In terms of Chinese takeaways, sweet and sour chicken (or pork) is always up there in the nation’s top ten. Chow mein almost always makes the list too, as well as crispy duck pancakes, beef and broccoli and fried rice.
Then there are the relative newcomers to the scene like dim sum and Kung Pao Chicken, the latter I have to admit, I’ve never tasted.
Traditionally, I’ve never been a massive fan of Chinese food, although I have been known to enjoy a chicken satay or chow mein from time to time when the occasion arrives. I would also wager that my home-made chicken fried rice would give any Chinese restaurant a run for its money. Then there’s the shredded crispy duck, the little pancakes, thinly sliced cucumber, spring onions and hoisin sauce, which I could eat to a band playing. Come to think of it, maybe I am a fan of Chinese food after all.
Last month, after many weeks’ persuasion from the people I share a house with (ie, the fambly), I eventually agreed to make sweet and sour chicken from scratch. They had had it in a local Chinese restaurant not so long ago and they wanted to see if I could, “copy its loveliness.”
“Copy its loveliness?” I scoffed. “I think you will find that you’ll be asking the restaurant to replicate my dish’s loveliness.”
“But you’ve never made it before.”
“OK, we’ll see, then.”
That’s what you might refer to, cherished reader, as painting oneself into a corner.
Still, I may well have been in the corner, but I was going to come out fighting.
There followed a protracted hoke around (search) through cook books and online to try and find the perfect recipe for sweet and sour chicken. ‘Perfect’ meant several things. It would have to be super tasty, it could not be too much of a hanlin and it must be semi-healthy.
I bought one of Mary Berry’s cook books some years ago and of all the tomes of taste lining the shelf at home, this is the one I go back to most often. Alas, on this occasion, the Hairy Bikers trumped Mary with their semi-healthy version of sweet and sour.
Under normal circumstances, I can fire out a new dish without much in the way of concern. If it doesn’t work out perfectly, what odds? So long as it’s edible, I’m happy enough. There’s always the second bite at the proverbial cherry, if you know what I mean.
This time around though, because I’d lost the run of my mouth and because I’d painted myself into the corner and because I needed to come out fighting, I needed this sweet and sour to be perfect. So I was worried and doubly so because at the eleventh hour, I had lost the run of myself altogether: I had mis-shopped, bought the wrong ingredients and then took the executive decision to add in ingredients which weren’t in the Hairy Bikers’ recipe. The struggle is real.
1 tin of pineapple rings (220g), in juice not syrup
2 or 3 chicken breasts
2 tbsps of veggie oil
1 large white onion, cut into thick wedges
1 red bell pepper, deseeded and chopped into strips
1 green pepper, deseeded and chopped into strips
1 tbsp of cornflour
3 spring onions, chopped diagonally
another tbsp of cornflour
350ml of pineapple juice
2 or 3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp of grated fresh ginger
1 small red chilli, finely chopped (leave the seeds in if you want a little kick)
2 tbsps of Kikkoman soy sauce (it’s Japanese but I think it’s the best)
2 tbsps of white wine vinegar
2 tbsps of sugar
2 tbsps of tomato purée
lots of freshly ground black pepper
This is a little bit convoluted but ultimately, it’s well worth the effort.
First make the saucy element of the dish.
Put one of the tablespoons of cornflour into a bowl and stir in two tablespoons of the pineapple juice. Mix until smooth. This will work as a kind of oriental roux – but we’ll get to that later.
In a larger bowl, add the remaining saucy ingredients of pineapple juice, garlic, ginger, chilli, soy, vinegar, sugar, tomato puree into a bigger bowl and mix. Set aside.
Chop the pineapple rings into bitesized pieces and then chop the chicken breasts into strips or cubes. Place the second tablespoon of cornflour in another bowl and coat the chicken pieces. Set aside.
In a large frying pan, fry up the onions and bell peppers in the veggie oil for three minutes.
Add in the chicken pieces and fry for three or four minutes until they’re starting to colour, as in one of the pics. Move them around so that that colour is even distributed.
Add in the pineapple chucks as well as the bowl of sauce and bring everything to a simmer. Let it bubble for another three or four minutes until the chicken is cooked through.
Stir the cornflour and pineapple juice roux in the bowl (it tends to get a little sticky when it sits for a while) and then add this to the frying pan. Cook this out for one minute, turning the chicken and veg as you go, so that everything is smothered in the sticky sauce.
Now here’s the important bit…
Taste the sauce and if you think it needs an extra twang, add another teaspoon of vinegar, stir through and taste again. It might also need a touch of sweetness. So if it needs more sweet, add a teaspoon of sugar and taste again. Keep tasting and adjusting until it’s perfect and that’s it.
Serve over rice and top with the chopped spring onions.
I’ve since done this recipe twice and for some, inexplicable reason it was better the first time around – although in fairness, that was the important one. How did it compare to the sweet and sour in the Chinese restaurant?
“The best we’ve ever had,” they said.
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