When it comes to food, I generally don’t think in absolutes. Shunning all carbs or all sugar just doesn’t make any sense to me, unless you have a health condition that requires it. Our body’s needs are too nuanced to be dictated to by strict diets and that doesn’t even account for the gustatory needs of our souls.
But there are certain things that I don’t see a place for on my dinner plate and they include things like pesticides, food coloring, MSG and preservatives. Sure you can make an argument that these things have been proven safe by currently available science, but the bottom line is that I don’t see the point in adding things to food that aren’t necessary.
Take MSG for example. “It’s just a sodium compound that mimics amino acids found in many food and makes food taste better” say supporters. But why do you need to add a lab synthesized compound when you can just use whole foods that are high in glutamic acids?
There are some foods though whose very identity seems to be defined by some of these additives. Take sweet and sour pork for example. Deep-fried and covered in a sugary sauce, it’s never going to qualify as health food. But are the cherry red color, high-fructose corn syrup, and the MSG really necessary?
Those are the questions I asked myself as I struggled to reconcile my craving for pagoda boxed junk food with my culinary beliefs. My solution was to reinvent the dish.
To give it flavor and color I used black vinegar. Like rice vinegar, it’s made by fermenting rice to first make wine and then allowing the process to continue to turn the alcohol into acetic acid. But black vinegar is then aged, giving it a mellow sweetness and a complex smoky flavor. It’s like the Asian equivalent of balsamic vinegar.
By coating the pork in potato starch rather than batter, it absorbs less oil while retaining the ability to hold on the sauce. Thickened by caramelizing the ingredients, the sauce for its part, is intensely fruity and aromatic, clinging to the meat like polyester in a disco.
Some may argue that what I created isn’t sweet and sour pork, but it sates that craving for juicy chunks of pork coated in a flavorful sweet and sour glaze, which is good enough for me.
Black Vinegar Pork
- 450 grams (1 pound) pork , cut into bite-size pieces
- 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine
- 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1/2 tablespoon ginger juice, squeezed from grated ginger
- 1/4 cup potato starch
- 2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine
- 2 tablespoons black vinegar
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons unrefined sugar
- Put the pork into a bowl along with 1 tablespoon of Shaoxing wine, the soy sauce and ginger juice. Stir to combine and allow it to marinate for 1 hour.
- When the pork is done marinating, add 1" of oil to a heavy bottomed pot and preheat the oil to 340 degrees F (170C). Prepare a wire rack by lining it with several layers of paper towels.
- Put the potato starch in a small bowl, and roll each piece of pork in it to give each piece an even coating of starch.
- Fry the pork in batches (depending on how big your pot is) until lightly browned and cooked though. Transfer the fried pork to the paper towel lined rack.
- In a sauté pan, add the remaining Shaoxing wine along with the black vinegar, rice vinegar, soy sauce and sugar. Turn the burner on to high heat and bring the mixture to a boil.
- Add the pork, into the black vinegar sauce, and continue boiling until the sauce is very thick and syrupy and coats each piece of pork, rather than the pan. Serve with steamed rice.
Marc Matsumoto is a culinary consultant and recipe repairman who shares his passion for good food through his website norecipes.com. For Marc, food is a life long journey of exploration, discovery and experimentation and he shares his escapades through his blog in the hopes that he inspires others to find their own culinary adventures. Marc’s been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and has made multiple appearances on NPR and the Food Network.