- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Sweet-and-sour pork is disgusting — which is to say, I love it. I refuse, however, to eat those fatty pork nuggets saturated with sticky orange goo that many Asian-American restaurants pass off as the centerpiece of this dish. There is a way to make a better-tasting sweet-and-sour pork, even in the amount of time it would take for take-out food delivery to arrive.

First, the pork. For a crisp exterior, dust cubed pork with cornstarch and a bit of freshly ground black pepper. This will work better than using bread crumbs or brining.

For technique, pass on the slow simmer method. Not only would that blow the 30-minute budget, it also would kill the crisp texture this dish needs. Instead, a quick saute in a bit of sesame oil does the trick. Canola or vegetable oil would work, too.

To avoid overcooking the pork, transfer it to a plate lined with paper towels and let it drain for several minutes.

Next up, the vegetables. Here’s where the Asian restaurants have a winner. They often use carrots and red and green bell peppers.

This assortment is perfect, as they retain some of their crunch, unlike the delicate vegetables many recipes require. As with the crispy pork, this is a nice balance to the sweet sauce.

As reluctant as I was to add a second pan to this recipe, briefly steaming the carrots on their own ended up being the best way to prepare them and the sauce at the same time.

The sauce was the hardest part. Recipes abound, and many are absurdly involved.

Pineapple juice (use the juice in which canned pineapple chunks are packed), ketchup, soy sauce and cornstarch appeared in nearly all. So I started there.

To that I added cider vinegar (the sour) and brown sugar (more sweet). Though it’s a bit of a deviation from tradition, I found a British version I loved that included grated fresh ginger.

There you have sweet-and-sour pork, no orange goo in sight.

Sweet-and-sour pork

This recipe, from start to finish, takes 30 minutes.

2 medium carrots, cut into thick oblongs

4 tablespoons cornstarch, divided

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 pounds lean pork chops, fat trimmed, cut into bite-size cubes

4 tablespoons toasted sesame oil, divided

1 large yellow onion, diced

1 green bell pepper, cut into thin strips

1 red bell pepper, cut into thin strips

½ cup cider vinegar

½ cup pineapple juice

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/4cup ketchup

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

1 cup pineapple chunks

Place the carrots in a medium saucepan. Add ½ inch of water, cover and set aside.

In a large plastic zip-close bag, combine 3 tablespoons of cornstarch and the black pepper. Add the pork cubes, close the bag and shake to coat evenly. Set the cubes aside.

In a large skillet, heat 3 tablespoons sesame oil over medium-high until it shimmers.

Add the pork, in batches if necessary, and saute, turning frequently, until lightly browned on all sides, about 10 minutes.

Transfer the pork to a plate lined with paper towels and let stand several minutes to drain excess oil.

Return the skillet to the heat and add remaining oil, then the onion and both peppers. Saute until tender, about 6 minutes.

While the onions and peppers cook, bring the saucepan with carrots to a boil over high heat. Once they reach a boil, turn off the heat and set aside, covered.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together the vinegar, pineapple juice, brown sugar, ketchup, soy sauce, ginger and remaining tablespoon of cornstarch.

Add the sweet-and-sour sauce to the skillet and heat, stirring often, until it thickens, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, add the pork and carrots and toss lightly to coat. Add the pineapple chunks and simmer until heated through.

Serve over warm rice.

Makes 6 servings.

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