Sweet-and-sour Pork My Way

One Chinese food authority refers to ‘the sweet-sour glop of overseas restaurants’. He means the sweet-and-sour pork dish served in Chinese restaurants in the West. Working in my uncles restaurant, I could never understand why our non-Chinese customers would order, and seem really to enjoy, the sticky, gluey, much too sweet concoction, topped with bright-red bits of maraschino cherries, and plenty of soy sauce on the rice to boot. It was a mystery to me, except that I knew Americans liked lots of salt and sugar, the latter an ingredient that is used only sparingly in China. Not until many years later, during my first visit to Hong Kong, did I discover the authentic sweet-and-sour pork. To my surprise and gratification, instead of a thick, heavy batter and a correspondingly thick, heavy, sweet sauce, I enjoyed the delicate flavour of succulent pork wrapped in a light crispy coating, with a perfectly balanced sweet-and-sour sauce: when it is properly done, one should never be quite sure whether the dish is sweet or sour.

Here I offer my modern version, melding the traditional recipe and some Western touches – but no extra soy sauce or cherries!

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  • 450 g (1 lb) boned pork shoulder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons light soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon cornflour
  • Groundnut oil, for deep-frying
  • 300 g (10½ oz) peeled, cored fresh pineapple, cut into 2.5 cm (1 in) cubes

For the Batter

  • 650 g ( oz) potato flour or cornflour
  • 35 g ( oz) unbleached plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 120 ml (4 fl oz) water

For the Sauce

  • 240 ml (8 fl oz) Chinese Chicken Stock or store-bought fresh stock
  • 3 tablespoons Chinese red rice vinegar or cider vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
  • 2 tablespoons tomato purée
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon cornflour blended with 2 tablespoons water


Cut the pork into 2.5 cm (1 in) cubes. Mix it with the salt, pepper, soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil and cornflour, and let it marinate at room temperature for 20 minutes.

Mix the batter ingredients with a whisk in a medium-sized bowl and beat until smooth.

Heat a wok or deep pan until it is hot. Swirl in the groundnut oil and, when it is slightly smoking, turn the heat down to medium. Mix the pork with the batter. Remove the pork with a slotted spoon and deep-fry in several batches, for a few minutes each. Place the pork on a tray lined with kitchen paper to drain.

Mix all the sauce ingredients except the cornflour mixture in a saucepan and bring it to a simmer. Then pour in the cornflour mixture in a slow drizzle, stirring all the while. Add the pineapple and warm it for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Place the pork on a platter, ladle the sauce over and serve at once.