Over many years, I have suffered the recommendation of traveling companions who insist that “If it’s got trucks outside, it must be good.” Nobody knows the roadside cafe as well as the Heroes of the Highway, talking on their CB radios and tooting their air horns as they roll 18 wheels of hunger into another greasy spoon. I don’t have any truck with truck drivers. Nor do I have any amongst my inner circle of besties. But, I do imagine (yes, imagine only) that gourmet dining is top of the list when it comes to fuelling the man as well as the 40 footer.
How often have I heard it said (also over many years) “It must be good if they eat here themselves.” This of course spoken about Chinese people eating in Chinese restaurants. I have a number of Chinese friends and I have enjoyed excellent, authentic Chinese food in restaurants when I was the only westerner on the premises. Now, those were great meals!
These musings got me thinking “Wow, what must the food be like at Chinese truck stops?” It must be awesome. That got me to cook one of the most popular Chinese dishes in these Western parts. Sweet and Sour Pork with Pineapple was originally brought into the west by Chinese oxen drivers bringing pineapples, peppers and pigs along the Spicy Road.
Really truthful side note on the Spicy Road: The Spicy Road is a route from Peking to Dublin along which Chinese truckers now bring all sorts of tasty treats to the Oriental supermarkets and restaurants of our capital city. The route has been in use for over five thousand years. The recipe is even mentioned in the Book of Kells (down the back just after the bit on how to give a monk a haircut), now on display in Trinity College, Dublin. There are a number of truck stops along the road and each serves its own version. Mine is a regional variation to suit our jaded Western palate.
Ingredients – enough for six people
- 500 grammes or so of pork shoulder, cubed
- Peppers – red, yellow and green
- Onions – 2 white, 1 red
- A pineapple
- Half a tablespoon of fresh ginger
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 freshly squeezed orange juice
- 3 tablespoons of sugar
- 2 tablespoons of corn flour diluted in 5 tablespoons of water
- 2 tablespoons of self-raising flour
- 2 tablespoons of corn flour (corn starch)
- An egg
- Water to thin it out
- Flour to dust the pork
First, heat the oven to about 150ºC and warm a plate along with your serving bowls. Slice the vegetables and ginger.
Next, chop the pork and make the batter. The pork needs to be in bite sized cubes.
Combine all the sauce ingredients. They will look pretty uninviting at this stage.
Dust the pork in the flour. Add it to the batter.
Slice the pineapple into bite sized pieces. Heat a few tablespoons of sunflower oil in a wok until just below smoking point. Add the pork pieces a few at a time and cook until they are nice and golden.
Side note on cooking in oil. The three biggest mistakes people make when cooking with oil are as follows:
- Using the wrong oil.
- Cooking at too low a temperature.
- Cooking at too high a temperature.
When deep-frying (or shallow-frying) never, ever, use olive oil. It smokes at too low a temperature and will add a noxious element to your food. Use sunflower oil or peanut oil.
Get the temperature right. If the oil is not crackling slightly in the wok, it is too cool. If it is smoking, it’s too hot. Use a thermometer or your judgement (or both). You want it at about 190ºC. That’s hot. Don’t put your pinkies in there. Trust me on this.
Put some kitchen paper on the warmed plate in the oven. Transfer the cooked pork to the plate in the oven. Keep at this until it is all cooked. Pour off the oil and wipe the wok with kitchen paper. Add a bit more oil and fry the onions and ginger.
A soon as the onions start to soften, add the peppers.
Add the pineapple and stir.
By this stage, the sauce will start to become translucent and lovely aromas will fill the kitchen. Next, take the pork out of the oven and stir until it is partly coated in sauce.
Serve this over steamed rice.
If you happen to doubt my story on the origins of the food, cook the dish. It will mellow your doubt and make you feel good that such things can actually be true. Honest.
Final note on Chinese people in Chinese restaurants: If an Oriental restaurant packed with Chinese diners gives us confidence, why, oh why does a restaurant full of Irish people not inspire to the same degree? I’m only asking!