Sweet and sour dishes are probably some of the most popular dishes in Chinese American restaurants. Sweet sour pork especially seem to have become very much a staple of any Chinese restaurant here. My mom used to make sweet sour dishes at home a lot too. And the color is nothing like anything I've seen at the Chinese restaurants here.
Here, most sweet sour dishes are BRIGHT RED and the sauce tends to run more sweet than it does sour. I have never quite got used to that red coloring when I eat sweet sour dishes at restaurants here.
No Need to Go Deep
Truth be told, I don't really like making sweet sour dishes because the meat normally has to be deep fried before the sauce is made. And I'm not a big fan of deep frying. Every time I deep fry, I'm reminded of why I don't like it--my kitchen and whole house gets oily and I tend to get so grossed out from all the oil, that I don't enjoy eating the food. That is not to say I don't like deep-fried foods, I love them (can you say FRIED CHICKEN--Yum!)! I just choose to order them at restaurants and have them do the dirty work for me.
But I've found that when you use fish, especially fish fillets, you don't have to deep fry. Just a coating of seasoned flour and pan frying will suffice! So every so often, I will make sweet and sour fish.
It's So Simple!
And when I do, I try to recreate the sauce that my mom uses to make her sweet and sour dishes. It's actually quite simple--it's really just a combination of tomato ketchup and sweet chilli sauce with a touch of soy sauce and sugar. Add this up with some water and some cornstarch and you're pretty much good to go. The tomato ketchup gives the sweet and sour flavors you need and the sweet chilli sauce adds a little more depth (not really very much heat) to the overall flavor of the sauce. If you don't have sweet chilli sauce, you can also use sriracha to add some heat but you'd have to add a bit more sugar.
As for the vegetables that go into the sauce, you can use almost any hard, crunchy vegetables you have on hand. The basic vegetables I would normally use include diced onions, cucumbers, and tomatoes. If you have them, you can include bell peppers, pineapples, zucchini or just mix and match as you please!
This time around, I cut up some thin slivers of ginger and fried that golden before adding the rest of the vegetables. I did this because I find that ginger goes really well with fish and I happen to have lots of ginger on hand.
On to the recipe...
Sweet and Sour Fish
For the fish:
4 Tbsp vegetable oil
6 4oz halibut fillets (any firm white fish will work, I've used tilapia with great success as well)
1/2 cup cornstarch mixed with 2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp white pepper
For the sauce:
1 inch ginger, thinly sliced
1/4 yellow onion, large diced
1 mini cucumber, or 1/4 English cucumber, large diced
8-10 cherry tomatoes, or 1 globe tomato, large diced
1/2 cup tomato ketchup
4 Tbsp sweet chilli sauce
1 Tbsp sugar
1/2-3/4 cup water
1 tsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1. Pat fish fillets dry and coat them with the seasoned cornstarch.
2. To your saute pan, add vegetable oil and heat over medium heat.
3. When oil is shimmering, add fish fillets and pan fry till golden brown on both sides, about 2-3 minutes per side. Do not crowd the pan by placing too many fillets in the pan at one time. Transfer to a plate while you prepare the sauce.
Pan-frying fish fillets for sweet sour fish
4. Prepare the sauce: combine the ketchup, sweet chilli sauce, sugar, water, soy sauce and cornstarch and set aside.
5. If your pan still has a lot of oil, remove all but 1 tablespoon from the pan. Throw in the ginger and fry till golden brown over med heat.
6. Add onions and stir-fry over med-high heat for one minute. Onions should still be quite firm. Add the rest of the vegetables you are using and give it a quick stir.
Onions, Tomatoes, and Ginger for Sweet Sour Fish
7. Pour in the sauce and turn heat to med-low. Stir sauce around. The sauce should start to thicken. Taste and adjust seasonings (if not sweet enough, add more sugar, if not sour enough, add more ketchup or white vinegar).
Pouring Sweet Sour Sauce on Vegetables
Sweet Sour Fried Fish
Concession: You know how Nate was telling you about the Old Bay blackened halibut in a previous post and how he used his cast iron pan and the fish did not stick at all? Well, he suggested I use the cast iron pan to fry my sweet and sour fish. Of course, I was dubious and chose to ignore his suggestion, going with my not very non-stick pan instead.
And as you can see from the "Pan-Frying Fish Fillets" picture, the fish did not come off perfectly clean. So I concede, he was right (as he gloatingly showed me when he made the blackened halibut right after I was done with this dish). I will not doubt the ability of the cast iron pan from now on.