You can make this dish using chicken, beef, pork or tofu. It’s all about the sauce. The dish was originally considered “dessert.” Chinese meals didn’t have dessert as we understand it. Sweet dishes were dessert, but were part of the meal.
Cooking oil (use however much you need to keep things from sticking).
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, breasts, OR an equivalent amount of beef, pork OR tofu — cut into chunks. I precook chicken by baking it in my countertop oven. This simplifies (and speeds) the meal, but you can fry it in the pan with the vegetables. Either method works fine.
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt or 1/4 teaspoon table salt.
1 can pineapple chunks, drained. Save the juice. Use a bigger or smaller can or pinapple. It doesn’t matter as long as everyone likes pineapple. I keep a stash of pineapple chunks in my cupboard in case I feel the urge to make this dish.
Juice from the canned pineapple
1/2 cup vinegar (I use Chinese vinegar which has a slightly smoky taste, but any vinegar will do the job)
1/2 cup ketchup
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt or 1/4 teaspoon table salt
2 to 3 tablespoons brown sugar OR an equivalent amount of honey
1 teaspoon garlic powder
I don’t measure the amount of ketchup, vinegar or honey (I rarely usually use brown sugar unless I’m out of honey). I wing it and how much I make depends on how much food I’m preparing. It’s a very flexible recipe. You can use brown or white sugar. Anything sweet will work. What you use depends on what you like and what you have available. I put the sauce ingredients in a separate measuring cup and keep adding bits of sweet stuff, vinegar and/or ketchup or Chinese (or Korean) ketchup until I like it.
FYI, ketchup was not invented in the U.S. It was invented in China and Korea several hundred years ago, centuries before Heinz put it in bottles. Ketchup is often used in Chinese cooking. You can use other stuff (if you are out of ketchup) but it will be extra work to achieve the same end result. The measurements here are for reference only. Taste it. When it tastes the way you like it, it’s ready.
You can add a dash of something hot — dried hot pepper or hot pepper sauce — OR Chinese chilli sauce. Go gently with the hot sauce unless you are sure everyone likes “hot stuff.”
Don’t get hung up with labels. Ketchup has the right balance of sweet and sour and saves you a lot of time in preparation To recreate basically the same sauce using other ingredients is more work which will end up giving you the same result.
2 bell peppers (any two colors), cut into 1-inch chunks
Bunch of green onions (scallions) cut into pieces
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
Other vegetables you can add (but you don’t have to add anything) include mushrooms, broccoli (please pre-cook it!), snap peas, green beans, half an onion (don’t overdo the onion!). You can use many vegetables and tofu if you are a vegetarian, but if you are using a lot of vegetables, make more sauce. This recipe is all about the sauce.
2 or 3 teaspoons cornstarch mixed with enough cold water to make a sticky goop to thicken the sauce.
Fry the scallions in the oil. Add the peppers. Add the spices.
If you haven’t pre-cooked the chicken (or other meat or tofu), add now. If you need more oil, add it. If it needs liquid, add some chicken broth. Don’t overcook the chicken or other “meat.” When cut into pieces, everything cooks quickly.
If you have precooked the chicken, add it now, then immediately add the sweet & sour sauce.
Add the sweet and sour sauce. Simmer for a few minutes. Taste and adjust. If the sauce needs thickening, add the baking powder glop, but make sure it’s boiling when you add it. It will thicken immediately so be prepared to pull the pan off the burner — or add more chicken broth or water to thin it.
This is a hard recipe to ruin, but you can if you try hard. Don’t try.
Serve with rice.
I’ll definitely give this a try some time!
If you’re got “kitchen sense,” it’s easy. Keep adding ingredients until it tastes the way you want it. I like mine a little more sour, but others like it sweeter. Some people prefer brown sugar or even white sugar. I prefer honey. You can mix the pineapple juice with the ketchup, vinegar, and sweet stuff . If you like a little bit tangy, add a bit of hot pepper powder (or flakes), horse radish or hot sauce. ANY meat will due plus tofu (I don’t like tofu, but others love it). Some recipes call for up to a full pound of veggies. There are hundreds of recipes for this dish. Vinegar matters. Without it, it’s just sweet and doesn’t taste right. They sell jarred versions of this sauce in the grocery, but to me it doesn’t taste right at all. I tried it once and never again.
I wing it. I know how I want it to taste and I also know how the rest of the household likes it. You can make it without pineapple and use another vegetable and maybe some other fruit. It has to be a fruit that is reasonably hard so it won’t get all gooey. Some people add peanuts (not me). A lot of Chinese recipes also use cut up tomatoes.
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I was under the impression that ketchup and tomato sauce were the same thing but apparently they are not. I found an interesting article about the differences between Australian tomato sauce and US ketchup.
I am glad to hear that Tom and Ellin did not get Covid from you.
Ketchup is mostly tomatoes, but there is also sugar, salt and vinegar in it. You can make your own. People who grow a lot of tomatoes like making ketchup. Tomato sauce alone is kind of bland. You’d have to add the rest of the ingredients anyway. If you start with ketchup, it’s less work. Hoisen sauce IS Chinese ketchup. I use it, but it’s saltier than ketchup so I wind up having to use extra sugar. I’ve tried EVERYTHING at one time or another. If you are going to use tomatoes, try ground or crushed tomatoes rather than sauce. You want it thicker.
You can create the sauce from any tomato-based product — including actual crushed fresh tomatoes. I think it depends on how much work you want to do. Ketchup is easier.
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I remember my Italian workmates in the railways always making tomato sauce.
Tomato sauce is a very basic food here. There are so many things for which you can use it. Of course here, tomato sauce is tomatoes, with or without some kind of spices, but often JUST tomatoes. Your sauce is a real sauce whereas ours is an ingredient. We have a LOT of tomato ingredients, from tomato sauce (in many varieties) to tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, ground tomatoes, whole canned tomatoes, diced tomatoes (in many varieties and sizes). Many of these are used to make pasta sauces. We have a very large Italian population everywhere. Italian dishes are very popular. But as I said, our tomato sauce is just tomatoes ground up with or without spices added. So our products have the same name, but aren’t really the same thing.
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I buy tinned tomoatoes either diced or crushed to make pasta sauce or I buy bottled bolognaise sauce and usually I have tomato paste on hand. I like pasta! What we call tomato sauce is as you say, just tomatoes and is runnier, for pouring over meat etc. I don’t use it much myself but there is always a bottle in the pantry. I don’t see the word Ketchup as much which is why I took them to be interchangeable terms for the same thing.
My son has gone non-glutton. I can’t eat much pasta anyway, but I loved making bolognese sauce.
This thing about this sauce is that it’s a balancing act between tomatoes, sweetener of some kind and vinegar. You can add other things. I add a bit of garlic powder and sometimes, thyme which like salt, tends to make other spices taste stronger. I don’t agree that thicker sauce takes longer for us to fully taste.
Also, not all Americans are sugar-addicted and there are fewer and fewer of them every year. The amount of sugar — and salt — in most products has been hugely reduced along with chemical preservatives and artificial flavors. People are a lot more aware of what’s in their food, so there “no glutton, no artificial flavors, low sodium, all vegetarian, non GMO” stamps are all over the foods we eat.
I wish we could change peoples minds as readily as we change their taste buds!
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Food labelling is definitely improving. It’s easier to get no sugar/ low sugar products. They taste better too. At one time I found that low sugar foods had a nasty saccharine aftertaste but now most taste as good as the regular foods. Naomi is very mindful of restricting the amount of sugar she eats but she likes ice cream and biscuits so the low sugar ones are very handy.
It would be great if people were as easy to educate about other things as they are about health issues.
Your ketchup “hack” is genius, thanks Marilyn. I know what’s for dinner tomorrow – your delicious Chinese dish. I’m guessing your Covid didn’t mute your senses of smell/taste like the earlier variants tended to do? I hope you and Garry and Owen are back to normal and that was good news about Tom and Ellin, too.
It was a pretty mild case. My breathing problems are as much because it’s spring and the air is full of tree pollen — PLUS the lingering COVID.
Mainly, you have to decide how YOU want the dish to taste. I use more vinegar and less sweet stuff. I don’t want it to taste like syrup and I don’t like very sweet food. There’s a commercial version you can buy in the grocery. I tried it once and never again.
It is easy. You have to play around with the sauce until YOU like it. That’s the trick. No recipe will make it taste right for you. I taste it. Add a little more vinegar, a bit more salt, a bit of garlic powder or chili (Korean chili sauce is great, but HOT) sauce, or a quarter of a teaspoon of ground hot pepper, maybe a bit more honey. Then I have someone else taste it and get suggestions like “a bit more garlic powder maybe?” and often, they are right.
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Good news about your mild Covid but what is up with the pollen in MA already? I have been sneezing for a month – much earlier than ever before. Your advice about tasting that delicious chicken dish as it is being prepared is spot-on but the pollen sure makes my senses of smell and taste sadly unreliable. Delicious recipe, Marilyn. It’s like reading sheet music and knowing what a piece sounds like? I read your recipe and the ingredients alone triggered my taste buds. I love when that happens.
Warm winter. Climate change IS real. Our maples are showing big red buds and yes, the tree pollins are definitely early. But we don’t have the same climate we had a decade ago and with the way we aren’t dealing with it, we probably never will have it again. I don’t mind the lack of snow, but not having at least a month of hard frosts means we are also a LOT buggier. They don’t die in the winter. We have ants in February.
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