Sunday, September 11, 2011

Do It Yourself Sweet & Sour Sauce

I love Chinese food. One combo plate can be stretched for 3 or 4 meals. Still, the money can go a lot further at the grocery store. Sigh. Responsibility is such a drag…

Let’s face it, inflation is strangling budgets in most households these days. Going out to eat is a getting more rare all the time. So when hit by that sweet-and-sour chicken craving, it’s time to get creative.

Armed with search engine, the perusing-of-recipes begins. I never knew that sweet & sour was so basic. It’s made up of just a few ingredients:

Vinegar (White vinegar*, rice vinegar or rice wine. Cider vinegar could work in a pinch too.)
Soy sauce

*Note on vinegar: white vinegar turned out to be far more potent than cider or balsamic vinegar, so use less (by half even) or dilute with an equal part water if you go with white vinegar. (Edited May, 2012)

Yep. That simple. Of course, there are infinite variations and additions, but this is a good starting point. This “Betty’s Kitchen” video has a really good explanation of the process:

Betty's Basic Sweet & Sour Sauce Recipe

Here is her ingredient list:

1/3 cup rice vinegar
4 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 teaspoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons cornstarch
4 teaspoons water

However, I wanted to go a little more exotic, so I used pineapple juice and balsamic vinegar, with a little clove thrown in. It has a Far Eastern flavor to it.

Juice from a 15-1/4 oz. can crushed pineapple (Save the pineapple. Reserve a few tablespoons juice to mix with the cornstarch.)
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup ketchup
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1.5 Tablespoons cornstarch
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 tsp ginger
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp cardamom


Mix the cornstarch with a few tablespoons pineapple juice in a small bowl to avoid lumps. Place the remaining juice from the can of pineapple, sugar, vinegar, water, soy sauce, ketchup, spices, and cornstarch mixture in a medium saucepan, over medium heat, and bring to a boil. Stir continuously until the mixture has thickened. I know, I know, it takes forever to come to a boil and you’re sooooo tired of stirring. Hang in there. It’s worth it.

Once it has come to a boil, it will be thicker, smoother, and clearer. Add the pineapple to the sauce at this point. My version is not red like others, due to the balsamic vinegar, but very tasty nonetheless. If color is really important, go with white vinegar. I might not have balsamic next time, so it will probably be different.

Instead of ketchup, cherry jam or preserves work well. Use more if you go with preserves because of the whole fruit. If color doesn't matter, try other tart fruit jams/preserves, like apricot or peach.

This particular recipe makes a lot, so I’ll be bagging up a good bit and freezing it.

I served it over some pork roast. Very yummy. I’d just as soon dispense with the bread coating on most sweet & sour dishes. Add in some rice and you’ve got a rounded out entrĂ©e. Enjoy.

It’s well within our abilities to live well despite the assault on the value of our dollars. It takes a little time, (about as long as the trip to and from our favorite Chinese take-out place) and some practice. But we CAN do it. I used to be afraid to make my own bread. There have been some colossal failures, believe me. But with practice and experience there have been some amazing successes as well. Homemade sweet & sour sauce is just the latest “try something new”.

Go ahead. Give it a try.

I dare you.