#36 Why I don't add starch to my sweet sour sauce
That might sound shocking to many. But there's a good reason why you should ditch starch.
Most recipes for sweet sour sauce call for boiling all the ingredients together then pouring in starch dissolved in water. The mixture is simmered and stirred until the cloudy appearance disappears and the sauce is thick. I used to cook sweet sour sauce that way, but not for a long time.
I don’t use starch anymore. Sauce thickened with starch clumps as it cools and turns lumpy. And it’s simply awful.
So, how does sweet sour sauce thicken without starch? Reduction and caramelization.
Sweet sour sauce is basically sugar and vinegar. Spices and seasonings are added to give it a richer and more rounded flavor. Garlic, ginger, salt, pepper… Color comes from soy sauce, oyster sauce and ketchup, or other similar ingredients.
When you let all these ingredients simmer, the sugar liquefies and eventually caramelizes. That means it turns into a syrup. And that syrup thickens some more as the water content from the vinegar and seasonings evaporate.
Just add your cooked vegetables and protein, toss to coat all solid pieces and you’re done.
Why is no-starch sweet sour soup better? As the syrup cools, it continues to thicken and forms a light crust around the vegetables and protein. Think of the crunchy sugar on top of crème brulée, but thinner. So, instead of your sweet sour dish turning soggy, a lot of the crispiness is retained even as the dish cools while you’re having your meal.
Admittedly, making sweet sour sauce without starch takes a bit longer. It also requires more care to make sure that the sugar does not burn during the process. But the extra effort is worth it. Try it to see the difference.
Sweet sour fish fillets - Tilapia fillets are cut into cubes, seasoned, tossed in starch, deep fried and tossed in sweet sour sauce with ginger, garlic, scallions, bell pepper and fresh pineapple. Get the recipe.
Meatballs in sweet sour sauce - Light and bouncy meatballs made with ground pork, shiitake, dried shrimps, vegetables and spices are deep fried and served with homemade sweet sour sauce. Get the recipe.