Tasting the Conspiracy, item L1: Sweet and Sour Chicken

If it’s not clear what this is or why I’m doing it, check out the intro post.

Huh, so I guess I usually order from way down the specials list. I am starting off with something I never have but which is not exactly an unknown quantity, because sweet and sour chicken was, as it turns out, my ex’s favorite dish to get at Chinese takeouts, which, in retrospect, maybe should have been some sort of warning sign. Be that as it may, I’ll try to view this one not through any sort of emotional lens. It would be terrible to take a bite of fast-food Chinese and discover hours later that, à la recherche du temps perdu, I’ve written a novelistic recapitulation of the last four years. That would be unpleasant for everyone involved, I suppose.

So, as mentioned, I’ve eaten this particular instantiation of this dish before (mostly by poaching it off Shannon’s plate or nabbing leftovers from the fridge). But I have a structure in mind, and I’ll stick to it.

Sweet and Sour Chicken

The Sweet and Sour Chicken lunch special (menu item L1) from Double Dragon

What exactly is this dish? Little bits of white-meat chicken are thickly breaded, deep fried, and served with a sauce which is very sweet, fruity (usually with pineapple), and acid (generally with vinegar). In takeouts the sauce comes in a separate container, and some places (but not takeouts, as a rule) the monotony of the chicken is broken up with some sort of fruit or vegetable garnish; usually pineapple, but other accents are also possible.

How authentically Chinese is it? Pretty much not at all. To the extent it derives from any Chinese culture, the sauce is vaguely reminiscent of some traditional plum sauces, but a lot less complex. Deep-frying thickly battered things is not really a traditional Chinese approach to meat, though; they’ll deep-fry, but anything with as much bread as this on the outside would be a dumpling or a bun.

Is it any good? The breading is really very heavy; around small chunks of chicken, you’re talking about a pretty poor balance of protein to starch in these guys. To its credit, the breading stands up well to being covered in sauce, and they keep a solid crunch even as they cool. The sauce itself is kinda sweeter than a meal feels like it should be, and is generally pretty unsubtle. It would have been a lot more tolerable with some sort of textural/flavor contrast element in the form of pineapple or some sort of vegetable garnish.

How does it complement the rice? Not real well. There’s plenty of sauce, but the dish kind of has nothing going on flavorwise except the sauce (no veggies, bland meat), so that’s really all you taste on the entree side of the plate. The sauce is so assertive and single-note that, if I’m going through rice in tandem with a protein already covered in this sauce, I wouldn’t want to put this sauce on the rice too, unless it was distressingly dry and I had no soy sauce.

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About Jake
I'm a mathematics professor at the University of Louisville, and a geek.

2 Responses to Tasting the Conspiracy, item L1: Sweet and Sour Chicken

  1. Pingback: Tasting the Conspiracy, item L4: Sweet and Sour Pork | The Ecclesiastical Revue

  2. Pingback: Tasting the Conspiracy, item L0: Introduction | The Ecclesiastical Revue

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