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Chinese-style sweet and sour chicken, stir-fried with bell peppers and pineapple chunks.
Photography Credit:Jaden Hair
Please welcome guest author Jaden Hair of Steamy Kitchen who brings us another great Chinese-American classic, Sweet and Sour Chicken. ~Elise
This recipe for Sweet and Sour Chicken doesn’t deep fry, but instead uses a method for creating a delicate, smooth and succulent chicken that goes perfectly with a lighter sweet and sour sauce.
The secret is in the chicken marinade, specifically using egg white and cornstarch, which creates a super-light coating all around the chicken. It won’t be a crunchy, deep fried coating, but I think it’s a nice alternative, both texture-wise and weight-wise!
Just like the Shrimp Fried Rice, a very hot pan is essential to making this Sweet and Sour Chicken so that the chicken can sear quickly. Heat your frying pan until a bead of water will sizzle instantly and evaporate on contact.
Just flick a bit of water onto the hot pan and you should hear a “tssszzzaaaaa” as it hits the surface. If you don’t hear it, let it heat up a little longer.
For some stoves, especially electric stoves, it can take as long as 3 minutes to heat up to the right temperature!
Once the pan is hot, then you can add your chicken. But make sure that you keep the chicken in a single layer and do not crowd. If you crowd the chicken, they will just steam and not sear in the pan.
Another important tip to stir-fry is to have your meat at close to room temperature before cooking. This means leaving the chicken out to un-chill for about 15 minutes on the counter, which is the perfect amount of time for a short marinade.
If you add cold chicken to a hot pan, not only will it stick to the pan, but the heat of the pan will be so busy warming up the chicken that it won’t have a chance to actually sear the meat right away.
So how sweet and how sour? The beauty of this dish is that you can adjust at the end. Have a little taste of the sauce. Not sweet enough? Add a spoonful of brown sugar. Not tangy enough? Add a teaspoon of vinegar.
Sweet and Sour Chicken Recipe
- 1 pound of boneless and skinless chicken thighs or breasts, cut into 1" chunks
- 1 egg white
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (1/4 teaspoon table salt)
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 1 10-ounce can pineapple chunks (reserve juice)
- 1/4 cup juice from the canned pineapple
- 1/4 cup white vinegar
- 1/4 cup ketchup
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (1/4 teaspoon table salt)
- 2-3 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon cooking oil
- 1 red bell pepper, cut into 1 inch chunks
- 1 yellow bell pepper, cut into 1 inch chunks
- 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 Coat chicken with egg white, salt, and cornstarch: In a bowl, combine the chicken with the egg white, salt and cornstarch. Stir to coat the chicken evenly. Let sit for 15 minutes at room temperature or up to overnight in the refrigerator.
2 Make sweet sour sauce: Whisk together the pineapple juice, vinegar, ketchup, salt, and brown sugar.
3 Stir-fry chicken: Heat a large frying pan or wok over high heat until a bead of water instantly sizzles and evaporates. Pour in the 1 tablespoon of cooking oil and swirl to coat. It's important that the pan is very hot.
Add the chicken and spread the chicken out in one layer. Let the chicken fry, untouched for 1 minute, until the bottoms are browned.
Flip and fry the other side the same for 1 minute. The chicken should still be pinkish in the middle. Dish out the chicken onto a clean plate, leaving as much oil in the pan as possible.
4 Stir fry bell pepper and ginger: Turn the heat to medium and add the remaining 1 teaspoon of cooking oil. Let the oil heat up and then add the bell pepper chunks and ginger. Fry for 1 minute.
5 Add pineapple, sweet sour sauce, let simmer, add chicken: Add the pineapple chunks and the sweet and sour sauce. Turn the heat to high and when the sauce is simmering, add the chicken pieces back in.
Let simmer for 1-2 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Timing depends on how thick you've cut your chicken. The best way to tell if the chicken is done is to take a piece out and cut into it. If it's pink, add another minute to the cooking.
Taste the sauce and add more brown sugar if you’d like.
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Sweet and Sour Chicken Recipe
Years ago, I worked in an office where they would bring in lunch every day. I mostly skipped that lunch and opted to head home for my lunch hour instead, but every once in awhile, I’d stick around and have some of the lunch that was provided that day.
I remember one day, (I was pregnant with my first child, so let’s blame this on pregnancy haha), the lunch was from a local Chinese restaurant. And it smelled so good. So I decided to have lunch at work that day. I chose out an egg roll and some sweet and sour chicken, then went to my desk to eat – only to be completely disappointed. It was not good at all, and I don’t think I even ended up eating it.
That is what led me to this recipe so many years ago. It has now been here on Taste and Tell for over 10 years and remains a favorite for a good reason – it’s so stinking good. It’s one of those rare meals that everyone in my family likes. And yes – it’s so much better than that takeout sweet and sour chicken! I think I’ll forget the take-out Chinese from now on and make this Sweet and Sour Chicken Recipe!
The key to crispy chicken
In order to get the perfectly crispy chicken each time, make sure to follow these tips:
- Cut evenly. It’s important to dice the chicken into similar-sized pieces. You want them to be bite-sized, about an inch or so. This helps them all cook evenly in the pan. If some pieces are larger and some are smaller, you may not get the same crispy result on each piece.
- Breading. The corn starch is what gives the chicken that crispy breading layer. It’s important that all of the meat is well coated in the corn starch. I like to place the meat in a zip top bag, pour the corn starch in and then shake until the chicken is evenly coated.
- Cook in batches. Don’t overcrowd the pan! This is an easy mistake to make, but makes a big difference. When frying the chicken, I like to cook it in two batches so that there’s enough room on the skillet. You don’t want the meat to be touching or else it won’t get as crispy.
- Fry, then bake. There’s two steps to make this recipe. After frying the meat in the corn starch/egg breading, you’ll then bake the chicken in the oven with the sauce poured over top. The oven helps continue cooking the meat all the way through and also keeps the exterior crispy while the sauce caramelizes on top.
How to make Sweet and Sour Chicken
Wanna know the secret to restaurant quality Sweet and Sour Chicken? In this post I am going to share the BEST and EASIEST way on how to make sweet and sour chicken. I kid you not when I tell you that this is the BEST recipe for sweet and sour chicken.
The secret to my sweet and sour chicken is the crisp of the chicken. Unlike a lot of restaurants, this chicken is ALWAYS crispy, and the chicken is always moist. Some restaurants have beautifully made chicken, but when you bite into it, it’s soggy (even before you add the sauce). Also, a lot of restaurants use chicken breast, and they sometimes over cook it, which is a HUGE no no. Who wants dry a$ chicken? Not me! I use boneless chicken thighs. Therefore the chicken is always moist! My chicken is battered twice, therefore it has a nice thick and crunchy batter. Even after you add the sweet and sour sauce to my chicken, it still holds a nice crunch. Let’s get to the recipe!
- 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon coarse salt
- 1/3 cup rice vinegar
- 1/4 cup ketchup
- 4 teaspoons sugar
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 4 bell peppers (green, red, yellow, or a combination), cut into 1-inch pieces
- 8 scallions, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces, white and green parts separated
- 6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- Cooked white rice, for serving (optional)
- 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
In a large bowl, toss chicken with 1 tablespoon each soy sauce and cornstarch, salt, and pepper. In another bowl, combine remaining soy sauce and cornstarch, vinegar, ketchup, sugar, and 1/2 cup water set aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high. Cook half the chicken, turning occasionally, until browned and almost cooked through, 4 minutes remove. Cook the remaining chicken in another tablespoon oil remove.
Add remaining oil to the pan. Add peppers, white parts of scallions, and garlic cook over medium-high, stirring, until peppers are crisp-tender, about 3 minutes.
Whisk soy sauce mixture add to pan. Return chicken add scallion greens. Cook, stirring, until sauce has thickened and chicken is cooked through, about 2 minutes. Serve immediately over rice, if desired.
In a medium saucepan, bring 1 3/4 cups water and 1/2 tsp. salt to a boil stir in the rice. Cover, lower the heat and simmer until the liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Let stand, covered, for 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the pineapple juice, vinegar, soy sauce, 2 tsp. cornstarch, the ketchup and ginger. In a bowl, toss the chicken with the remaining 2 tsp. cornstarch, 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper.
In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook, turning occasionally, until browned, about 5 minutes transfer to a plate. Add the bell pepper and cook, stirring, until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Stir in the pineapple chunks and reserved chicken.
Whisk the pineapple juice mixture into the chicken mixture and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has thickened and the chicken is cooked through, about 2 minutes. Serve over the rice.
Sweet and Sour Chicken
The best sweet and sour chicken ever. My husband would eat this every night of his life if I would make it (which I don’t, so that he’ll actually look forward to it when I do!).
- 3 whole Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts
- Salt And Pepper
- 1 cup Cornstarch
- 2 whole Eggs, Lightly Beaten
- ¼ cups Canola Oil
- FOR THE SAUCE:
- ¾ cups Sugar
- 4 Tablespoons Ketchup
- ½ cups Vinegar
- 1 Tablespoon Soy Sauce
- 1 teaspoon Garlic Salt
Cut chicken breasts into chunks. Season with salt and pepper. Dip chicken in cornstarch and then in egg (yes, this will be messy but it will be worth it, I promise!). Fry in a little oil until browned on all sides but not cooked through. Place in a single layer in a baking dish.
Mix sauce ingredients together and pour over chicken.
Bake for one hour at 325 degrees F. Turn chicken every 15 minutes. If you like extra sauce, make another batch of sauce and bring it to a boil on the stovetop. Stir constantly and let cook over medium heat until thickened and reduced, about 6 to 8 minutes.
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Tracie on 2.4.2021
Do I use white vinegar or apple cider vinegar?
Judy on 2.4.2016
I to am wondering if this sour and sour chicken can be frozen in a seal a meal bag?Heated later for use. Does it need to be prepared as instructed first to freeze?
Katie Wilson on 1.18.2015
I’m going to experiment with this tonight and see what works as far as freezing it.
Sarah on 1.17.2015
Has anyone frozen this? How would you recommend doing this?
Chels on 10.11.2014
How would i freeze this? Should i cook it all and then freeze it? I would really like to make this to prove to my husband I’m not a horrible cook, and I’m making 50 freezer meals in a day because we are busy and don’t get home until 7:30 at night. Thanks in advance!
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AnnW on 2.21.2019
For a great sweet and sour chicken recipe, look no further! I made this twice and my husband said twice (each time) that this recipe is a keeper!! The 1st time I made it, I forgot to use eggs, but it was still delicious!! Also, I didn’t need the full cup of corn starch, so I cut back on it the 2nd time. As for the sugar, I used a bit less than the recipe suggested. Both times (about 15 mins into the cooking time) I added some veggies that were in my fridge, like broccoli and red peppers, or green beans. I made Basmati rice on the side and I doubled the sauce both times. For just the 2 of us, 3 chicken breasts were plenty leaving us with a small amount of leftovers. My husband had 2 nice size servings, I had 1 average serving. I’d say this recipe would serve 3 (normal portion eaters) just fine. But, because it’s so delicious and the leftovers are even better, I’d go with a chicken breast per person. Also, this recipe is for people who actually don’t mind cooking a little bit. Once in the oven, you have an hour to clean up any mess which makes after dinner clean up so much easier! Enjoy!!
Chelsea on 8.23.2013
I cooked this recipe using my own sauce, however, the chicken was super simple and everything went together beautifully!! And, of course, it was delicious – I won’t be ordering much chinese at this rate! Thanks for sharing!
Marie on 1.23.2013
Fantastic! I am ditching the recipe I have used for years for this one. I totally forgot about the egg (found them in the dish ready for battering after putting the chicken in the oven). We did not miss it one bit, so now I just throw the chicken and cornstarch in a ziploc bag to cover the chicken pieces. Simple. I also add red and green peppers, carrots and onions and we put it over quinoa.
Amanda79 on 1.4.2013
So good. My whole family inhaled it. I wished I had doubled the recipe.
Nicole B on 11.2.2012
I’ve never really tried my hand at homemade Chinese food until I tried this recipe. It is delicious! It takes a little bit of work but its so worth it in the end!
As with most of the dishes on the blog, I learned how to make this one from my father, who worked as a professional chef in many restaurants for over 25 years.
There are plenty of chef secrets to share with you to make sure you get restaurant-quality Sweet and Sour Chicken every time. Here are my pro tips:
- Whether you use dark (thigh) or white (breast) meat is a matter of personal preference. I like chicken thighs, because they stay moist and have extra flavor.
- Regardless of which cut of meat you use for your sweet and sour chicken, the marinating process is very important to setting your dish apart from others—adding water keeps the chicken moist throughout the frying process and helps ensure a super crisp coating that stays in place! This will be incredibly important when you introduce that delicious sweet and sour sauce.
- When frying the chicken, lower your battered chicken pieces one at a time. Lower them slowly into the oil halfway, so the batter has a couple of seconds to cook. Then release the chicken into the oil. This technique prevents the chicken pieces from sticking to the pot and to each other. Also pick a spot in the oil away from the other pieces already frying.
- Any leftover oil you can filter through a fine-mesh strainer to use for future stir-fry dishes. Chinese restaurants use this oil and it not only reduces waste, it adds flavor! Store in the refrigerator and use it within 2 weeks.
- Start cooking your sweet and sour sauce immediately after you’ve finished frying the chicken to ensure maximum crispiness. If you want to prepare your chicken in advance, ideally you’d re-fry the chicken briefly to crisp it just before finishing the dish. Better yet, try to make this dish in one go from start to finish. If you’re cooking this for a family meal with multiple dishes, you can prepare the components in advance, and then pull it together quickly right before mealtime!
- Wash your wok immediately after finishing the dish, as the acid in the vinegar can damage the patina of a well-seasoned wok. For more information, see our post on Seasoning and Caring for your Wok .
I think that’s enough talking. It’s time to get to cooking (and eating!) this classic Sweet and Sour Chicken. Read on for all the steps that will give you the power to produce restaurant-quality Sweet and Sour Chicken at home! Toss your takeout menus now!
- 2 large egg whites
- 4 teaspoons cornstarch, divided
- 1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 6 tablespoons unsalted ketchup
- ¼ cup water
- 3 tablespoons cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 ½ tablespoons lower-sodium soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons canola oil, divided
- 1 red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 ½ cups fresh pineapple chunks
- 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
- 3 green onions, cut into 1-inch pieces
- .38 teaspoon kosher salt
Combine egg whites and 1 tablespoon cornstarch in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add chicken to bowl toss to coat.
Combine remaining 1 teaspoon cornstarch, ketchup, and next 4 ingredients (through soy sauce) in a bowl, stirring with a whisk.
Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil to pan swirl to coat. Add bell pepper to pan cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add pineapple, ginger, and onions to pan cook 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer bell pepper mixture to a plate.
Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to pan. Add chicken mixture, allowing any excess egg white mixture to drip back into bowl. Stir-fry 6 minutes or until chicken is browned and done. Add ketchup mixture and bell pepper mixture to pan. Bring to a simmer simmer 1 minute or until slightly thickened. Sprinkle with salt serve immediately.
- 1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast meat - cubed
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- ½ cup sliced green bell pepper
- ½ cup sliced red bell pepper
- 1 cup carrot strips
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- ¼ cup low sodium soy sauce
- 1 (8 ounce) can pineapple chunks, juice reserved
- 1 tablespoon vinegar
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
Brown chicken in oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add green bell pepper, red bell pepper, carrot and garlic and stir fry for 1 to 2 minutes.
In a small bowl, combine cornstarch and soy sauce and mix together pour mixture into the skillet, along with the pineapple and liquid, vinegar, sugar and ginger. Stir together and bring to a full boil.