How Sweet And Sour Pork Can Determine A Chinese Chef's Culinary Mastery

Recently, Los Angeles restaurant critic and all-around Asian food nut Jonathan Gold had lunch with a trio of famous Hong Kong chefs. He suggested Rosemead's Sea Harbour, which he calls one of the top HK-style restaurants in the entire city and "the closest thing in the San Gabriel Valley to a safe bet."

Gold arrives and the three chefs — Kam-fu Cheng, Mango Tsang, Kwai-pui Mak — were seated and had already ordered. He was hoping that they would offer some insight into the cuisine. He had visited the restaurant a hard-to-fathom two dozen times, and was looking for some inside dope. What he found was a large platter of sweet and sour pork — the ultimate fast food takeout cliché. But there was seemingly a purpose for this, as he reveals:

"It is a dish we often request when we wish to take the measure of a kitchen," Tsang explained. "It's not just a dish for Chinatown — sweet and sour pork reveals much about a cook's level of skill."

"Has the pork been properly marinated?" Tsang continued. "Is it evenly coated with just enough cornstarch — neither too much, which would be unpleasant, nor too little, which would leave the texture uneven? Has it been deep-fried at the proper temperature, and for the proper amount of time? It must be crisp and thoroughly cooked, but still juicy, and not the slightest bit burnt. This is difficult."

We're not going to reveal if the pork lived up to the Gold standard or not, but we're intrigued by how such a pedestrian dish would be coveted by these award-winning chefs. Are future Chinese culinary prodigies to be discovered at a local Panda Forest?

A new understanding of your childhood cliché: sweet and sour pork [Los Angeles Times]

Also see: How To Make Chinese Orange Anything