Growing up, one of the dishes I can remember my Dad making was Sweet and Sour Spare Ribs. It was to die for delicious – and the sauce was a deep, beautiful red. The pork was falling off the bone. It was the best Sweet and Sour Ribs ever!
As adults, my sisters and I have attempted to recreate Dad’s Spare Ribs to no avail. Dad can’t remember where he got his recipe or how he made the sauce so red. When asked, his standard reply has been “It’s around here somewhere.” Mom loved Sweet and Sour Spare Ribs. Of all the things my parents cooked together, it was by far her favorite. When Mom died in 1980, I think Dad put her favorite recipe somewhere for safe keeping as a treasured memory of their life together, and now he cannot remember where.
The trouble with spare ribs is that they are a lot of work to prepare (removing the sliver membrane from the bone-side of the ribs is a real pain. If left on, it becomes tough and chewy if the ribs are cooked hot; and rubbery if the ribs are cooked low and slow). Before tossing the idea of spare ribs completely, I did a little research into the easiest way to do away with the membrane. When the utilization of pliers or cat-fish skinning pliers are suggested, you know just how much of a pain it can be. I tend to shy away from spare ribs all together unless buying them directly from a butcher and having the butcher do all the work. When properly prepared for cooking, spare ribs are delicious. (Sometimes you just gotta bite the bullet with ribs – like smoked baby-backs).
For my Sweet and Sour Pork, I like to use a nice, meaty tenderloin. Tenderloin has a nice, mild pork flavor to start, with a whole lot more “meat” for your buck. You can cook them in so many ways, they are nice and lean and tasty. But that’s just my humble opinion – what do I know?
A few years ago, after a great deal of playing around in the kitchen, Brother Dear and I came up with a recipe for Sweet and Sour Pork Tenderloin that most closely resembles Dad’s long-lost recipe. While it’s not exactly the same dish (starting with different cuts of meat), it’s pretty darn close in the sauce department. The addition of Banana Ketchup was originally done at the table – in an attempt to get that rich color. We were afraid of what it might do to the overall taste, which is why it was added to some of the sauce at the end. Color perfection – or as close to perfection as possible. And it really didn’t alter the finished sauce.
The original concoction that Brother Dear and I created used regular banana ketchup. It more closely resembled Dad’s sauce. I’ve since modified the recipe to use hot banana ketchup for a little “kick” that Brother Dear would have sidestepped, as he didn’t particularly care for “hot” foods.
Before we get down to the nitty-gritty cooking, I should take a moment to comment about the photographs to follow. When it came time to platter and later plate my dish, Kiddo and I were having a little fun with the bright red sauce, dribbling and dripping all over the place. It might look a little sloppy, but it sure was fun. There was a lot of pushing and giggling with Kiddo before we sat down to eat. Rather than “clean up” the mess for photographs, I decided to go with it. If you can’t have a little fun and be yourself on your blog, then what’s the point?
One last thing, I know the idea of putting food coloring into a sauce sounds strange. I did a little research – and was surprise to find that a number of Chinese websites said add red food coloring. The problem with red food coloring is that unless you keep a bottle of the “No Taste” variety on hand, to get that truly bright color, it would take a lot of coloring and that would make the sauce bitter. I’ve found a way around this by using Banana Ketchup, then kicking it up a notch by adding Magenta Food Coloring.
Sweet and Sour Pork Tenderloin
2 lbs Lean Pork tenderloin
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Can (20 oz) Pineapple chunks in syrup, drained; syrup reserved
1/2 Cup Packed Brown Sugar
1/4 cup White Vinegar
2 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
1/2 cup Banana Ketchup (Regular or Hot for a spicy sauce)
Additional Magenta Food Coloring, if brighter “red” color is desired
2 Carrots, cut diagonally into thin slices
2 Garlic Clove, finely chopped (pressed okay)
1 Green Bell Pepper, cut into chunks
1 Small onion, cut into chunks
2 Tablespoons Arrowroot or cornstarch
1 Tablespoon White Wine Vinegar
1 Tablespoon Soy Sauce
2 or 3 Additional Drizzles of Food Coloring
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Trim excess fat from pork tenderloin. Cut pork into medallions. Heat butter and olive oil in a large skillet. Add pork, cook until nicely browned and almost cooked through, about 8-10 minutes per side.
While pork is cooking, make sauce: Mix pineapple juice, brown sugar, vinegar, soy sauce and banana ketchup in a casserole dish. Add magenta gel food coloring if color not deep enough “red”.
When pork is browned, remove from skillet and mix with sauce.. Place in oven. To now empty skillet, add carrots, garlic, bell pepper and onion chunks. Sauté until tender-crisp, about 15 minutes over low heat.
Pour vegetable mixture over pork, cover and cook for 30 minutes. Reduce heat to 325-degrees and continue to cook another 30 minutes. Check to see if pork is fork tender.
Dissolve arrowroot or cornstarch with 1 tablespoon each white wine vinegar and soy sauce, stir to mix. Add additional food coloring to cornstarch mixture until bright is achieved. Stir into sauce. Add pineapples chunks, heat through uncovered, about 10 minutes. Serve with steamed rice on the side. If desired, pork can be placed over a bed of rice, with some sauce dribbled around, and additional sauce served on the side. Rice can also be molded using a small bowl or short glass and placed along side the pork.
Cook’s Note: If you want the vegetables to retain their natural color, cook separately from the pork. Simply cook in the pan on top of the stove until tender. Add pineapple to vegetables in the pan when you add the cornstarch mixture to the pork. Continue to cook both separately until ready to serve. While the vegetables will retain their true color, the flavor of the vegetables will be missing from the pork. Personally, I like the additional flavor in the finished dish.