Back in my days at The Culinary Institute of America, I had a class we all called Demo.
What it was, true to its name, was a day-long lecture in an amphitheater-like hall filled with 80 students staring down on a cooking suite. It was complete with two chef instructors demonstrating the menus we students would be responsible for making the following day in our classroom kitchens.
We learned everything from soups and appetizers to entrees of all sorts. Salads, pastries and other savory delights were taught in separate classes.
The same went for Asian cuisine.
However, one day, Chef Dan Durick took it upon himself to throw in a bonus recipe for a Cantonese Sweet & Sour Sauce he loved dearly and it’s still among the recipes I use now and then when I have a yen for Chinese food.
As a short Chinese Food 101 refresher, Cantonese cuisine is one of the 7 distinct Chinese cuisines that came about in China due to the isolation of various parts of that large country from one another.
Over time, these regions developed regional dishes from the foods available to them. For instance, inland areas used more meats, and sea coasts used more fish and shellfish. From there, some areas added additional ingredients, such as sugars, vinegar and colorful fruits and vegetables.
Here’s where the Cantonese comes in:
Canton, now known as Guangzhou, is the prosperous capital city of Guangdong Province, located along the south coastline of China. And one of its food specialties is sweet & sour—most commonly fish, seafood, chicken or pork.
It’s, of course, a very popular Chinese dish and one you’d expect to see in some adaptation in nearly any Chinese restaurant stateside.
As much as I’d like to tell you there’s only one authentic sweet & sour sauce recipe and that I have it, that’s no truer than saying there’s one authentic recipe of any sauce.
Certainly, they all have a common foundation, but variety, as they say, is indeed the spice of life. Find a recipe you like and make it your own.
Here’s mine…err…ahhh…(kinda Chef Durick’s too)
Pete’s Cantonese Sweet & Sour Sauce
Make about 4 cups or enough for 6 portions.
2 TBSP Sesame Oil
1 TBSP Garlic, Chopped
1 TBSP Fresh Ginger, Minced
½ Cup Sweet Onion, Diced in 1” Pieces
½ Cup Red Bell Pepper, Cut in 1” Pieces
½ Cup Green Bell Pepper, Cut in 1” Pieces
1 Cup Pineapple Juice
½ Cup Orange Juice
½ Cup Ketchup
2 TBSP Teriyaki Sauce
¼ Cup Maraschino Cherry Juice
¼ Cup Sweet Pickle Juice
¼ Cup Rice Wine Vinegar
½ Cup Sugar
1 Cup Pineapple Chunks, 1” Pieces
¼ Cup Maraschino Cherries, Stemmed, Cut in Half
¼ Cup Baby Sweet Pickles, Cut in ½” Pieces
2 TBSP Green Onion, Cut in Thin Bias Slices
3 TBSP Cornstarch
1/3 Cup Cold Water
1 TBSP Sesame Seeds
¼ tsp Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
- Sauté the garlic, ginger, onions and peppers in the sesame oil until softened.
- Add the pineapple juice, orange juice, ketchup, teriyaki sauce, cherry juice, pickle juice, rice wine vinegar and sugar, and bring to a simmer.
- Stir in the pineapple chunks, cherries, pickles and green onions. Simmer 1 minute.
- Dissolve the cornstarch in the water and add to the sweet & sour sauce mixture. Bring to a simmer. The sauce should have a medium-thick, glossy appearance.
- Stir in sesame seeds.
- Adjust seasoning with salt as desired.
The prepared sauce will store nicely in your refrigerator for up to 2 weeks in a storage container with a tight-fitting lid.
Like the Cantonese, you can enjoy this delicious sauce with sautéed fish, shrimp, pork or chicken by simply dipping in a Tempura batter (we sell one at Nino’s) and then flash frying in hot oil.
Of course, you’ll also want to have a nice bowl of steamed rice.
I’m definitely getting hungry.