My family celebrated milestones with Chinese food...it was celebration food, party fare, congratulations-you've-graduated/been promoted, "blow out" kind of food. My parents and grandparents were all in Manila during the rough Japanese occupation of the '40s. Consequently they were very frugal. Yet at every grand turning point they would take everyone out to a big Chinese-food bash. And every time, there would be the favorite dishes: camaron rebosado (shrimp toast), nido(birds' nest) soup, pancit canton (lo mein), chicken and shrimp with peas and cashew nuts, house special (yang chow) fried rice..these I always associate with my lola and lolo.
Then I met husband, who is Hong Kong-born. It opened up the Chinese culinary world to me in deeper and even more sentimental ways. We both cook and I try to replicate his Mom's healthy way of cooking but...sometimes taste buds have to prevail over health issues. Sorry MaMa.
Sweet and sour pork is one of the dishes husband and I usually skip ordering out because invariably it is very red and covered in a sheen of sugary sauce, gloppy fried pork drowning in large chunks of onions, peppers and carrots. Despite this, my in-laws always order it for the family banquets because one grandson adores it so. He gets to take home the leftover box too.
Then I found this recipe from Ken Hom, "Gulao Rou," pork in fresh fruit juice.
Made sweet by caramelized shallots, and sour by Chinese red vinegar and freshly squeezed citrus juice, it is uncommonly tangy and tasty, and easy to prepare.
Marinate a pound and a half of pork chunks (pork shoulder, Boston butt) in 2tsps. of rice wine, 1 tbsp. of soy sauce,a drop of sesame oil, 1 tbsp. of cornstarch and 1 beaten egg for at least 30 minutes.
Heat 2 tbsp. peanut oil and over low heat add 10 peeled shallots and 2 tbsp. of sugar (or more if you like it sweeter) until shallots turn golden and sugar is slightly caramelized.
Pour in 1 &1/2 cups freshly squeezed fruit juice (this version I used freshly squeezed calamansi and orange juice, but you may substitute pineapple or Tropicana o.j.) and 3 tbsps. of Chinese red vinegar. Simmer about 4 minutes.(Adjust seasonings with sugar and salt to your taste). Add 1/4 cup diced red and yellow bell peppers. Grind fresh black pepper over. Add 2 tsp. of cornstarch diluted in 1 tbsp. of water. Set aside with the burner on the lowest setting to keep warm.
Mix 3/4 cup of flour and 3/4 cup of potato starch (or cornstarch) in a sturdy plastic baggie or brown paper bag. Put drained marinated pork chunks in the bag and shake to coat each piece. Shake off excess flour.
Deep fry in hot peanut oil about 4 minutes each batch, straining oil in between and heating up to about 350F (chopstick test: dip a wooden stick into hot oil, when it sizzles it's hot enough). Do not crowd the pork pieces so they will cook up crunchy.
Drain off all the oil from the pot (or use another clean pot) and reheat the sauce. Add the pork pieces and stir briefly. Serve at once.
I reserved a few pieces of fried pork on the side for the *ahem* "kids with the tender taste buds." Gauge the serving size...if you have more than you need, store fried pork and sauce separately to serve another day.