Chinese sweet and sour pork 咕噜肉/咕老肉 is a traditional Chinese cuisine with a universal appeal. It is easy to prepare and kid-friendly, perfect for any busy home cook.
The crispy pork pieces are doused in a thick, spoon-coating sauce with a constant pull between sweet and sour. The deep-fried pork is well balanced with the aesthetically pleasing combination of vegetables that will set your stomach growling.
I have been cooking sweet and sour pork for many years in a Chinese restaurant and have tried several ways to simplify the method and make it tastier and crispier. For example, my previous recipe involved dipping the marinated pork into a thick batter before frying it and making the sauce only when required. All these have changed in this new sweet and sour pork recipe.
1. Recently, I realized that using dry coating works better than wet coating for Chinese sweet and sour pork. I wet-coated the pork in a batter of flour and egg before frying in my old recipe, creating a crispy but delicate crust that becomes soggy quickly when doused in the sauce. In the new recipe, I coat the meat with flour and cornstarch, which can withstand the moisture from the sauce longer. Hence, the pork is still crispy when serving, even with some delay if I coat the meat wi h the dry coating method. In addition, the dry coating material can be prepared in advance in a large amount, which saves time.
2. I also prepare the sweet and sour sauce and divide it into the amount required for 500g of meat (my usual portion). This sauce can be stored in the freezer for two to three months without noticeable change. I must defrost it whenever I want to cook sweet and sour pork, chicken, or tofu again. So again, this is another time-saving way that I strongly recommend.
With this in mind, I have updated the recipe and added some new images. The homemade sweet and sour sauce and dry coating mix are now my kitchen’s standard item. You can get the preparation method in the note section of the recipe below.
How to make Chinese sweet and sour pork 咕噜肉- The step-by-step guide
This easy sweet and sour pork recipe is divided into four steps.
1. The sweet and sour pork marinate
- Cut the pork into bite-size, about 2.5 cm (*1-inch) in length. Most Chinese restaurants use pork belly, but other cuts of pork, such as pork loin, pork shoulder, or collar butt, are less fatty. You can also use pork tenderloin (healthier), which is quite tender as long as you do not overcook it. I have a different easy recipe for sweet and sour chicken, which you may want to replace pork with chicken.
- Add the cornstarch, light soy sauce, and salt to marinate the pork for at least thirty minutes, preferably overnight if time is permissible, in the refrigerator.
- The cornstarch helps to bind the light soy sauce to the pork. The light soy sauce improves the flavor, especially the meat’s interior since the sauce is only on the surface of the pork when serving.
2. Prepare the dry coating for deep frying
Prepare the dry coating as indicated in the note section of the recipe. The dry coating helps crisp up the crust form on the surface, making it highly crispy and able to withstand the moisture from the sauce drizzling on it while serving.
The all-purpose flour absorbs most of the moisture from the pork. Cornstarch is the main ingredient that makes things crispy. Salt is mainly for seasoning, and baking powder further helps to expand the surface, releasing more moisture and making it crackling crisp. (Of course, as with other deep-frying dishes, it will lose the crispiness sometime after frying.)
Here are the steps to deep-fry the pork:
- After marinating the pork, mix the dry coating ingredients with the pork and shake off the excess.
- Heat some vegetable oil, about half-inch deep, with a high smoking point in a pan.
- Place the pork cover with the dry coating into the pan.
- Deep-fry at medium-high heat for about four minutes. Turn the meat over occasionally. A wok is a good substitute for the deep fryer if you don’t have one.
- When the pork becomes golden brown, remove it with a slotted spoon and drain it on a paper towel.
3. Cut the vegetables into bite-size
- Fresh vegetables provide an excellent contrast to the deep-fried pork and the sauce with a strong savory flavor. The most common vegetables for Chinese sweet and sour pork are cucumbers, onions, and fresh pineapple. They are cut into bite-size chunks or pieces and stir fry briefly to maintain freshness and crunchiness. Bell peppers are also suitable for this recipe.
- You can use pineapple chunks or canned pineapple when fresh one is unavailable. In this case, include some pineapple juice from the can to make a difference.
- You can also consider red peppers, green onions, and diced tomatoes.
4. Make the sweet and sour sauce
The sweet and sour sauce sets apart one recipe from another.
Although you can prepare the sweet and sour sauce by combining only rice vinegar and sugar, it definitely can formulate with various ingredients to get more flavors.
This recipe’s Chinese sweet and sour pork sauce consists of ketchup, Chinese plum sauce, sugar, salt, and lemon juice. It gives the pork the perfect balance of sweetness and sourness. You can use apple cider vinegar or white vinegar to substitute the lemon juice.
- Substitute part of the ketchup with chili sauce to make it spicy. Ketchup is both sweet and sour, but the Chinese plum sauce provides most of the unique flavor in this formula. Alternatively, substitute the ketchup with tomato paste.
- Adjust the sourness by adding more lemon juice and sweetness with brown sugar or honey.
- Measure the required amount of each ingredient only for this recipe (see the notes section of the recipe for details), but I strongly suggest making more and keeping some in the future. It is freezer-friendly and can be kept for a few months. Another way is to use store-bought sweet and sour sauce to save time, but nothing is better than those prepared at home.
This sweet and sour sauce is also great for cooking other Chinese food, such as pork chops and spare ribs, with the same way of cooking the small pork pieces in this recipe.
The sauce is freezer-friendly. I suggest portioning it with small airtight containers and keeping the extra in the freezer. It can be kept for two to three months.
5. Combine all the ingredients
- Heat a tablespoon of cooking oil into the wok.
- Saute the onion, followed by pineapple and cucumber, and stir-fry for half a minute. You can also use a pan for cooking as it only requires medium heat for this recipe. Cast iron wok is the best utensil to stir-fry anything with high heat, such as fried rice.
- Add the sauce to the vegetable when it starts to turn soft. Continue stir-frying in a large skillet or wok until the sauce starts to boil.
- Turn off the heat and return the deep-fried pork to the wok. Have a few quick stirs and flips to let the sauce cover the pork. I do not stir fry the pork with the sauce as it will lose its crispiness. The thick sauce will cling to the pork to form a glossy finish. Dish out and serve. You may also sprinkle some sesame seeds on it right before serving.
It is best to serve with white rice.
The sweet and sour pork recipe
Ingredients A (marinate the meat)
- 500g collar butt pork (or other cuts of your choice), cut into 1-inch pieces
- 2 tsp light soy sauce
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp cornstarch
Ingredients B (vegetables)
- 130g pineapples, cut into pieces
- 130g Japanese cucumber, cut into wedges
- 130g onion, cut into cubes
- Vegetable oil for deep-frying
- Dry coating mix (refer to note section)
- 120g sweet and sour sauce (refer to note section)
- 3/4 cup water
- Mix ingredient in A and marinate for 30 minutes or longer
- Coat the pork with the dry coating mix, dust off the excess
- Deep fry the pork in a pan filled with half-inch deep oil, over medium heat, for four minutes. Remove and drain on a paper towel.
- Heat 1 tbsp of oil in the wok. Saute the onion until aromatic, then add the pineapple, cucumber, followed by the sweet and sour sauce and water.
- When it returns to a boil, remove from heat and doused the deep-fried pork in the sauce.
- Serve while the pork is still crispy.
How to make the sweet and sour sauce
- 200g tomato ketchup
- 90g chili sauce
- 90g Chinese plum sauce
- Lemon juice from half of the large lemon, about 1.5tbsp
- 15g (1 tbsp) sugar, optional
- 7g (1.5 tsp) salt
1. Measure all the ingredients (except lemon juice) accurately.
2. Heat up in a small pot until the sugar has dissolved.
3. Let the sauce cools down.
4. Squeeze the lemon juice and remove the seeds by catching them with a wire mesh strainer.
5. Pour the lemon juice into the sauce and mix well.
6. Portion the sauce and store equal amounts in plastic containers, which are freezer-friendly.
Note: The amount is for three portions. (Divide every ingredient by three if you only want to make for this recipe). You can keep the remaining two portions in two freezer-safe containers for future use.
How to prepare the dry coating mix for deep-frying
- 70g all-purpose flour,
- 80g cornstarch
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- Mix all the ingredients and store them in an airtight container.
Note: This amount is roughly enough to coat 1.5kg (about 3 pounds) of meat for deep-frying. (Use 1/3 for this recipe).
As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Serving Size:3 servings
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 556Total Fat: 28gSaturated Fat: 9gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 17gCholesterol: 147mgSodium: 878mgCarbohydrates: 30gFiber: 2gSugar: 15gProtein: 45g
This data was provided and calculated by Nutritionix on 7/19/2021