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Thank you to the National Pork Board for sponsoring this post!

Air Fryer Sweet and Sour Pork

I have many fond memories of eating sweet and sour pork with my family when I was growing up. It was something that Mama Lin bought often from Chinese BBQ shops (燒臘舖) for dinner. We all loved the sweet and tangy flavors of the pork, but no one loved it more than my grandmother! She was a petite Chinese lady who didn’t always have a big appetite. However, whenever there was sweet and sour pork on the table, we’d see her extending her chopsticks across the dinner table to reach for piece after piece of juicy pork.

Sweet and sour pork (甜酸肉, also known as 咕嚕肉 or 咕咾肉) is a classic part of Cantonese cuisine. Typically, pieces of pork are battered and deep fried to add texture to the exterior of the meat. The added texture also helps the sweet and sour sauce cling onto the meat. I know many people don’t like to deep fry foods at home for dinner because it’s too much hassle. That’s why I wanted to experiment with a weeknight-friendly cooking method that uses the air fryer instead. 

Air Fried Sweet and Sour Pork in a bowl

I am excited to partner with the National Pork Board to bring you this air fryer sweet and sour pork recipe! Pork is featured prominently in southern Chinese cuisine, and I have partnered with the National Pork Board in the past to develop these recipes: cha siu (叉燒/叉烧, or Chinese BBQ Pork in English) and Mama Lin’s Sweet and Sour Ribs. This air fryer sweet and sour pork is another dish that you’ll want to add to your weeknight rotation. As we slip back into routines this fall, family time around the dinner table is as important as ever. This pork dish can bring the family together and allows you to connect after busy days and make memories together. I’ve made it for dinner quite a few times, and my husband couldn’t stop eating it!

Although I haven’t prepared the dish for my family yet, I know they’ll love it. My mom and sister love serving pork dishes during our family dinners. Plus, my family is more health conscious nowadays and would rather not eat deep fried foods on a regular basis. My air fryer sweet and sour pork ticks both boxes. It is easy to make, and I know your family will love it too!

HOW TO MAKE AIR FRYER SWEET AND SOUR PORK

Pork Shoulder

PREPARE THE PORK

For this recipe, I recommend using pork shoulder. You want the pork to have some fat in it so that the meat doesn’t dry out in the air fryer. Pork shoulder is a perfect cut because it’s not too lean and not overly fatty.

Pork Pieces

You’ll need a pound of pork shoulder (without bones). Trim off any thick layers of fat along the sides of the piece of pork shoulder. Then, cut the pork into small pieces, about 1 inch by 1 inch. You don’t want the pieces of pork to be thicker than 3/4 inch though. Otherwise, it will throw off the cooking time. Transfer the pork pieces to a mixing bowl.

Marinated Pork

MARINATE THE PORK

Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of soy sauce, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic (or garlic powder) to the bowl with the pork pieces. Mix the seasonings and the meat together for a minute. Set the meat aside while you start preparing the sauce.

Sweet and Sour Pork Sauce Ingredients

PREPARE THE SAUCE

For the sauce, mix together 5 tablespoons ketchup, 3 tablespoons honey, 3 tablespoons rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon sambal oelek (sambal ulek), 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/2 teaspoon paprika for flavoring. I like how sambal oelek adds spiciness and tangy flavor to the dish. If you don’t have any sambal oelek around, you can omit it from the recipe. I also like adding some paprika to the sauce to give it more depth of flavor. (Side note, paprika also works very well in my cha siu recipe by giving the pork a natural red color.)

Start adding 2/3 cup of water into the flavoring ingredients for the sauce, making sure to reserve 1 or 2 tablespoons of water. Mix the remaining water with the cornstarch separately.

Conventional breadcrumbs and panko

USING PANKO

As I mentioned above, you usually fry pieces of pork to make sweet and sour pork. The biggest challenge I faced while developing this recipe was figuring out how to simulate the texture of twice-fried pork. After many rounds of experimentation, I discovered that covering pork pieces with panko-style breadcrumbs before air frying yielded the best results. 

During my first several test batches, I dredged the meat with either flour or cornstarch because that’s generally what you’d do before deep frying meat. However, I found the texture of the air-fried pork a bit gritty, especially after I toss the meat with the sauce.

After the experiment with flour and cornstarch, I switched to breadcrumbs. I started out using the powdery breadcrumbs that you see in the photo above, left. The texture of the meat improved but I felt like there was still a trace of gritty texture. 

On a whim, I used panko (photo above, right) to bread the pork. My goodness, what a difference the panko made! It adds texture to the exterior of the air-fried pork without any grittiness. Even after you toss the pork with the sauce, the panko absorbs the sauce, but there’s still a noticeable texture that remains on the meat. I should also note that the pork pieces won’t be crunchy after they’re covered in sauce, but it’s not something that I minded.

Breaded Pork (pork covered in panko)

COVER PORK WITH BREADCRUMBS 

Mix 2 tablespoons of whisked egg to the marinated pork. This will help the panko breadcrumbs stick to the exterior of the pork pieces.

Spread half of the panko over a plate. I like to keep the other half of the panko on the side to sprinkle over the pork gradually. Use a fork to place several pieces of pork over the breadcrumbs on the plate. 

Breading pork pieces with panko

Sprinkle panko over the pork and move the pork pieces around so that they’re completely covered in panko. Transfer the breaded pieces of pork to another plate. Continue breading the remaining pieces of meat.

Breaded pork in air fryer basket

AIR FRY PORK 

Preheat the air fryer (my air fryer automatically preheats the machine to 400ºF in 5 minutes). Carefully transfer a batch of the breaded pork to the air fryer basket. Make sure the pork pieces don’t overlap each other. 

Cook the pork at 380ºF for 3 minutes. Then, take out the pork, flip the pieces over and cook again for another 2 minutes. Flipping the pork ensures that the panko browns evenly. During my test batches, I left the pork in the air fryer for 4 to 5 minutes, thinking that I’d eliminate the hassle of flipping over all the pieces of pork. However, the panko on many pieces came out very brown and even burned in some instances.

Using a thermometer, check the internal temperature of the pork. In Chinese cooking, you typically want meat to be well done. For a cut like pork shoulder, look for a temperature of 160ºF or more for the optimal eating experience. The National Pork Board has a great guide on pork cooking temperatures.

Air fried pork

Transfer the cooked meat to a clean plate and continue cooking the remaining meat. By the way, these air-fried pork pieces taste so good on their own too! The marinade seasons the pork very well and the panko makes the pork crispy on the outside. This might be something to consider on its own if you want to try something different next time!

Diced onions and diced green bell pepper

STIR FRY VEGETABLES

Sweet and sour pork is often served with diced vegetables. For this recipe, I diced 1/4 of a large yellow onion and diced 1/2 large green bell pepper. In a wok (or a large sauté pan), heat some oil over high heat. Add the onions and cook them for 1 to 2 minutes. Then, add the green bell peppers and cook them for a minute more. Transfer the lightly cooked vegetables to a bowl and set aside.

MAKE SAUCE & FINISH DISH

Heat the wok over high heat. Carefully pour the sauce ingredients in the bowl (except for the cornstarch slurry) and let the sauce cook for 30 seconds. Then, give the cornstarch slurry a stir because the cornstarch likely settled to the bottom. Add the cornstarch slurry to the wok and mix everything together. Let the sauce bubble and thicken for 2 to 3 minutes. 

Use a spatula and run it along the edges of the wok frequently because the cornstarch tends to collect along the edges of the simmering liquid. Turn off the heat and mix in the cooked pork, vegetables, and a handful of pineapple chunks. Stir to coat everything with the sweet and sour sauce.
Transfer the sweet and sour pork to a serving bowl. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds, if desired. Serve the sweet and sour pork with jasmine rice and any vegetables, like my garlic green beans or smashed cucumber salad!

Air fryer sweet and sour pork

MORE PORK RECIPES

Air Fryer Sweet an Sour Pork


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Servings: 4

Author: Lisa Lin

Air Fryer Sweet and Sour Pork

This air fryer sweet and sour pork recipe is a lightened up version of a classic Chinese dish. Instead of deep frying pork pieces, you cover them with panko breadcrumbs and then air fry the pork. Finally, toss the pork pieces with a mouthwatering sweet and sour sauce. 

Prep Time30 mins

Cook Time20 mins

Ingredients

Pork

  • 16 ounces pork shoulder (without bones)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce, use tamari if gluten free
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
  • 2 tablespoons whisked egg, (see note 1)
  • 3/4 cup panko (breadcrumbs), add more if necessary (see note 2)

Sauce

  • 5 tablespoons ketchup
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 3 tablespoons rice vinegar, (see note 3)
  • 1 tablespoon sambal oelek, (see note 4)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 3/4 teaspoon cornstarch

Add Ins

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons oil, any neutral-flavored oil works
  • 1/2 large green bell pepper, diced (about 100g)
  • 1/4 large yellow onion, diced (about 2/3 cup or 80g)
  • 1 cup pineapple chunks, about 4 to 4.5 ounces (see note 5)
  • toasted sesame seeds for garnish

Instructions

Prepare the Pork

  • Trim off any thick layers of fat along the sides of the piece of pork shoulder. Then, cut the pork into small pieces, about 1 inch by 1 inch. You don’t want the pieces of pork to be too thick. Otherwise, it will throw off the cooking time, and the pieces of pork will be more difficult to eat. I try to make sure they’re no more than 3/4-inch thick. Transfer the pork pieces to a bowl.

Marinate the Pork

  • Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of soy sauce, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic (or garlic powder) to the bowl with the pork. Mix the seasonings and the meat together for a minute. Set the meat aside while you prepare the sauce.

Make the Sauce

  • In a bowl, add the ketchup, honey, rice vinegar, sambal oelek, salt, and paprika. Add most of the water, reserving about 1 or 2 tablespoons of water aside. Mix the sauce ingredients inside the bowl. Then, mix the remaining water with the cornstarch separately. Cornstarch settles to the bottom over time, so you’ll need to stir the cornstarch slurry again later. Set the ingredients for the sauce aside.

Cover Pork with Breadcrumbs

  • Mix 2 tablespoons of whisked egg to the marinated pork. This will help the panko stick to the exterior of the meat pieces.

  • Spread half of the panko breadcrumbs over a plate. I like to keep the other half of the panko on the side to sprinkle over the pork gradually. Use a fork to place several pieces of pork over the breadcrumbs on the plate. Sprinkle panko over the pork and move the pieces around so that they’re completely covered in panko. Transfer the breaded pieces of pork to another plate. Continue breading the remaining pieces of meat.

Air Fry Pork

  • Preheat the air fryer (my air fryer automatically preheats the machine to 400ºF in 5 minutes). Carefully transfer a batch of the breaded pork to the air fryer basket, making sure that the pork pieces don’t overlap.

  • Cook the pork at 380ºF for 3 minutes. Then, take out the pork, flip the pieces over and cook again for another 2 minutes. Flipping the pork ensures that the panko browns evenly.

  • Using a thermometer, check the internal temperature of the pork. It should be somewhere around 160ºF since we’re working with pork shoulder.

Stir Fry Vegetables

  • In a wok (or a large sauté pan), heat the oil over high heat. Add the diced onions and cook them for 1 to 2 minutes. Then, add the diced green bell peppers and cook them for a minute more. Transfer the lightly cooked vegetables to a bowl and set aside.

Cook Sauce

  • Heat the wok over high heat. Carefully pour the sauce ingredients in the bowl (except for the cornstarch slurry) and let the sauce cook for 30 seconds. Then, give the cornstarch slurry a stir because the cornstarch likely settled to the bottom. Add the cornstarch slurry to the wok and mix everything together. Let the sauce bubble and thicken for 2 to 3 minutes.

  • Use a spatula and run it along the edges of the wok frequently because the cornstarch tends to collect along the edges of the simmering liquid. Turn off the heat and mix in the cooked pork, vegetables, and a handful of pineapple chunks. Stir to coat everything with the sweet and sour sauce.

  • Transfer the sweet and sour pork to a serving bowl. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds, if desired. Serve the sweet and sour pork with jasmine rice and any vegetables, like my garlic green beans or smashed cucumber salad!

Notes

  1. I’m sure many of you are wondering what to do with the leftover egg. Cook it along with your morning oatmeal, or use it to make my egg fried rice!
  2. If it’s not easy for you to find panko breadcrumbs, try to find another type of textured breadcrumbs. If you are gluten free, there should be gluten-free breadcrumbs available in supermarkets!
  3. If you don’t have rice vinegar, you can use white distilled vinegar. Apple cider vinegar might work here too.
  4. I know sambal oelek (sambal ulek) isn’t an ingredient you’d normally see in a Chinese recipe, but I like the spice and tangy flavors of the sauce. You can leave it out if you do not have any on hand. If you like spicy food, you can add a bit more sambal oelek.
  5. I used fresh pineapple because it has more flavor. You can also use canned pineapple chunks if you don’t have fresh pineapple on hand.

Nutrition

Serving: 1serving | Calories: 360kcal | Carbohydrates: 37.3g | Protein: 28.6g | Fat: 11.2g | Saturated Fat: 2.4g | Cholesterol: 91.3mg | Sodium: 999mg | Fiber: 1.6g | Sugar: 24.8g

Did you make this recipe?Tag @hellolisalin or leave a star rating and comment on the blog!



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