This Sweet and Spicy Pork might be my new favorite meal (I feel like I keep saying that). It’s super easy and great for a weeknight dinner. I decided to create it after trying Bon Appetit’s Spicy-Sweet Sambal Pork Noodles. They were nice and spicy and I liked the ease of the recipe but for me the flavor fell a little flat. I started by making small tweaks but eventually just overhauled the ingredients list. I still use Chris Morocco’s technique to cook the ground meat because searing the pork adds an amazing and much needed texture to the dish. But the real star of the dish is the gochujang.
Gochujang is a Korean fermented red pepper paste made from chili powder, glutinous rice, meju (fermented soybean) powder, yeotgireum (barley malt powder), and salt. I was skeptical of it at first because I don’t typically like things that are fermented. But it is sweet and spicy and has an amazing depth of flavor that you can’t get from just chili powder.
I first tried gochujang about 2 years ago when I was making an America’s Test Kitchen recipe (I can’t remember which one at the moment) but it was amazing! Years later, I come to find out I hadn’t used the right kind of gochujang. I had used gochujang sauce. And that’s not the right stuff. When you go looking for gochujang, make sure you get the red pepper paste not gochujang sauce. Gochujang is just an ingredient in the sauce which has additives (mostly additional spices and sugars). The original is what you want here so you can control the sweetness a bit better.
The brand I use is CJ Haechandle and can be found in most (if not all) Korean grocery stores or online.
Not Minnesotan Spicy
There is a joke in Minnesota that we find even ketchup to be too spicy, so when I say this is not Minnesota spicy, take it with a grain of pepper (but not too much cause it might burn). This Sweet and Spicy Pork has a good amount of heat to it. For me, it borderlines being too spicy. But for my husband, who loves spice, thinks it could be spicier.
If you are not a fan of spicy, I would cut out 25 grams (1 tablespoon) of both the gochujang and the honey.
How to Serve
This recipe is great because there are so many ways to serve it! My original intention was to create a lettuce wrap with the Sweet and Spicy Pork and brown rice for an easy, healthy, weeknight meal. But when I went to the store there was no bibb lettuce to be found. I was able to find some small romaine lettuce and it tasted great!
I’ve also served this with jasmine rice topped with a bit of thinly sliced green and red cabbage, and julienned apples that have been tossed with a small amount of rice vinegar and soy sauce and thinly sliced scallions.
It’s equally as delicious as a pasta dish. If you want to make it like this, cook your pasta per the package directions. Add the pasta directly to the pot with the pork along with ½ cup of the pasta cooking water. Mix together until pasta has absorbed most of the liquid but isn’t too dry. If it starts to get too dry, add more pasta water and stir until pasta has combined with the sauce.
When serving this with rice you’ve got two choices, brown and white. Within that there are many different types of grains but for right now we are going to focus on long grain brown rice and jasmine rice. There are two cooking methods that I have found produce great results every time.
Savuer’s method has never failed. I do tweak it a little. The original recipe calls for 12-cups of water to one cup of rice. My pots have fairly tight fitting lids so I have cooked it with 6-cups of water without incident. If you are unsure how yours will cook, you could cut it down to 8-cups to start and keep an eye on the pot to make sure you have enough water throughout the cooking process. I also add a bay leaf at the beginning of cooking.
I use Healthy Nibbles method. The only tweaks I make are to lightly salt the water and again, add a bay leaf at the start of cooking.
If you don’t like pork or can’t eat pork, feel free to substitute out another ground meat like chicken, lamb, or beef (almost anything you can squeeze through a meat grinder with work!). You could even try it with a plant-based burger or tofu.
Sweet and Spicy Pork
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 medium yellow onion thinly sliced
- 1 1-inch x 4-inch piece ginger cut into matchsticks; 25 grams
- 5 garlic cloves sliced
- 2 pounds ground pork 908 grams
- 4 tablespoons soy sauce 60 grams
- 5 tablespoons gochujang 100 grams
- 5 tablespoons honey 100 grams
- 4 tablespoons rice vinegar 60 grams
- 2 tablespoons sesame oil 30 grams
- 1 ⅓ cups water
- In a bowl, mix together soy sauce, gochujang, honey, rice vinegar, and sesame oil and set aside.
- Heat half of the vegetable oil in a large, wide, heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add in onion and cook until translucent, transfer onion to a bowl and set-aside. Add remaining vegetable oil to the pan and heat until shimmering. Add half of the pork and break it up into 6-8 pieces. Let cook undisturbed until browned on the bottom, about 5 minutes. Turn over pieces and cook undisturbed until browned on the second side, about 3 minutes. Stir in onions, garlic, ginger, and remaining pork and cook, breaking up the pieces of pork until almost fully cooked, about 5 minutes longer. Add in reserved sauces along with 2 cups of water, bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low, and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until sauce has thickened and flavors have melded, 35-45 minutes.
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