Sweet and Sour

Sweet and Sour Sauce in a Yin and Yang bowl

Happy New Year to everyone celebrating the Spring Festival – may the year of the rabbit bring you prosperity, happiness and good health.

Learning a language as an adult is far more difficult than doing so as a child when the relevant bits of our brains are more plastic, malleable and hungry for linguistic stimuli. And as it is with language, so with tableware. I could read English by the time I went to nursery school, but I didn’t meet my first pair of chopsticks until I was in my twenties. By then I could speak knife and fork with ease, and could happily conjugate the correct cutlery course combinations for soup, fish, cheese etc. But my adult mind has never mastered more than a rudimentary grasp of chopsticks. My fingers lack fluency, and even when I do successfully manage to convey a morsel of food to my mouth I’m sure it’s done with a thick English accent, clearly audible to anyone within spitting distance whose mother tongue is chopsticks.

I learnt years ago that to leave one’s chopsticks in a bowl of food shows disrespect for one’s ancestors [that’s what the rests are for people, do not dis the dead], but I’m usually more worried about the disrespect for my dining companions shown by showering them with flicks of my food.

However having recently received some smart new pairs emblazoned with the animals of our birth years I decided we needed to inaugurate them at the dawn of the year of the rabbit. And that’s where a sticky sauce like this comes in very handy for a chopsticks dunce like me. It’s effectively food glue, and I’ll be less likely to starve if I can use it to entrap some errant grains of egg fried rice. There’ll be forks involved before we’ve finished for sure, but like learning just a few words of a new language, at least I’ll feel like I’ve made an effort.

“Gung Hay Fat Choy!”

Very many recipes suggest this same basic technique and combination of ingredients though the proportions vary slightly. I’m not sure how traditional an ingredient tomato ketchup is but it’s certainly popular! Take 100ml of Chinese rice vinegar, 3.5 tbsps brown or cane sugar, 2 tbsps tomato ketchup and 1 tsp of soy sauce. Boil all together in a small pan for a couple of minutes and then thicken with a rounded tsp of cornflour mixed with water. This gives you quite a thick, dark sauce which is probably best for dipping.

I wanted something looser and less intense, so added 200ml of passata, 100ml of water and another good glug of rice vinegar. If you’re doing the same taste the sauce and adjust with more vinegar or sugar to balance the sweet and sour. Quickly stir fry an onion and a pepper [roughly chopped], add cooked chicken [unsurprisingly leftovers in my case], then the sauce and chunks of tinned pineapple. After a quick bubble and stir it’s time to check and adjust again.

I had another wok on the go to fry cooked rice, spring onion, small strips of chilli, some finely shredded smoked duck, peas, a beaten egg and a generous splash of soy sauce. Fried rice is another good place to use up scraps of this and that – the duck was leftover from our recent fondue. If only I’d had a bit of rabbit.

The sauce itself is suitable for vegetarians and vegans. If you prefer not to have it with meat then some fried tofu would eat very well.


4 responses to “Sweet and Sour

  1. Mmmmmk, that sounds tasty!
    The best sweet and sour I had was when I was a veggie in waiting. As a thank you to my mate’s parents for putting up with me for a couple of weeks I made sweet and sour pork. It was a recipe by Ken Hom and involved lychees and cornflour and was delicately sweet and the pork was gently crunchy! No idea where you could get this recipe but definitely a brilliant one for novices good at non-deviation.

  2. When the wok is extremely hot (smoking hot), pour in the oil and garlic . Stir quickly. Add any uncooked meat. (If you have cooked meat, add after the rice .) If you see that there is juice coming out from your meat and pooling on the bottom and not evaporating, your wok is not hot enough. Turn up the heat or cook the meat longer until there is no juice coming out. If your rice is cold, heat up the rice in microwave . Cold rice will cool down the wok . Fluff the rice into individual grains. Add the rice and stir to mix. Sprinkle the fish sauce and soy sauce and stir to mix again. Now the rice is coated with flavors. Add all the vegetables, except for green onion . Stir. Push the rice aside and make room for the egg . Add the egg and scramble the egg until the egg is all cooked. Add the green onion and sprinkle white pepper and stir. Turn off the heat. Set the rice on a serving plate. Sprinkle ground pepper and cilantro on top of the fried rice .

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