Grilled Sweet And Sour Pork Takes The Classic Chinese American Recipe In A New Direction
When I was a kid, Mom and Dad would take my sister and me out to dinner about once a month. Our favorite place was The Golden Dragon where I always ordered the Sweet and Sour Pork. Occasionally I would get adventurous and have the Sweet and Sour Chicken.
Although it is widely regarded as a Cantonese dish, some historians think the original recipe began as a fish dish in Hunan, and that the sauce was probably a dip. In most Chinese-American restaurants sweet and sour dishes start with a breaded and fried protein, and the pineapple, bell peppers, and everything else is stir fried in peanut oil. The sauce is thick and gloppy. It’s pretty hard to tell whether you have the chicken or the pork. The sauce is more sweet than sour, way too sweet for my adult tastes. But I still love the magical combination of vinegar and sugar and I still get a craving for it occasionally, so I have concocted something a little more interesting, complex, sophisticated, and much much lower in fat.
You will be amazed at how good this riff on the classic is when cooked on the grill, and you will be delighted at how easy it is. You can easily do it in less than an hour if you are well organized. Best of all: No oil, no frying, low fat. By grilling the meat, you get wonderful pork flavor, and it remains tender and moist. Grilling fresh pineapple to caramelize the surface makes them infinitely more interesting than just tossing in canned pineapple and warming it. Oh, and unlike the fried stuff from the neighborhood Chinese Restaurant, leftovers are surprisingly good straight from the fridge in the wee hours when the munchies hit.
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If you like classic Chinese-American sweet and sour pork, you'll love this grilled version. The recipe can easily be made with chicken and includes a quick rice recipe so you have a complete dinner. Got cashews on hand? Toast them and scatter them on top. Delicious.
Serve with: A slightly sweet Riesling or Gewurztraminer.
About the pork. Remember, tenderloins are different from loins (see my article on the different pork cuts). They are a bit more expensive than loins, and more tender. I strongly recommend that you resist the temptation to use another cut.
Using chicken or shrimp. You can adapt these concepts to chicken or shrimp easily. Just be very careful to not overcook the meat. That's why I recommend 2" thick hunks.
About the peppers. If you want a little heat, use a poblano pepper. I like to add a jalapeño for some kick.
About the pineapple. Use fresh pineapple if possible. You can use canned pineapple without the liquid if you can't find fresh. If you do, don't waste the sweet syrup from the can. Substitute it for some of the water in the sauce and leave out a tablespoon or two of sugar.
About the DC Mumbo Sauce. DC Mumbo Sauce is a sweet sour sauce popular in Washington DC and it works perfectly on this dish.
About the rice. Typical Chinese restaurant style is with white rice, but feel free to use brown rice if you wish. Just remember it takes 30 minutes longer and so you need to start it before things go on the grill.
Optional garnishes. Sprinkle some fresh chives or green onions on the top. Better still, add 1/4 cup unsalted cashews browned in a dry frying pan over medium heat. I usually do both.
Make the Mumbo Sauce. You can do this days or weeks in advance. Keep it warm if you are making it fresh. If it has been in the fridge, warm it in a pan or in the microwave.
Prep the pork. The tenderloin is a tube of meat with a taper on one end and a lump on the other. Lop them both off so you have a tube of uniform thickness. Trim off any excess fat and silverskin. Silverskin is just what it sounds like, a silvery, thin, sheath between the fat and the meat that will shrink and get tough when cooked. That's four tenderloins ready to go in the picture. Salt everything liberally and let it sit for about 20 minutes in the fridge so the salt will be absorbed. Then coat everything in a thin layer of cooking oil so it won't stick and so it will brown better.
Fire up. Set up the grill with a 2-zones for indirect and direct heat cooking. and get the indirect side up to about 325°F.
Prep the veg. Peel the onion, remove the ends, and cut it into 2 hemispheres. Cut the pepper in half lengthwise, and discard the stem and seeds. The pineapple slices should be peeled and cored.
Cook. Start grilling the onions, pineapple, and bell peppers over the hot part of the grill with the lid closed. Stay close to the grill so nothing burns. Get grill marks on both sides, but take them off a little undercooked, when they are limp but not soft, and put then in a pot. You want a little crunch. The onions will probably finish last. It's OK if they cool a bit because you need to chop them and you'll burn yourself if they are too hot.
Put the pork, trimmed chunks and tubes, on the indirect side and cook with the lid closed. Watch the temp on the small pieces closely, they will finish first.
Start the rice. Put the water, salt, and butter in a saucepan with a tight fitting lid and bring to a boil. Add the rice, pouring it in slowly so that each grain is engulfed in water rather than just dumping it in. This will help keep it from clumping. Stir briefly and dial back the heat to a slow simmer, on low. Cover with a tight lid so little steam will escape and simmer 15 minutes. Do not lift the lid and do not stir. After it is done, taste it. If it is too crunchy, cook for another 2 to 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and let it sit for 5 minutes, fluff with a fork and serve.
While the pork and rice are cooking, chop the veggies and pineapple into bite sized chunks and put them in a pot on the indirect part of the grill just to keep warm. Warm the sauce.
When the tubes of pork approach 125°F, roll them onto the hot side so they will brown. Continue cooking until the center of the tube hits 145°F. If you are making this with chicken, it needs to go up to 165°F and if you are cooking shrimp you should pull shrimp off as soon as it turns bright orange and the center is opaque.
Remove the pork and slice each tube lengthwise into quarters. Bundle the quarters and slice across them every 1/2" to make 1/2" chunks. Add the meat to the pot with the chopped veggies and pineapple and stir everything together.
Serve. Plate the rice first and spoon the meat and veggies on top, and drizzle the sauce over everything. If you have toasted cashews, sprinkle some on top at the last minute so they don't get soggy.
Published On: 2/6/2014
Last Modified: 3/29/2021
Meathead - Founder and publisher of AmazingRibs.com, Meathead is known as the site's Hedonism Evangelist and BBQ Whisperer. He is also the author of the New York Times Best Seller "Meathead, The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling", named one of the "100 Best Cookbooks of All Time" by Southern Living.