In the early ’70s, my Mum was a cook in the kitchen of St Paul’s College at the James Cook University in Townsville. She worked there for a couple of years – at least in my memory she did – and during her time there, she learnt many new and wonderful recipes.
Sweet & Sour Pork was one of them.
The wonderful aroma that permeated the house when she was cooking this meal for us was almost intoxicating and I can still see my seven-year-old-self lying on the lounge room floor, watching The Wonderful World of Disney, tummy grumbling away, patiently wait for Mum to call us to the table for dinner.
This became a staple in our household. That succulent pork with crisp vegetables and sweet, tangy sauce, served over fluffy white rice, was often requested as a ‘special birthday meal’, and always enjoyed by everyone.
I was naive enough to believe everyone else enjoyed Sweet & Sour Pork the same way my family did.
Imagine my shock the first time I ordered it at a Chinese restaurant and batter-covered, oily, deep-fried, bite-sized pieces of pork arrived, smothered (nay, swimming) in sauce with a scant few pieces of pineapple and capsicum.
I felt like I’d been ripped off. Where were the crisp vegetables? Where was the fluffy white rice? I guess when you’re feeding a horde of hungry university students, masses of vegetables as well as a serve of rice, make for a hardier meal that goes further and feeds more, and I’m sure many people can relate to that necessity.
I still prefer to cook it at home the same way my mother did all those years ago, with that tantalising smell invoking fond childhood memories.
Although I don’t have a written recipe, I’ve done my best to recreate it and share it here for everyone.
Sweet & Sour Pork
500 g boneless pork belly spare ribs
4 – 5 cups of fresh vegetables cut into long strips/batons, I use:
1 medium onion
1½ cups green beans
¼ each of medium-sized red and green capsicum (bell peppers)
2 medium carrots
2 stalks celery
425 g tin pineapple pieces in natural juice
¼ cup soya sauce
¾ cup vinegar
1 heaped tablespoon cornflour
2 tablespoons of cooking oil
salt and pepper
4 cups cooked white rice
step one: Cut the pork into bite size pieces, place into a bowl and coat with the soya sauce. Allow to marinade for at least one hour.
step two: Prepare all the vegetables, place into a bowl and set aside. Drain the pineapple, retaining the juice – there should be approx. 1 cup of juice.
step three: Place the pineapple juice into a measuring jug and add the vinegar and the cornflour. Mix until combined. It will be cloudy in colour, but that’s ok.
step four: Heat 1 tablespoon of cooking oil in a large pan or wok and add the vegetables and toss, cooking only long enough to blanch the vegetables. Add salt and pepper to taste and set aside.
step five: Heat the remaining oil in the same pan or wok and keep the pan hot. Add the pork to cook and stir/toss constantly to ensure the meat doesn’t stick. Drain off any excess fat, then add the pineapple and continue cooking until the pineapple becomes clear.
step six: Add the sauce mix and stir constantly as the sauce comes to a boil, it will become clear and thick. Add the vegetables and stir, continuing to cook only long enough for the vegetables to heat through.
step seven: Serve over a cup of fluffy white rice.
- I put the pot on to boil for the rice when I’m cooking the pork, and brown rice is just as good.
I think this recipe makes enough for four hungry adults. Certainly, it was enough for two meals for me and Dean – with just a little left over that I’m going to enjoy for lunch today.