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04/25/2016

~A Chinese Cantonese Classic: Sweet & Sour Pork~

IMG_6155Sweet and sour pork is one of the most well-known Chinese dishes in the world, and, amongst Americans, it's extremely popular.  Marinated, crisply-fried cubes of pork butt or loin, and, stir-fried bell peppers, onion and pineapple -- the two unite at the end when they get tossed together in a perfectly-balanced sweet and savory, ginger-laced ketchup-based sauce to coat.  Pork, "the other white meat", is the Cantonese classic, but, if you prefer poultry over porcine, boneless, skinless chicken breast is a common substitution in Chinese and American kitchens. 

IMG_6199Classically served as a "sauced-pork dish" with fried rice for accompaniment, in American home kitchens, it's not unusual to see the pork, vegetable and pineapple mixture spooned atop a bed of freshly-steamed white rice.  The colorful end result is pretty to look at and a joy to eat -- it's a welcome change of pace from humdrum dinnertime fare.  It makes adults happy and kids tend to love it too, so, if you are looking to introduce Chinese flavors to your youngsters, experience has taught this mother and grandmother:  sweet and sour pork or chicken is a kid-tested safe bet.

Relatively speaking, sweet and sour pork is not hard to make and all of the prep (which is minimal compared to other Chinese dishes) can be done a day ahead.  While some basic deep-fry and stir-fry technique is helpful and fresh ingredients are important, the secret to this dish is achieving the perfect sugary sweet and vinegary sour balance in the easy-to-make sauce.  The sauce is the heart and soul of this dish -- it's the center of the sweet and sour pork universe! 

IMG_6146Part One:  Making the Sauce (+ a bit of sauce history too)

IMG_5575The first Chinese immigrants to the US were mostly Cantonese, and, Canton, China is the home of the famous "sweet and sour pork" dish eaten annually for Chinese New Year.  With the Cantonese came their love for bright, bold flavor and fresh ingredients -- their sauce is a perfect balance of sugar, vinegar, chile pepper and ginger. It was we Americans who added ketchup to it, and, don't laugh, it's so good, the Chinese adopted it.  If you've never tasted homemade sweet and sour sauce, prepare to be wowed, because:  unless you're eating it in a place that makes their own, sadly, it's a concoction of corn syrup, citric acid and food coloring.

Anyone, anywhere can do better than that in 3 easy steps in less than 10 minutes!

IMG_55051/2  cup each:  water and ketchup

1/3  cup each:  brown sugar, orange juice and rice vinegar

1 1/2  tablespoons soy sauce

1 1/2  teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes

2  tablespoons vegetable oil

2-3  tablespoons, peeled, thinly-sliced, then minced ginger

1 1/2  tablespoons cornstarch mixed with 1/4 cup water

IMG_5507 IMG_5510 IMG_5511 IMG_5519~Step 1.  In a 1-quart measuring container, stir together the water, ketchup, dark brown sugar, orange juice, rice vinegar, soy sauce and red pepper flakes.  Set aside.  Peel, thinly-slice and mince the ginger as directed and set aside.  Stir together the cornstarch and water.  Set aside.

IMG_5521 IMG_5522 IMG_5526 IMG_5532~Step 2.  Place the vegetable oil in a 1-quart saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add the ginger and sauté, stirring constantly, until fragrant, 45-60 seconds.  Add all of the liquid mixture from Step 1 and adjust heat to simmer steadily, stirring occasionally, about 2 minutes.

IMG_5534 IMG_5550Step 3.  Add cornstarch/water mixture and simmer gently until nicely thickened, about 1-2 minutes.  Remove from heat and transfer to a food storage container.  Use as directed in specific recipe or store in refrigerator 1-2 weeks.

Part Two:  Cutting, Marinating and Frying the Pork 

IMG_5996For the pork, marinade & deep fry:

2-2 1/2 pounds pork loin, trimmed of all visible fat, cut into 1/2"-3/4" slices, slices cut into 1/2"-3/4" cubes (boneless, skinless chicken breast may be substituted) (Note: I purchase a 3 pound piece of pork loin & after trimming the math works out right.)

2  tablespoons soy sauce

2  tablespoons orange juice

1  tablespoon firmly packed cornstarch

1  tablespoon sugar

2  large eggs

additional cornstarch, for dredging, about 3/4 cup

IMG_6002 IMG_6010~ Step 1.  To slice.  Slice the pork as directed, placing it a 1-gallon food storage bag as you work.  I simply cut the loin into 8 slices, trim the fat from each, and cut each slice into 15 cubes.  

IMG_6035 IMG_6024~ Step 2.  To marinate.  In a 1-cup measuring container, whisk, the soy sauce, orange juice, cornstarch, sugar and eggs.  Add the marinade to the food storage bag containing the pork, seal the bag and toss to coat.  Set aside for about 1 hour.

While the meat is marinating, use your time wisely -- get your "mise en place".

IMG_6039"Mise en place" is a fancy French phrase meaning, "everything in its place" so no time gets wasted from the beginning to the end of the cooking process.  Preheat deep-fryer containing corn or peanut oil to 360 degrees according to manufacturer's specifications.  The frying process goes fast so, set up a "deep-frying" assembly line in this order:  marinated pork, cornstarch, bowl for dredging, deep-fryer for frying and a baking dish lined with paper towels for draining.  

IMG_6044 IMG_6061 IMG_6047~ Step 3.  To fry.  When oil reaches temperature, dredge 15-18 pieces of pork in the cornstarch by tossing them with a fork.  

IMG_6055 IMG_6057 IMG_6068 IMG_6072 IMG_6091Load them onto an Asian spider (or large slotted spoon), lower them, all-at-once into the hot oil, and, deep-fry until just cooked through, about 2 minutes.  Repeat this process, adding about 2 more tablespoons of cornstarch to the bowl each time, until all of the pork has been dredged and deep-fried. Note:  The deep-frying can be done 2-3 hours in advance of preparing the stir-fried fruit and vegetables.

Part Three:  Prepping Pineapple & Veggies, &, a Quick Stir-Fry 

IMG_6103For the fruit, veggies & stir-fry:

4  tablespoons corn or peanut oil

1/4  cup minced, fresh ginger

1-1 1/4 cups each:  1/2"-3/4" diced green & red bell pepper, and, yellow or sweet onion

3  cups 1/2"-3/4" chunked fresh pineapple

6  cups deep-fried pork cubes, and, 1 1/2-2  cups sweet and sour sauce, from above recipe, both slightly-warm

IMG_6105 IMG_6107~ Step 1.  In a 12" stir-fry-type pan or a skillet, heat 4 tablespoons corn or peanut oil over medium-high heat on the stovetop.  Add ginger and sauté until fragrant, but not browned, about 1 minute.

Note:  Relax.  I'm here to tell you, you do not need a stir-fry-type pan or a wok to successfully stir-fry.  I am using a nonstick skillet to prove my point. 

IMG_6110 IMG_6114 IMG_6119 IMG_6122 IMG_6126 IMG_6128~Step 2.  Add peppers and onion and sauté, stirring constantly, until vegetables are starting to soften, 1 1/2-2 minutes.  Add pineapple and continue to sauté, 1 1/2-2 minutes.  Add pork and sauté until heated through, 1-1 1/2 more minutes.

IMG_6133 IMG_6141~ Step 3. Adjust heat to very low or turn the heat off. Add 1 1/2 cups of the warm sauce and toss until all ingredients are evenly coated.  Add more sauce, if needed, until  it's coated and tastes the way you want it to.  Serve immediately with fried rice or white rice to the side, or, with a bed of fried or white rice underneath each portion.

Whether you prefer a bowl or a plate, with or atop a bed of rice...

IMG_6152... this recipe, w/3 parts & 3 steps in each part = 1 memorable meal!

IMG_6194A Chinese Cantonese Classic:  Sweet & Sour Pork:  Recipe yields 2 cups of sauce and 4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  1-quart measuring container; cutting board; chef's knife; 1-quart saucepan; large spoon; 2-cup food storage container w/tight-fitting lid; 1-gallon food storage bag; 1-cup measuring container; small whisk or fork;  deep-fryer; 12" stir-fry-type pan or skillet

IMG_5754Cook's Note: Once you start making your own yummy sweet and sour sauce, I'm certain you'll be looking for others ways to enjoy it. One of my favorites, made outdoors on the grill or indoors on a grill pan: ~ Stick It:  Sweet & Sour Shrimp & Pineapple Kabobs ~ can be found in Categories 3, 10, 13, 14 or 17.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)

04/22/2016

~Stick It: Sweet & Sour Shrimp & Pineapple Kabobs~

IMG_5754Everyone loves to eat food on a stick.  Hot, cold, raw or cooked, it's pre-portioned, super-easy to serve, and, it's portable too.  Just take a walk around the world.  Food-on-a-stick is street food, and, everyone eating it has a happy look on their face.  When it comes to grilled food on a stick, I think people get a spring in their step.  Be it thin pieces of meat threaded onto a skewer or bite-sized chunks of meat, vegetables and/or fruit all in a row, folks will stand in line for a kabob.

PICT0016It's been going on for centuries.  "Kabbaba" is the ancient Aramaic word for "to char" or "to burn".  It's no accident that medieval Persian soldiers, who used their swords to grill their food over open fires in the field are credited with inventing "kabobs".

IMG_8575While simple in theory, there are a few easy techniques you can learn to achieve the perfect kabobing experience.  For example, double skewering some foods to prevent them from spinning around on the stick when you try to turn them over. I've written all about it in my post ~ How to:  Properly Skewer food for Grilling Kabobs ~ which can be found in Categories 10 or 15.

There's more.  When making IMG_5612kabobs, I put the protein on one set of skewers and the fruits and or vegetables on a second set.  Why? Because all proteins have different cooking requirements.  Some cook fast and some cook slow.  Some are best served medium-rare while others need to be fully cooked. Fruits and ready-to-eat vegetables get grilled to enhance their flavor and only need to be cooked to the desired degree of doneness.  Tip from Mel:  For perfectly cooked kabobs, skewer like items together.

Fire up your grill or get out your grill pan, today we're making Chinese-inspired sweet & sour shrimp & pineapple kabobs!

IMG_5559Pineapple goes well with several proteins:  poultry, pork, seafood and tofu too, and, it's a popular combo in many cultures.  The first Chinese immigrants to arrive in the US were mostly Cantonese, and, Canton, China is the home of the famous "sweet and sour pork" dish eaten annually for Chinese New Year.

With the Cantonese people, came their love for bright, bold flavor and fresh ingredients.  Sweet and sour sauce is a perfect balance of sugar, IMG_5575vinegar, chile pepper and ginger. Funny enough, it was we Americans who added ketchup to it, and, don't laugh, it's so good, the Chinese adopted it!

If you've never tasted homemade sweet and sour sauce, prepare to be wowed, because:  unless you're eating it in a place that makes their own, sadly, it's a concoction of corn syrup, citric acid and food coloring. Anyone, anywhere can do better than that in 5 minutes.  My easy recipe ~ Sweet & Sour Sauce for Seafood, Poultry or Pork ~, in Categories 8 or 13, yields 2 cups.

Skewering the Shrimp, Pineapple, Bell Peppers & Onions:

IMG_5592For the shrimp:

2  pounds extra-large (26-30 count) shrimp, peeled, deveined and tails left on

IMG_5621~ Step 1.  On each of 12, 8" skewers, skewer 4 shrimp. IMG_5615Pick one up and push it on at two points: where the tail meets meat, and, through the thick part of the body.

IMG_5589For the pineapple:

1  large, ripe pineapple

~ Step 1.     Using a large chef's knife, remove the top and bottom, then stand it up and slice down the sides to remove the prickly skin. IMG_5582Slice it in half, then, slice each half into four quarters. Remove about 1/2" from the center core of each eighth, then, slice each length into 1/2"-3/4" chunks.

For the bell peppers and onions: IMG_5596

3-4  each:  green and red bell peppers, sliced into quarters, white ribs removed, chopped into 1"-1 1/4" pieces

1  very large sweet onion, chopped into 1"-1 1/4" pieces

IMG_5601~ Step 1.  On each of 12, 8" skewers, alternately place 4 pieces of pineapple with a piece of green pepper, onion, and red pepper sandwiched in between:

IMG_5628Grilling the Kabobs (on a gas grill or on a large grill pan):

IMG_5730Arrange kabobs on grill grids over indirect heat on medium-high heat of gas grill, or, on grill grids of a large grill pan over medium-high heat on the stovetop.  The heat on all grills and stovetops is not created equal, so, be sure to monitor the process, which goes quickly, carefully.

Grill kabobs (all at once or in batches depending upon the size of your grill) turning only once: until shrimp are cooked through and light golden on both sides, and, pineapple is showing signs of light browning around the edges.  On grill and in grill pan, about 8-9 minutes for shrimp (4-4 1/2 minutes per side) and 7-8 minutes for pineapple (3 1/2-4 minutes per side).

Serve w/steamed jasmine rice + warm sweet & sour sauce:   

IMG_5655Stick it:  Sweet & Sour Shrimp & Pineapple Kabobs:  Recipe yields 2 cups sweet and sour sauce, 12 shrimp kabobs and 12 pineapple, pepper & onion kabobs/12 small servings or 6 large servings.

Special Equipment List: 24, 8" metal or wooden skewers; cutting board; chef's knife; gas grill or large, double-burner-sized grillpan

PICT0007Cook's Note:  Want to REALLY impress people? Steam your rice a day ahead.  My recipe for ~ Leftover Rice?  Use it to Make Chinese Fried Rice ~, which can be found in Categories 3, 4, 13, 14 or 26, is an over-the-top accompaniment to these kabobs.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016) 

04/19/2016

~ Sweet & Sour Sauce for Seafood, Poultry or Pork ~

IMG_5562Duck sauce, sweet and sour sauce, and, brown sauce -- if you associate them with Chinese and Chinese-American cuisine, you'd be correct.  All three are cooked, pantry-staple condiment-sauces that are thickened with cornstarch.  The first two cousins are used primarily as glazes and dipping sauces.  The latter, brown sauce, is used mostly to finish quick stir-fries.  You can find my recipes for ~ "Would You Like Duck Sauce With That?" "Yes!" ~ and,  ~ A Chinese Staple:  Real-Deal Basic Brown Sauce ~ by clicking into Categories 8 or 13.  Today's topic is:

Chinese-Style vs. American-Style Sweet & Sour Sauce:

IMG_5559The first Chinese immigrants to the United States were mostly Cantonese.  Canton, China, is home to the famous dish "sweet and sour pork", where it is traditionally eaten on Chinese New Year.  When the Cantonese arrived, they brought their love for fresh ingredients and bold bright flavors.  Sweet and sour flavor combinations, common to many cultures, are achieved via the perfect balance of two ingredients: sugar and vinegar.  The sugar can be white or brown, and, honey can be substituted if the sauce is to be used to dress a salad.  Cantonese "sour" is what makes their version of sweet and sour unique.  It comes from acidic rice vinegar and soury fruit juice in combination with a bit of salty soy sauce, peppery chile, pungent gingerroot and an occasional pinch of aromatic clove.  Chinese sweet and sour sauce quickly became a favorite of us Americans, who, took it upon ourselves to add:  tangy ketchup.  Don't roll your eyes:

Tangy, acidic, sweet and spicy ketchup is a wonderful addition to this sauce.

IMG_5575Even the Chinese have adopted it, and, when you order "sweet and sour" anything here in the USA (typically a dish of batter dipped chicken, pork or shrimp), the sauce usually contains ketchup -- if said sauce is homemade.  Sadly, too many places purchase manufactured sauce, and, sadly, that is the only sweet and sour sauce many Americans have ever experienced.  My best description of store-bought:  It's an inferior concoction of corn syrup, citric acid and red food coloring.  When tasted next to homemade sauce, it is an insult to the tastebuds.   

IMG_5496My recipe for sweet and sour sauce comes from Chef Martin Yan.  The author of many Chinese cookbooks, most Americans got to know him as the host of the acclaimed YanCanCook show on PBS.  I had the pleasure of getting to know him a bit while working by his side on a cooking demo for our local WPSU PBS station, and, having him as a guest right here in my kitchen too.

The following recipe appears on page 88 of his book, Chinese Cooking for Dummies.  Of this book I will say, if you are a Western cook who  fears cooking Chinese fare: This is the best Chinese cooking school book you will ever purchase!

"If Yan can cook -- so can YOU!" ~ Chef Martin Yan

Two excerpts from his (the following) recipe:  "North America's favorite Chinese restaurant sauce has finally come to your own kitchen, and, when you make it yourself, you can control the sweet and sour flavors to the proportion that's just right for your palate." "Sweet and sour sauce wouldn't be sweet and sour without an ample helping of acidic ingredients such as rice vinegar and orange juice, but, any starch-thickened sauce becomes thin and watery if you add too much acid, so, if you are playing with proportions, don't get out of hand when upping the sour."

IMG_55051/2  cup water

1/2  cup ketchup

1/3  cup packed brown sugar

1/3  cup  orange juice (Note:  Pineapple juice is a common substitution and it tastes great.  That said, Chef Yan uses orange juice in his sweet and sour sauce recipes, so, Mel does too!)

1/3  cup rice vinegar

1 1/2  tablespoons soy sauce

1 1/2  teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes

2  tablespoons vegetable oil

2-3  tablespoons, peeled, thinly-sliced, then minced ginger

1 1/2  tablespoons cornstarch mixed with 1/4 cup water

IMG_5507 IMG_5510 IMG_5511 IMG_5519~Step 1.  In a 1-quart measuring container, stir together the water, ketchup, dark brown sugar, orange juice, rice vinegar, soy sauce and red pepper flakes.  Set aside.  Peel, thinly-slice and mince the ginger as directed and set aside.  Stir together the cornstarch and water.  Set aside.

IMG_5521 IMG_5522 IMG_5526 IMG_5532~Step 2.  Place the vegetable oil in a 1-quart saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add the ginger and sauté, stirring constantly, until fragrant, 45-60 seconds.  Add all of the liquid mixture from Step 1 and adjust heat to simmer steadily, stirring occasionally, about 2 minutes.

IMG_5534 IMG_5550~ Step 3.  Add cornstarch/water mixture and simmer gently until nicely thickened, about 1-2 minutes.  Remove from heat and transfer to a food storage container.  Use as directed in specific recipe or store in refrigerator 1-2 weeks.

Long live the saucy sweet & sour in of all of us!

IMG_5568Sweet & Sour Sauce for Seafood, Poultry or Pork:  Recipe yields 2 cups sweet and sour sauce.

Special Equipment List: 1-quart measuring container; cutting board; chef's knife; 1-quart saucepan; large spoon; 2-cup food storage container w/tight-fitting lid 

6a0120a8551282970b0168e560b188970cCook's Note: My recipe for ~ Sweet & Sour Broccoli-Orange-Cashew Chicken ~, is a spin-off of another Martin Yan recipe.  It uses the Chinese (no ketchup) version of sweet and sour sauce to glaze the finished stir-fry.  It can be found by clicking into Categories 3, 13 or 19.

"We are all in this food world together." Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)