Cai fan (菜饭), literally translated to “vegetable rice” or known as Economical Rice, is a dish where we pair a portion of steamed white rice with vegetables, meat and seafood dishes of our choice and is available in every food court or hawker centres in Singapore. Different cai fan stalls will offer different types of dishes for you to choose from, but there are always a few classics that will never fail to appear – and sweet and sour pork (aka gu lou yok or 咕噜肉) is one of them. It is one of my favourite pork dishes and I will often choose them whenever I buy cai fan. So after moving here, of course I have to try making myself to satisfy my cravings for them!
I’ve made this dish thrice already and I’m super in love with the combination of crispy pork and the sweet (from the sugar and ketchup) and slightly tangy (from the vinegar) sauce. It’s definitely not an extremely healthy dish as the pork needs to be deep-fried (which also translates to an oily kitchen), so I only make it once every few months, but whenever I make them, I will make a huge batch so that I satisfy my craving for them all in one go – in short, 400 grams of pork is used to feed 2 people whenever I make this dish. I know it’s a lot, so feel free to cut back on the amount if needed!
I used different cuts of meat for all 3 attempts – pork loin, pork ribs and pork shoulder. X didn’t like the pork ribs because he felt that it’s too much of a hassle to eat them. If you like pork ribs, you’ll need to use more because of the weight of the bones, hence the quantities of the ingredients used will have to go up as well. We didn’t find any difference between pork loin and pork shoulder – so I guess any boneless pork meat can be used for this. If you are using pork belly, I’d suggest removing the skin before using.
The pork is first marinated with a few basic ingredients that should be available in most pantries – soy sauce, water, shaoxing, white pepper and egg. This is the marinade my mom use for her crusted pork chops (I will share the pork chop recipe in the future if I make them hehe). The pork pieces are then coated with a mixture of plain flour and cornstarch (or corn flour) and deep-fried twice – the first time to cook the meat and the second time to crisp it and make it expel the oil it has absorbed so that the pork pieces will not taste oily.
The sauce is a very simple mix of cider vinegar (rice vinegar can also be used), brown sugar, ketchup, soy sauce, corn flour and pineapple syrup. I used canned pineapples for this recipe so in order not to waste the syrup, I added some of it into the sauce as well. But if you are not using canned pineapples or using fresh ones, just replace the syrup with water and increase the sugar by a little bit for more sweetness. I love how this sauce has the perfect balance of sweet and sour for me but you can of course adjust it to your liking by increasing or decreasing the sugar or vinegar.
And without further ado, let’s smake them!
|1) Marinate pork with egg, light soy sauce, water, shaoxing wine, sesame oil and white pepper for at least 30 minutes.||2) Coat the pork pieces with a mixture for plain flour and corn flour and deep-fry in hot oil.|
|After the first fry: pork is cooked but light brown in colour.||After the second fry: pork is crisp, darker in colour and will taste less oily.|
|3) Sauté onion, garlic, bell pepper and pineapple together (can add in tomato slices if desired too).||4) Add in the sauce – a mix of cornstarch, water, brown sugar, ketchup, pineapple syrup, soy sauce and vinegar.|
|5) Simmer until the sauce has thickened – loosen the mixture with water if it’s too thick to your liking.||6) Add in the pork pieces and coat them in the sauce.|
I make this amount for just two people so as to make sure I satisfy my craving for this dish once and for all - so I usually just serve it with rice and perhaps a fried egg (just like in the photos). If you are serving this dish to 4 people, you may want to prepare another vegetable stir-fry to go with it.
- 400 grams pork (pork shoulder / skinless pork belly / pork loin)
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine or sake
- ½ tablespoon sesame oil
- Dash of white pepper
- Canola oil / peanut oil for frying
- ⅓ cup cornstarch
- ⅓ cup plain flour
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 6 tablespoons water
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons canned pineapple syrup
- 3 tablespoons cider vinegar or rice vinegar
- 2 tablespoons ketchup
- 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- ½ red onion, peeled and diced
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 1 bell pepper, cut into ¾-inch pieces (best if you have a mix of red, yellow and green)
- 3 pineapple rings, diced into ½-inch pieces (or ½ cup of pineapple chunks)
*If canned pineapple syrup is not available, replace with water and add in 1 more tablespoon of brown sugar.
- 2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds (optional)
- Rinse and pat-dry the pork meat. Cut into 1-inch cubes and place in a mixing bowl. Add in the Marinade ingredients and stir well. Marinate for at least 30 minutes, up to 8 hours. If marinating for more than 1 hour, keep the pork in the refrigerator, taking it out from the refrigerator 30 minutes before cooking so that the meat can return to room temperature.
- Add oil into a big pot until it reaches 2 inches in height. Heat oil over high heat until 175C / 350F - if you don't have a thermometer, insert a wooden chopstick or the end of a wooden spoon into the oil. If bubbles start to form vigorously around the chopstick / spoon, the oil is hot enough for frying. The oil should not be smoking. If it's smoking, it means the oil is too hot, remove the pot carefully from the heat and let it cool before using.
- While the oil is heating, combine cornstarch and plain flour together and coat the pork pieces in the flour mixture evenly. When the oil is hot enough, turn the heat down to medium, then add the pork pieces gently into the hot oil. If your pot is small, you may want to deep-fry the pork in 2 batches. Use a pair of chopsticks or a wooden spoon and stir the pork pieces occasionally so that they fry evenly and don't stick together. Fry the pork pieces for about 3 to 5 minutes, until they are cooked and lightly browned. Remove the pork pieces with a slotted spoon and drain them over a wire sieve or rack. (Set the wire sieve over a bowl to catch the oil.)
- Once all the pork pieces has been fried, turn the heat up to high again until 175C / 350F. Once the oil is hot, add in all the pork pieces (no need to divide into 2 batches) and deep-fry them for another 1 to 2 minutes over high heat until the pork is golden-brown in colour. This will crisp up the pork and make it taste less oily. Drain the pork pieces over a wire sieve or rack.
- Combine cornstarch and water in a small bowl until cornstarch has dissolved. Stir in brown sugar, pineapple syrup, vinegar, ketchup and soy sauce. Set aside.
- Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Add in onion and sauté until onion is translucent then add in the garlic. Sauté until garlic is fragrant then add in the bell pepper and pineapple dices. Sauté for another minute until bell pepper is slightly softened.
- Give the Sauce a stir (as the cornstarch tend to settle to the bottom) then add it into the frying pan. Bring to a boil then simmer until the sauce has thickened to your liking, which only takes seconds to a minute. If it's too thick, stir in a little water.
- Add in the pork pieces and stir to coat them in the sauce. Spoon the pork pieces over rice (or onto a serving plate), sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and serve immediately.
- Sauce recipe adapted from Panlasang Pinoy