One of our favorite things to eat when we’re visiting Japan is sweet & sour pork, called subuta (su = vinegar, buta = pork). We’ll often order it if we’re eating out at a Chinese restaurant there (Chinese food in Japan is affordable, authentic, and very, very good) but I can also easily make it myself using CookDo – it’s one of the over 60 varieties of sauces the brand offers.
We can buy a few varieties of CookDo sauces here on Kaua’i but subuta is not one of them. A while ago, when we had a craving for subuta, I went to a favorite website for Japanese dishes, Japanese Cooking 101, and was frankly surprised to see how easy it was to make authentic subuta from scratch. While the author deep fries the pork (coated with potato starch) in her recipe, I found it was very easy to adapt and stir fry the ingredients instead, which we prefer, and which is faster and less messy. The result is a very flavorful dish that doesn’t contain a whole lot of fat or calories overall.
Subuta doesn’t require special ingredients, or take a lot of time to pull together. The sauce is primarily made from pantry staples, with all the ingredients easy to find and inexpensive. In my opinion, Japanese sweet & sour tends a bit more to the sour side than what is typical for the U.S., but the Japanese do not prefer the amount of sweetness that’s found in American foods or recipes, and I’m guessing the sugar could be increased slightly or the vinegar reduced if a little more sweetness is desired. Pineapple chunks can also be added at the end, right before serving, which would bring more sweetness. There’s also no reason tofu couldn’t be substituted for the pork if you don’t eat meat.
When I made subuta a couple of weeks ago the whole process took around a half hour:
Preparing the vegetables
Cutting pork into cubes
Starting the sauce. It had something of a dull, thin look, but as it slowly heated it will turned thick and glossy.
Sautéing the pork in a large skillet until pieces are browned on all sides.
Cooking the vegetables until crisp-tender, then adding back in the pork.
Finally, mixing the pork and vegetables into the thickened sauce
JAPANESE SWEET & SOUR PORK (Subuta)
- 2 TBSP vegetable oil, divided
- 12 ounces lean pork
- 1/2 large onion
- 1 green pepper
- 2 medium carrots
- 2 TBSP soy sauce
- 2 TBSP ketchup
- 3 TBSP sugar
- 4 TBSP rice vinegar
- 1 tsp dark sesame oil
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 TBSP cornstarch
Cut the pork into 1.5″ – 2″ pieces. Cut the green pepper and onion into 1.5″ – 2″ inch pieces, and the carrots into 1-inch pieces.
In a medium saucepan, blend together the soy sauce, ketchup, sugar, vinegar, sesame oil, and water. Put the cornstarch into a small bowl, add some of the sauce mix into the cornstarch until blended, then add the cornstarch mixture back to the rest of the sauce (if you try to add the cornstarch to the sauce mix it will create lumps). Heat the sauce on low, stirring frequently, until it turns thick and glossy.
Heat a large skillet on high, add 1 TBSP of the vegetable oil, and saute the pork pieces until browned on all sides. Set the pork aside, and wipe out the pan.
Add the second TBSP of vegetable oil to the pan, and stir-fry the carrot pieces for 1-2 minutes before adding the pepper and onion. Continue stir-frying until the vegetables are crisp-tender.
Add the pork back to the skillet, and fry for another 1-2 minutes. Turn off skillet and mix the pork and vegetables into the sauce; stir until everything is well coated. Serve immediately with hot steamed rice.