Best Cuts of Pork?
We go into a lot of detail in our video, but the most common type of pork used is pork shoulder. Pork belly and spare ribs are also great. You definitely want to avoid leaner cuts (like pork chop) if you're frying it.
Ketchup? In a Chinese dish?
if you’re like me, you might be thinking, “why is ketchup being used in a traditional Chinese recipe?”
(It's actually used in quite a lot of traditional recipes, dating back to the 1900s.)
So, I went down a rabbit hole and emerged with an appreciation for ketchup and sweet and sour pork as symbols of the many ways in which Eastern and Western cultures have influenced one another.
Even though ketchup is known as a tomato sauce that we throw onto burgers or French fries, we can trace ketchup back to 300BC as a Chinese fermented fish sauce.
Somewhere along the way, fish sauce fell out of favor in China, but it remained a staple of Southeast Asian cuisine.
About 2000 years later, in the 1600-1700s, fish sauce was revived in China by traders traveling along the coast between Guangdong and Fujian and Vietnam + Cambodia. In Hokkien, it was called kê-chiap, a name that stuck throughout Southeast Asia.
Around the same era, British traders in Southeast Asia became obsessed with their newly discovered “catchup”, and it quickly took storm as they brought it back to Britain.
Initially, British traders made a ton of profit selling imported fish ketchup back at home. Soon after, Westerners started developing their own homegrown recipes for ketchup in order to avoid paying for imported sauce. As ketchup adapted to Western tastes, it gradually morphed into a mushroom-based sauce, and then a sweeter tomato-based sauce popularized by companies like Heinz.
As China began importing tomato ketchup in the 1900s, many Chinese chefs started experimenting and incorporating ketchup into traditional sweet and sour dishes as an easier alternative to making the sauce base from scratch.
And coming full-circle, as Chinese immigrants made their way to America and other countries, they brought dishes like sweet and sour pork with them.
The sweet and sour flavor profile became so popular that, in 1983, McDonald’s introduced the McNugget along with four sauces, including the sweet and sour sauce that we all know and love.
On Oils & Smoke Points
You should generally avoid olive oil for anything that involves higher heat.
This is because olive oil has what’s called a lower smoke point, which is the temperature at which the oil stops shimmering or rippling and starts smoking.
Smoking oil isn’t always a problem and sometimes even desired for getting that perfect “Wok Hei” in your stir fry, but it’s a sign that the oil is breaking down, which can release burnt or bitter flavors or even harmful free radicals.
Here’s a chart that highlights the smoke points of a few of the most common cooking oils.
There are a few other factors that go into selecting oils like whether they’re neutral or flavored, refined or unrefined.
Most cooking oil is created by extracting and compressing seeds and nuts, and oils that are “unrefined”, “raw”, or “virgin” are usually bottled almost immediately. They generally have more nutrients but a lower smoke point and shorter shelf life. Refined oils go through more processing for a higher smoke point, longer shelf life, and a more neutral flavor.
It’s not totally true that you should avoid olive oil since you can buy either refined or unrefined varieties. But for simplicity’s sake, for frying, you generally want to use neutral, refined oils like vegetable oil, refined olive oil, or corn oil.
Finding Asian Ingredients
Some of these ingredients are hard to find in a typical grocery store.
If you don't live near an Asian market, most or all of what my dad uses in this recipe can be found on Amazon:
I've also included some other Chinese kitchen essentials, used in many of my dad's other recipes.
These links are affiliate links, which means that if you use our links to purchase these ingredients, Amazon pays my family a small amount for the sale - at no extra cost to you. If you use these links, we really appreciate the support!
Other Supplies + Tools
You'll need a good wok, which provides a ton of versatility for the classic Chinese cooking methods: steaming, stir frying, deep frying, and etc.
You may want an instant read thermometer to help you get precise with how you're deep frying. Here are two great options: