[Photographs: Joshua Bousel]
While it can be found in diverse forms in China, the American version of sweet and sour sauce that you’re likely to get in your bag of takeout builds upon a simple mixture of sugar, vinegar, and spices, plus fruit juice (most commonly pineapple juice) and ketchup—the latter is what gives the sauce both its red hue and uniquely Western flavor.
Making it at home is a simple matter of combining those ingredients, along with a cornstarch slurry, in a pan on the stovetop. Once it’s thickened up, use it right away (it’s a great accompaniment to some of our favorite DIY Chinese-takeout dishes) or refrigerate it for up to two weeks.
Why It Works
- Pineapple juice furnishes the sauce’s fruity flavor, while ketchup boosts its sweetness and provides the signature red color.
- A slurry of cornstarch and water thickens the sauce to an appropriately viscous consistency.
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch (about 1/4 ounce; 7g)
- 1 tablespoon (15ml) water
- 2/3 cup (160ml) pineapple juice
- 1/3 cup (80ml) rice vinegar
- 1/3 cup (74g) light brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons (45ml) ketchup
- 1 tablespoon (15ml) soy sauce
In a small bowl, whisk together cornstarch and water. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan, combine pineapple juice, rice vinegar, brown sugar, ketchup, and soy sauce and bring to a boil over medium heat. Stir in cornstarch slurry and cook until thickened, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat and use immediately or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
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