tasted that.
Looking to harness that enticing sweet-tart profile without the saccharine stickiness, Milk Street was drawn to the dish’s origins. A lighter, earlier variation happens to be preserved in Taiwan, where cooks skip the deep-frying—and the ketchup—to better highlight the other ingredients.
Thinly sliced pork shoulder is marinated in soy sauce, a bit of sugar and cornstarch. The starch creates a protective layer against the high heat of a stir-fry, helping to keep the pork tender by preventing it from overcooking. After briefly stir-frying the meat with ginger, in go red bell pepper, chilies, scallions and pineapple with roughly equal parts rice vinegar, sugar and more soy sauce.
A hefty chunk of ginger is cut into matchsticks for bigger pops of piquant flavor, while thinly sliced serrano chilies add spice to further balance the sweetness. It makes for a savory-sweet dish, a little tart and well-balanced to the last bite. A delicious return to the dish’s roots.
NOTES: Don’t use canned pineapple, as its flavor is dull compared to fresh. But if prepping a whole pineapple is too much work, look for ones sold already cleaned in the produce section of the supermarket. Also, don’t use a conventional (i.e., not nonstick) skillet. Without a nonstick coating, the sugars from the pineapple and sauce are likely to stick to the pan’s surface and scorch.
Sweet-and-Sour Pork with Pineapple
- 1 1/2 lbs. boneless pork shoulder, trimmed, cut into 2-inch-wide strips, and thinly sliced
- 3 Tbsp. soy sauce, divided, plus more if needed
- 1/2 tsp. plus 1 Tbsp. white sugar, divided
- 1 Tbsp. cornstarch
- 3 Tbsp. grapeseed or other neutral oil
- 1 medium red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and chopped
- 1 cup chopped fresh pineapple (½-inch chunks)
- 2-3 serrano chilies, stemmed, seeded and thinly sliced on the diagonal
- 1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut into matchsticks (about 3 Tbsp.)
- 1/3 cup unseasoned rice vinegar, plus more if needed
- 3 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
- In a medium bowl, combine the pork, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, the ½ teaspoon sugar and the cornstarch; stir until the pork is evenly coated.
- In a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high, heat the oil until barely smoking. Add the pork in an even layer and cook, stirring only once or twice, until the pork is lightly browned, 4 to 5 minutes.
- Add the bell pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pepper is lightly browned, 4 to 5 minutes.
- Add the pineapple, chilies and ginger, then cook, stirring occasionally, until the pineapple begins to brown, 2 to 3 minutes.
- Stir in the vinegar, the remaining 2 tablespoons soy sauce and the remaining 1 tablespoon sugar. Cook, stirring often, until the meat and vegetables are lightly coated with the sauce, 1 to 2 minutes.
- Off heat, taste and season with additional soy sauce and vinegar. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with the scallions.
Original recipe by Albert Stumm for Milk Street