Lightly battered pieces of juicy chicken, coated in a tangy sweet and sour sauce and served on a bed of fluffy white rice, make the perfect quick and easy supper for when the Chinese food cravings hit.
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The best sweet and sour chicken
This recipe has certainly stood the test of time. I’ve been making it for years and it’s always a hit with family and friends.
Years ago, when my family was still at home the house was always full of numerous offspring and their friends. We’d often make a Chinese-style buffet on a Saturday night. It was probably the easiest way to feed numerous people who were popping in and out.
I’d make a big bowl of egg fried rice and a dish of noodles, and then make various other dishes like honey garlic shrimp with steamed vegetables, garlic beef in oyster sauce, or sesame coated chicken strips with my homemade sweet chili sauce for dipping.
But the favourite, and most requested dish was this recipe for sweet and sour chicken.
Sweet and sour chicken is made with tender pieces of chicken, which are marinated in a light egg and cornflour batter, before being fried to golden perfection. Then the fried chicken pieces are mixed with a tangy homemade sweet and sour sauce which soaks beautifully into the batter, ensuring that each piece of chicken is fully coated with the yummy flavours.
I think you’ll love this recipe ….
It is quick and easy to make. As with most Chinese-style recipes, most of the work in in the preparation. Get all the prep done up front and this dish practically cooks itself.
It’s a very economical dish. Sweet and sour chicken is made with skinless chicken breast fillets, which are as cheap as chips. And the sauce is made from standard ingredients that you probably already have in your store cupboard or pantry.
The taste is amazing. I’ve tasted many versions of sweet and sour chicken in my life-time, and I can honestly say that this is one of the best. There is just enough sauce to coat all the chicken without the dish swimming in sauce. And you can adjust the sweetness to your own taste.
The dish is reasonably healthy. Apart from the tomato ketchup which helps to flavour the sauce, and give it the traditional reddish colour, you don’t have to add any other preservatives or food colouring. The chicken is not deep-fried, it is shallow fried in only a little oil, and the batter, which is my version of a light tempura batter, is simply made with egg and cornflour (or cornstarch if you live in the US).
What ingredients do I need?
You only need a few simple ingredients. The exact quantities and full instructions can be found on the printable recipe card at the end of this post.
For the chicken
Chicken breasts – the recommended serving is 3 to 4 ounces per person. However, you are making this dish as part of a buffet you will need less. This recipe is based on the assumption that this sweet and sour chicken will form an entire meal on its own. I’ve used skinless chicken breast fillets in this recipe, but you can also use chicken thigh fillets if you prefer the darker meat. The instructions remain the same for either.
Vegetables – you should allow one cup of vegetables per person. You will need an onion cut into quarters and divided into petals. Sweet and sour chicken is traditionally made with red and green peppers but I don’t like green peppers so I’ve only used red. You will also need some very finely sliced carrot. The easiest way to get really thin slices of carrot is to use a potato peeler to cut the carrot.
Pineapple – you can swap out the vegetables for other vegetables, but don’t leave out the pineapple. Sweet and sour chicken has to have pineapple it in. Full stop. You can use canned pineapple chunks (as I have done) or you can use fresh pineapple cut into chunks. However, bear in mind that you will have to cook the fresh pineapple for longer than canned, and you will also have to either juice the remaining pineapple or buy some pineapple juice for the sauce. My advice is buy canned pineapple, it’s easier.
For the sweet and sour sauce
Ginger – you can use either fresh ginger or crushed ginger from a jar. If you use fresh ginger it should be peeled and finely grated.
Garlic – once again, you can use cloves of fresh garlic or crushed garlic from a jar. If you don’t like garlic you can leave this out.
Tomato ketchup – I don’t normally cook with tomato ketchup, but this recipe really needs it. It adds a depth of tanginess, and also the distinctive colour without the need for food colouring.
Pineapple juice – this is just the pineapple juice from the can of pineapples. You can substitute this with fresh pineapple juice.
Sherry – you can substitute this with Shaoxing wine if you have this available. If not, sherry makes a perfectly acceptable substitute.
Brown sugar – dark brown sugar adds the sweetness to the sauce.
Rice vinegar – adds the required sour element. You can substitute this with sherry vinegar or white wine vinegar, or any other fruity vinegar, but don’t use malted brown vinegar as the taste would be too overpowering.
Cornflour or cornstarch – this is used to thicken the sauce.
Eggs – you will need 1 medium-sized egg per chicken breast.
Cornflour or cornstarch – you will need sufficient cornflour to combine with the eggs to make a thick coating batter.
Salt – the batter benefits from seasoning, but use your own judgement on whether to use salt or not.
How to make sweet and sour chicken
The first step is the preparation.
- Make the batter by mixing 2 eggs with sufficient cornflour (cornstarch) and salt to make a thick coating batter. You will probably need one tablespoon of cornflour (cornstarch) per egg. The actual amount you need depends on the size of the eggs. Keep whisking in the cornflour until you have a nice thick smooth paste.
- If you cook with salt, whisk half a teaspoon of salt into the batter.
- Dry the chicken thoroughly with paper towels and then cut into bite-sized pieces.
- Place the chicken pieces into the batter to marinate while you prepare the vegetables.
- Cut the onions into quarters and separate then into petals.
- Remove the pips and membranes from the peppers and cut the peppers into approximately 1″ chunks. Slice the carrots into thin strips.
- Open the tin of pineapple and separate the juice and the chunks into separate dishes.
- Measure all the sauce ingredients into a small saucepan and whisk thoroughly to remove any lumps of cornflour.
Make the sauce
- Place the saucepan of sauce ingredients on a medium heat and bring to the boil, stirring constantly, until the sauce thickens. This should take about 5 minutes.
- The sauce will be the correct consistency when a spoon drawn through the sauce leaves a trail.
- Remove from the heat and set aside while you prepare the rest of the dish.
Fry the chicken and vegetables
I like to make this recipe in my wok, but you can use a large frying pan instead.
- The chicken should be fried in batches in a little sunflower oil (image 1 below) until it is nicely browned on all sides and completely white inside. This will take 3 to 4 minutes per side. If you have a thermometer, the internal temperature should be 74C/165F. You can also cut one of the thickest pieces in half to make sure that it is cooked.
- Remove the chicken to a plate and set aside while you fry the vegetables.
- Fry the onions in the same pan. You may need to add extra oil. Fry the onions slowly until they start to turn translucent (image 2 above), then add the peppers and carrots and continue to fry until they soften (image 3 above). This step should take about 5 minutes.
- If you are using fresh pineapple add this at the same time as the peppers.
- Once the vegetables have softened, add the canned pineapple. Then stir in the sauce and the cooked chicken (image 4 above).
- Allow to heat until piping hot and then sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve immediately with white rice or noodles.
** Note – there should be just sufficient sauce to coat the chicken. This dish does not require the chicken to float in the sauce like a soup.
Does sweet and sour chicken freeze well?
Yes, this dish freezes really well. Just allow to cool and then transfer to a rigid plastic container and freeze for up to 4 months.
Defrost in the refrigerator and reheat either in the microwave or in a saucepan on the stove.
Note that the sauce will soak into the batter so the chicken will not retain its crispness once frozen and reheated.
You can also freeze any left-over sauce on its own for up to 6 months.
Make in advance
You can also make this dish in advance.
- Fry the chicken and drain on paper towels. Allow to cool and store in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
- Make the sauce and store in a separate container in the refrigerator. The sauce will stay fresh for about a week.
- Fry the vegetables, and stir in the pineapple. Store separately in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
- When you are ready to make this dish, refry the chicken in a tablespoon of sunflower oil until heated through then add the sauce and vegetables and continue to heat until piping hot.
If you enjoyed this sweet and sour chicken recipe you may like to try some of my other Asian inspired recipes.
- Oven-baked teriyaki chicken and vegetables
- Twice-cooked pork belly with a sticky glaze
- Easy Szechuan chicken with noodles
- Garlic chicken stirfry in a toasty breadroll
- Crispy orange chicken
Don’t forget to check out my handy Cookery Conversion Calculator if you want to convert any of your recipe measurements from grams to cups, ounces, tablespoons or millilitres and vice versa. You can also use the calculator for converting oven temperatures between Fahrenheit, Celsius and Gas marks.
If you live at a high altitude you may find you need to adjust your baking recipes to compensate for this. You can read all about it in this post on baking at high altitudes.
Pin for later
Why not pin this recipe for sweet and sour chicken to your pinterest board so you can make it later. Just click the image below.
Sweet and sour chicken recipe
Sweet and sour chicken with homemade sauce
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Sweet and sour sauce
- 1 inch piece of ginger minced or very finely chopped.
- 2 cloves garlic finely chopped
- 3 tablespoons tomato ketchup
- 1 cup pineapple juice approximately
- 3 tablespoons sherry or Shaoxing wine
- 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar or any fruity vinegar
- 1 tablespoon cornflour or cornstarch for thickening
- 2 large eggs
- 2 tablespoons cornflour or cornstarch or more if needed
- ½ teaspoon salt optional
Chicken and vegetables
- 1 lb (450g) skinless chicken breast fillets
- 1 large onion peeled, quartered and separated into petals
- 2 large red peppers seeds and membranes removed and cut into 1" chunks
- 1 large carrot very finely sliced
- 14 oz (397g) can pineapple chunks separated into juice and fruit
- 2-3 tablespoons sunflower oil for frying
- Make the batter by mixing 2 eggs with sufficient cornflour (cornstarch) and salt to make a thick coating batter. You will probably need one tablespoon of cornflour (cornstarch) per egg. The actual amount you need depends on the side of the eggs. Keep whisking in the cornflour until you have a nice thick smooth paste. Season lightly with salt to taste.
- Dry the chicken thoroughly with paper towels and then cut into bite-sized pieces. Place the chicken pieces into the batter to marinate while you prepare the vegetables.
- Cut the onions into quarters and separate then into petals. Remove the pips and membranes from the peppers and cut the peppers into approximately 1" chunks.
- Open the tin of pineapple and separate the juice and the chunks into separate dishes.
- Measure all the sauce ingredients into a small saucepan and whisk thoroughly to remove any lumps or cornflour.
Sweet and sour sauce
- Place the saucepan of sauce ingredients on a medium heat and bring to the boil, stirring constantly. Boil until the sauce thickens and leaves a trail when a spoon is drawn through it. Remove from the heat and set aside.
- Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
Chicken and vegtables
- Fry the chicken in batches in 2 tablespoons of sunflower or canola oil until it is nicely brown and completely white on the inside. Remove the cooked chicken to a plate lined with kitchen towel.
- In the same pan, fry the onions until translucent. You may need to add a little extra oil.
- Add the peppers and carrots and continue to fry until softened.
- Add the canned pineapples and then stir in the sauce and the cooked chicken. Stir thoroughly until the chicken is completely coated.
- Allow to heat through until piping hot and then sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve immediately with a bowl of white rice or freshly cooked noodles.
I am not a nutritionist. The nutrition information has been calculated using an on-line calculator, and is intended for information and guidance purposes only. If the nutrition information is important to you, you should consider calculating it yourself, using your preferred tool.
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