Wake Up Your Taste Buds with Homemade Sweet and Sour Pork

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It’s not often that I make a new recipe and completely blow my own mind.

Vertical top-down image of a white bowl with a meat, bell pepper, and pineapple dish with chopsticks on a blue towel next to a pan of the same meal, with text on the top and bottom of the image.

Well, folks. This sweet and sour pork = brain… explosion!

In the world of multidimensional flavor, there are certain combos that I’m attracted to, and others that I don’t really crave.

For example, savory flavors mixed with a hint of heat totally do it for me.

Case and point: Buffalo chicken pizza. I could eat this every day.

Queso with diced jalapenos? Yep, had it for breakfast.

Rich, intense flavor profiles are always in the front of my mind (and on the tip of my tongue). But adding something sweet to the mix isn’t something I often do.

At an Asian-inspired restaurant or if I’m scanning delivery menus, I’m prone to leaning towards something like garlicky shrimp, or chicken with an unctuous black bean sauce.

Vertical image of a white bowl and a pan filled with a cubed meat, bell pepper, and pineapple recipe, with chopsticks and a blue towel next to the bowl.

The handful of times I’ve actually ordered sweet and sour anything, the dish didn’t really seem to stand out for me.

So, I designed this recipe from scratch, tinkering with it according to my tastes, with ingredients I knew would be distinct in terms of flavor.

Suddenly, I discovered what the problem had been all along:

I had only ever encountered one-note sweet and sour sauce.

It hit too high on the sugar meter, and didn’t spark anything else on my palate.

But there’s good news for everyone reading this! My carefully crafted homemade version is miles away from those overly-candied varieties with their gloopy texture and glowing red hue. And bonus – it comes together in a snap.

I didn’t add any chili garlic sauce to the recipe because traditional sweet and sour dishes don’t call for added spice, but I’d be doing you a disservice if I didn’t mention that you should spill a few drops of this into your sauce if you are so inclined.

Vertical top-down image of a large pot filled with a cubed meat, bell pepper, and pineapple saute on a yellow towel next to wooden chopsticks.

You can find it at your local grocery store, or Huy Fong’s classic version is available on Amazon. Jojo’s Sriracha by Love Hard is another delicious option that’s available from Mouth.

Now, let’s talk pork.

One solid hour of marinating is just enough for those Asian aromatics to seep into the meat. However, I got busy the first time I made this and had to let the pork soak overnight. It was the best accident I made all week.

Even though the pork is fried and tossed into a rowdy blend of flavorful ingredients, the longer you marinate it, the more tender the meat becomes, and the more it’s permeated with the savory tastes of soy, ginger, garlic, and scallions.

Whoa. Salivating on my keyboard over here.

If you’re a sweet and sour expert and have whipped up this colorful dish at home before, you might be wondering where the ketchup is. Though most recipes call for it as a prominent ingredient, I reach for tomato paste instead.

Vertical image of a sweet and sour meat dish in a bowl on a blue towel next to pan and sliced scallions.

You get plenty of sweetness from the caramel-scented brown sugar, and tomato paste is richer, more concentrated, and more vividly colored than ketchup.

Sorry, ketchup. You’re still my favorite condiment.

(Seriously, I put fries on my ketchup.)

But when it comes to sweet and sour sauce, I go tomato paste all the way. And you won’t find any artificial food coloring here.

The bell peppers add subtle grassy notes and crunch, the rice vinegar brings the sour power, and the sugary, tropical pineapple sends the sweet flavor home.

Who knew a dish that I rarely craved in the past could turn into something that I ate for three straight meals in a row?

Go on. I dare you not to have thirds.

Print
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Horizontal image of a of a sweet and sour meat dish in a bowl on a blue towel next to pan and sliced scallions.

Sweet and Sour Pork


  • Author: Fanny Slater
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour, 35 minutes
  • Yield: 4 servings 1x

Description

Forget one-note dishes that lack flavor. Let our sweet and sour pork in its tart, tangy pineapple sauce be your new dinnertime front-runner.


Scale

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce, divided
  • 1 small bunch green onions, white and green parts chopped, divided
  • 1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
  • 4 large cloves garlic, grated, divided
  • 1 pound pork tenderloin, shoulder or thick-cut boneless chops, cut into 1-inch pieces 
  • 3 cups vegetable oil for frying, plus 2 tablespoons for sauteing
  • 1 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup chopped sweet onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
  • 2/3 cup chopped fresh pineapple
  • 4 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds

Instructions

  1. In a large bowl, mix together 2 tablespoons soy sauce, half of the chopped scallions, the ginger, and 2 cloves of grated garlic. Add the pork pieces and toss until they’re thoroughly coated in the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
  2. In a heavy-bottomed saucepot or Dutch oven, heat about 4 inches of oil over medium heat until it reaches 350°F. You’ll know the oil is ready when you place the handle of a wooden spoon in it and it bubbles immediately.
  3. Place the cornstarch in a large bowl. Remove the pork pieces from the marinade and dredge them in the cornstarch until liberally coated. Working in batches, fry the pork until golden brown and cooked through, about 3-4 minutes. Set the fried pork aside on a plate lined with paper towels to absorb any excess oil.
  4. Place a large skillet over medium heat, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil, and swirl to coat the pan. Add the remaining garlic and saute until very fragrant, about 1 minute.
  5. Add the onions and peppers and cook until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes, then add the pineapple and cook for 1 additional minute, stirring occasionally.
  6. Stir in the tomato paste, rice vinegar, brown sugar, water, and remaining soy sauce, and bring the mixture to a boil. Add the fried pork and remaining green onions and toss to coat everything in the sauce.
  7. Divide the pork, veggies, and sauce among plates, garnish with the sesame seeds, and serve.

  • Category: Pork
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Chinese

Keywords: sweet and sour, pork, ginger, garlic, soy sauce

Cooking By the Numbers…

Step 1 – Chop the Pork and the Aromatics for the Marinade

Cut the pork into 1-inch pieces, chop the green onions, and grate the ginger and garlic.

Horizontal image of raw cubes of meat in a marinade in a red bowl.

In a large bowl, mix together 2 tablespoons of the soy sauce, about half of the chopped green onions, the ginger, and 2 cloves of the grated garlic.

Add the pork pieces and toss until they’re thoroughly coated in the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. If you have time, marinate the pork for 6-8 hours.

Step 2 – Fry the Pork

In a heavy-bottomed saucepot or Dutch oven, heat about 4 inches of oil over medium heat until it reaches 350° F.

Horizontal image of a white plate with uncooked meat cubes dredged in cornstarch.

You’ll know the oil is ready when you place the handle of a wooden spoon in it and it bubbles immediately, or you can check it with a cooking thermometer.

Horizontal image of deep-frying meat cubes in oil in a pot.

Place the cornstarch in a large bowl. Remove the pork pieces from the marinade and dredge them in the cornstarch until they are coated liberally on all sides. Shake them to remove any excess cornstarch.

Horizontal image of fried meat chunks on a plate lined with paper towels.

Working in batches, fry the pork until it’s golden brown and cooked through, about 2-3 minutes. Set the fried pork aside on a paper-towel lined plate to drain any excess oil.

Step 3 – Chop the Vegetables and Make the Sweet and Sour Sauce

Chop the onions, peppers, and pineapple. Starting with fresh pineapple? Check out these recommended pineapple slicers and corers to make short work of the task.

Horizontal image of neat rows of chopped peppers, onions, and pineapple on a white plate.

Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil to a large skillet, place it over medium heat, and swirl to coat the pan. Add the remaining garlic and saute until very fragrant, about 1 minute, being careful not to let it burn.

Add the onions and peppers and cook until they are crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Add the pineapple and cook for 1 additional minute.

Horizontal image of a skillet with chopped onion, pepper, and pineapple with assorted seasonings being poured inside.

Stir in the tomato paste, rice vinegar, brown sugar, water, and remaining soy sauce, and bring the mixture to a boil. Don’t forget to add a dollop or two of chili garlic sauce if you want to heat things up a bit!

Step 4 – Toss the Pork with the Sauce and Serve

Add the fried pork and remaining green onions. Toss to coat everything in the sauce.

Horizontal image of a large skillet filled with a mixture of cooked meat chunks, vegetables, and pineapple in a dark sauce.

Divide the pork, veggies, and sauce among plates, garnish with the sesame seeds, and serve.

Pass the Pork, Please

If you’ve never made sweet and sour sauce from scratch before, after one bite of these tender, tangy pork morsels, you’ll be a believer.

Horizontal image of a of a sweet and sour meat dish in a bowl on a blue towel next to pan and sliced scallions.

Totally speaking from personal experience here. I am a new woman. Hear my sweet and sour roar.

If pork isn’t your first preference, feel free to swap in chicken. The sauce is the show-stealing star.

Craving more aromatic Chinese creations? Grab your chopsticks and get started on these rock star recipes next:

Peppers and onions add crunch to every bite of this dish, but no one said you couldn’t sneak in a few more veggies.

Bok choy? Broccoli? Carrots? Share your stir-fry favorites that you can’t wait to add to this dish in the comments below! And don’t forget to give this recipe a five-star rating if you loved it.

Photos by Fanny Slater, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published on January 17, 2011. Last updated: October 16, 2020 at 14:49 pm. With additional writing and editing by Allison Sidhu.

Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.

About Fanny Slater

Fanny Slater is a home-taught food enthusiast based in Wilmington, North Carolina who won the “Rachael Ray Show” Great American Cookbook Competition in 2014, and published her cookbook “Orange, Lavender & Figs” in 2016. Fanny is a food and beverage writer, recipe developer, and social media influencer. She was a co-host on the Food Network series “Kitchen Sink,” was featured on Cooking Channel’s longtime popular series “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” and continues to appear regularly on the “Rachael Ray Show.”

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