Sweet and Sour Pork with Carrots is a weeknight-friendly meal adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s brilliant 1993 cookbook A Taste of the Far East. This dish has been a staple in our family for two decades or so, since I first found A Taste of the Far East at a local library. The ingredient list is short and inexpensive, which was appealing for a struggling college student, and the flavors are kid-friendly but not bland. Even with locally sourced pork and organic carrots it’s hard to spend more than two or three dollars per person on ingredients. At some point one of my children decided he didn’t care for cooked carrots, but he’d still happily pick out the pork and let the rice sop up the tangy sauce.
This is not your archetypal batter-fried bright red sweet and sour dish. It is nominally a Filipino dish, but Mrs. Jaffrey notes that Sweet and Sour Pork with Carrots has its origin in both Spanish and Chinese cuisine. The flavors are distinctively Chinese: rich dark soy sauce, vinegar, and garlic, but the carrots and pork are slow-cooked under tender, like a European stew. It is still, true to its word, both sweet and sour but much more subtle and, unlike its takeout cousin, remarkably lean. I also find it deeply satisfying year round. It’s light enough not to weigh you down on a hot day but still rich and warm enough to fill your belly in the winter.
Preparation is straightforward, but paying a little bit of attention to your technique will dramatically change the results. A good sear on the meat makes a world of difference in flavor; run the pan as hot as you can and don’t be afraid to let it sit a little bit longer to get a deep brown crust. There’s no risk of overcooking, and whatever rubbery mess you end up with after the sear will still be tender he pork will be slow-cooked. It’s also important to leave a little bit of a crack for steam to escape during the simmer, so that the sauce can reduce properly. There’s not enough fat or a thickener to allow it to gel like gravy, but it should be thick enough to coat the carrots. Beyond that it’s really all about timing – give the pork enough time to get tender but make sure the carrots don’t turn to mush.
Sweet and Sour Pork with Carrots is best served with a healthy amount of long-grain rice. The vegetable is already built into the meal so there’s no need for a side, but we’ll typically include a salad, fresh fruit, or sliced cucumbers on the side. Mrs. Jaffrey recommends boiled potatoes as an alternative to rice, which I’ve never tried but seems appropriate as well. Read my full review of A Taste of the Far East for more adapted recipes. Enjoy!
- Cut pork chops into thin strips, about 2 inches long. Working in batches if needed, sear pork strips in oil in a large cast iron pan over medium-high heat to get a deep brown crust on at least two sides. Remove the pork to a large bowl and set aside.
- Wipe out the pan and reduce heat to medium. Add a tablespoon of oil, add the garlic and peppercorns to the oil and stir once or twice, then add the soy sauce, vinegar, and sugar and stir to combine. Add the pork back to the pan and mix well, spooning the liquid over the pork.
- Bring to a boil, then cover loosely and reduce the heat. Simmer the pork for 45 minutes or so until tender, checking in from time to time to stir the pork and spoon the sauce over the top.
- Peel the carrots and slice into one inch chunks. Add to the simmering pork and cook another 15 minutes until the carrots are fork-tender. If needed, cook uncovered for a few minutes to further reduce the sauce until it's thick enough to coat the carrots.