Enter the Dragon – Let’s knock down the Great Wall.

For over 30 years, The Great Wall takeaway in Blackrock has been a small but constant part of south Dublin nightlife. Generations of us have stumbled in their aluminium and reinforced glass front door to order our post-pints feed. The after-pub crowd would generally be well-behaved if not a bit disrespectful towards the long-suffering Orientals behind the counter.

Once, I asked our server the meaning of the Chinese writing on a wall painting beside the lengthy menu. As he handed us our bags of deep-fried Sweet and Sour Chicken, he told me, with a grin; “You come in, you laugh at us. You leave with the food, we laugh at you.”  We all guffawed but something stuck with me and has stayed since.

The Sweet and Sour Chicken sold in Irish takeaways is generally imported, low-grade chicken, cooked in huge balls of aerated batter. The sweet and sour element is a sticky, day-glow sauce served in a polystyrene cup. Like so much of takeaway around the world, this has nothing to do with real Chinese cuisine. The fast food industry tends to sell what people want rather than to strive for authenticity. This has, over time built a Great Wall between the perception of the masses and the reality of this great cuisine. To prove it, and to celebrate the Chinese New Year, I am attempting Cantonese Sweet and Sour Chicken with boiled Thai Fragrant Rice, so I can do my bit to break down this Great Wall.

Here’s what you will need to feed six hungry punters.

The Main Ingredients

  • 4 free range chicken breasts
  • Peppers – Red, yellow and green
  • Onions – 2 white, 2 red
  • A pineapple
  • Fresh ginger

    The sauce ingredients will thicken and turn translucent when added to the wok. Trust me, this sauce is a wonderful blend of the Sweet and the Sour.

The Sweet & Sour Sauce

  • 4 tablespoons of cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of tomato sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of tomato puree
  • 4 tablespoons of orange juice
  • 3 tablespoons of sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of corn flour diluted in 5 tablespoons of water

The Batter

  • 2 tablespoons of self-raising flour
  • 2 tablespoons of corn flour (corn starch)
  • An egg
  • Water to thin it out
  • You will also need some flour to dust the chicken before putting it into the batter.

The Rice

My rice pot. Like myself, it has been hard at it for over 40 years. The rattling lid tells me to turn it down and let it simmer.

Enough to feed 6. I favour Thai Fragrant Rice. Buy a big bag in your nearest Oriental supermarket. Great value and great rice. Buy the better brands, it’s worth it. I am not going to tell you how to boil rice. It is really easy. It is easy to get it wrong too. Once you get it right, you’ll get it right every time for the rest of your life! It’s worth the effort. I cook mine in an enamel pot we got from my mother-in-law over 20 years ago. She had it for 20 years  before that. That makes 40+ years service. It is great as the lid rattles when it boils. Then I turn it down to low and time it for 12 minutes. Perfect rice every time. Damn! I said I wasn’t going to tell you how to boil rice.

Here’s what to do.
Mix the Sweet and Sour Sauce ingredients together.
Make the batter by breaking the egg into the flour and mixing. Add water as you go to prevent the batter getting too thick as the flour is absorbed. Ideally you want a medium thick batter, not glue not water.
Cut up your pineapple.

Here’s a small aside to the main action. How to cut up a pineapple, in pictures:

Don’t be afraid of it. It’s only a bit of fruit. Top and tail with a sharp thin bladed knife.

Stand it on end and cut it into eight pieces from top to bottom – 4 cuts.

Lie them down, cut off the top of the wedge (hard centre of pineapple) Cut along the bottom edge and then slice into chunks.

You get an awful lot of lovely pineapple for the little bit of effort. Never buy a tin again.

Cut the onions into quarters. Cut the peppers into bite size pieces.

White onions, red onions, peppers all cut to size.

Peel, crush and chop the ginger.

No real need for a picture but I liked this one.

Trim and chop the chicken into bite size pieces. The beauty of doing it in this order is you only need to wash the chopping board once. If you are employing this efficiency be sure to leave the chicken to last.

Raw chicken breast. Again, no real need to show a picture of this but, I had the camera out.

Now the part where the timing is critical. Cook the rice. It will be fine sitting undisturbed in the pot while you do the time critical stuff in the wok. First, get organised or organized if you are in America (the spell check is in American and highlights these to me). Heat the oven to 100 degrees C. Put six serving bowls in the oven. Leave space for a big plate. Put some kitchen paper on a big plate. Add oil for frying to your wok. The amount will depend on the size of the wok. Mine is big and I used about 500 ml (half pint). Dust the chicken in flour and drop it into the batter. Fry in batches in medium-hot oil (not smoking).

Delicious chicken cooking in simple batter.

As they cook, take the out, roll them on the kitchen paper and put them on more kitchen paper on the big plate. Keep warm in the oven. When you are done with the chicken, pour off most of the oil, leaving about a tablespoon or so. Add the onions, peppers and chopped ginger. Stir fry until they are al denté.

Al denté – Cooked but crispy and still holding their colour.

Then add about half the pineapple and stir and stir and stir until the pineapple is warm and your arm is sore. Add the sauce (at this stage it is a nasty colour like the paint in your spare bedroom).

Delicious sweet and sour chicken. As you can see. This recipe makes lots!

When it cooks, it turns a lovely red/brown colour and becomes translucent. All that is left to do is to serve it with the rice, using the bowls you have heating in the oven.

I never have time to shoot the finished meal with any great care. This time because I had not eaten since breakfast and hunger is, as they say, a great sauce.

The recipe is adapted and modified from a few different ones that make up my 2+ yards of cook books. I am not claiming it as my own.Those who ate it all agree that this dish goes a long way to breaking down the Great Wall of trans-continental culinary ignorance. Give it a go. It really is spectacularly good and will fix your misconceptions, if you have them in the first place.

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Latest comments
  • Looks really good Conor! You humor me with the way you write! Keep it going cuz I want to keep reading and trying new recipes!

  • Deffo one to try out. FYI Conor, you’ve opened a can of worms with the term ‘Orientals’. More politically acceptable term to your blog readers in other parts of the world might be Asian. But the debate still rages:

    • Thanks for the advice Caroline. My response is perhaps as one might expect; “Some of my best friends are Orientals”. That is they are from that part of the world. I am old enough to have lived through various stages of politically correct nonsense about how we can express the differences between us. By way of example our cousins in America have been allowed or not allowed by the prevailing fashion at various stages to refer to our brothers with darker skin as, Negro, African American or Black. Take it from me, no slight is intended. A friend from Szechuan Provence proof read the post for me and enjoyed it. Hopefully, I will not get under people’s skin, whatever the colour.

      • OK, I love your post. I did check out the recipe after you commented on mine–yours look super. I like the fresh pineapple. AND some of my best friends are Asian too– like my son-in-law (from Hong Kong) and daughter-in-law (from Shanghai) and my three half Chinese grand daughters! We’re all just people.

        • Thanks Rhonda. Most discrimination comes from misunderstanding and ignorance. For me, you can call me anything, just don’t call me too early in the morning.

  • I’m too lazy to read long posts, but I read yours, that must tell you something. Lovely post, and good advice on how to cut a pineapple, will try your way next time.

  • Wonderful color on the finished dish. Love the photos and excellent how to instructions! Thank you for posting this.

  • Have just finished cooking and eating this recipe. Totally stuffed after diving in for seconds. I will never eat sweet and sour chicken from the takeaway again. Unfortunately my local Chinese (the brilliantly named the Paddy Field) is one customer down. I recommend anyone who enjoys their Chinese to try this reciepe. Thank you Conor ‘Ming Yen’ Bofin.

    • Delighted you tried it Matty. It really is a flavour-fest.

      • Paddy Field in the Farm?

        • Finglas, I believe. Though The one is the Farm is still going. It is a couple of doors away from George’s Fish Shop where I get the fish (what else).

  • Good read and recipe Conor. I will be trying this 🙂

  • Man that really does look like the real thing!

  • This looks amazing 🙂 My favorite sweet and sour chicken is the one my mother in law makes although I must say sweet and sour pork satisfies my Cantonese taste buds a little more. Btw I love your rice pot! 40 years of rice cooked with love 🙂

  • looks delicious! happy new year!

  • Not a bad recipe. And as a coeliac to take the gluten out of it would be like stealing candy from a baby.

    AS to what you call Chinese, Japanese, Koreans etc. One of my son’s friends is Korean and he likes you to get it right. But then I know!

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