This Sweet and Sour Chicken Recipe tastes just like your favorite Chinese takeout. Made with crispy, bite-sized pieces of chicken, bell peppers, and pineapple, all coated in a flavorful sweet and sour sauce. Serve over steamed rice or noodles for a takeout-style meal loved by the whole family.
Sweet and sour chicken is one of the best Chinese-American chicken stir-fry recipes. Made with crispy breaded and fried chicken pieces coated in a glossy, tart, and tangy sweet and sour sauce – my mouth is watering just thinking about it.
What is Sweet & Sour Chicken?
Sweet and sour chicken, as we know it today, is typically associated with Chinese cuisine, particularly Cantonese cooking, however, the specific version popular in Western countries has been adapted to suit local tastes.
The concept of combining sweet and sour flavors is a classic part of many world cuisines. The Chinese version, “tangcu” (糖醋), which means “sugar vinegar,” has been a part of Chinese cuisine for centuries. In China, dishes with sweet and sour sauces are typically made with pork, fish, or shrimp. However, the addition of pineapple, bell peppers, and onions is more of a Western adaptation.
The specific dish “sweet and sour chicken,” as we recognize it today, with breaded and fried chicken pieces in a thick, sweet, and tangy sauce, likely originated in the United States as part of the development of American Chinese cuisine in the early to mid-20th century. Immigrant Chinese chefs adapted their recipes to accommodate the ingredients and tastes of their new environment, which led to the creation of new dishes that combined elements of traditional Chinese cooking with American preferences.
Sweet and Sour Sauce Ingredients
- Soy sauce: This adds an umami flavor and a bit of saltiness to the sauce.
- Vinegar: Here, we’re adding a combination of rice wine vinegar and white vinegar. Apple cider vinegar is often used.
- Ketchup: Ketchup adds both sweetness and a tangy tomato flavor, and it helps give the sauce its characteristic red color.
- Lemon juice: The lemon juice adds a bright, tangy flavor that enhances the flavor of the other ingredients in the sauce.
- Sugar: For sweetness, of course! This recipe calls for granulated sugar, but brown sugar may also be used.
- Water: Some people will use pineapple juice in place of the water.
How to Make Sweet and Sour Chicken
1. Season the chicken: Toss the chicken pieces with black pepper, salt, and garlic powder. Set aside.
2. Mix together the batter for frying: In a separate bowl, whisk together the cornstarch, flour, chicken broth, vegetable oil, egg, vinegar, and baking powder. The mixture should have the consistency of a thin pancake batter. If it’s too thick, add one tablespoon of chicken broth at a time until the right consistency is reached.
3. Preheat the frying oil and coat the chicken in batter: Use a large pan with tall sides or a Dutch oven and use enough oil to fill the pan by 2-3 inches. Toss the chicken in the batter, then remove one piece at a time, allowing any excess batter to drip off.
4. Fry the chicken (first fry): Fry the chicken in several batches for 5-6 minutes or until the batter is cooked but still pale in color. Remove the chicken from the oil and place them on a baking rack with a sheet pan underneath to catch the excess oil. Repeat until all of the chicken has been fried.
5. Fry the chicken (second fry): Reheat the frying oil and fry the chicken in batches again, a second time, until golden brown and crispy. Remove the chicken to the baking rack and set aside.
6. Stir fry the vegetables: Stir fry the onion and bell peppers in a large wok or skillet set over high heat. Cook, stirring often, for 2-3 minutes until they start to soften.
7. Combine the sweet and sour sauce: Mix together the soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, ketchup, lemon juice, sugar, and white vinegar in a small bowl. Add the sweet and sour sauce to the skillet. Cook for an additional 2 minutes, then add the pineapple.
8. Prepare the cornstarch slurry: Whisk together the water and cornstarch. Slowly pour it into the pan with the sauce and vegetables. Allow it to cook for 1-2 minutes or until the sauce thickens.
9. Add the chicken: Add the fried chicken to the pan with the vegetables and carefully toss to coat in the sauce. Stir-fry for 1-2 minutes or until heated through.
10. Garnish and serve: Serve over cooked rice or noodles and garnish with green onions and sesame seeds, if desired.
Sweet and sour chicken is versatile enough to handle all kinds of optional veggies and garnishes. Here are some recommendations:
- Broccoli florets
- Water chestnuts
- Fresh pineapple
What to Serve with Sweet and Sour Chicken?
I always serve this sweet and sour chicken recipe with either white rice or brown rice or with cauliflower rice as my go-to for a lightened-up version. Sometimes I’ll make an additional one or two recipes to go along with it.
- Egg Drop Soup
- Chinese Broccoli (Gai Lan)
- Beef and Broccoli
- Kalbi (Korean BBQ Beef Short Ribs)
- Chicken Chow Mein
- Fried Rice
Storage and Freezing
Leftovers: Keep leftovers stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2-3 days.
Freezing: For best results, freeze the breaded and fried chicken pieces separately from the sauce. This can help maintain the texture of the chicken and prevent it from becoming soggy. Place the chicken and sauce in separate freezer-safe containers or heavy-duty freezer bags. Freeze for up to 2-3 months.
Reheating: If frozen, thaw the sweet and sour chicken in the refrigerator overnight. Next, reheat the chicken in the oven or in a frying pan to help it regain some crispiness. The sauce can be reheated in a saucepan over medium heat or in the microwave. Be sure to heat the food to an internal temperature of at least 165°F (74°C) to ensure food safety.
More Asian Recipes,
- Chicken Yakitori Recipe
- Hunan Chicken
- Korean Fried Chicken
- Yakisoba Noodles Recipe
- Asian Garlic Noodles
- Miso Ramen
If you try making this Sweet and Sour Chicken Recipe, please leave me a comment and let me know! I always love to hear your thoughts.
Sweet and Sour Chicken
- 1 pound boneless skinless chicken thighs - chopped into 1-inch pieces
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ cup cornstarch
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- ½ cup chicken broth - plus more as needed
- 3 tablespoon vegetable oil - plus more for frying the chicken
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon vinegar
- ¼ teaspoon baking powder
- ½ red onion - roughly chopped
- 1 green bell pepper - seeded and roughly chopped
- 1 red bell pepper - seeded and roughly chopped
- 1 (15-ounce) can canned pineapple chunks - drained
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch + two tablespoons water - (cornstarch slurry)
- In a medium bowl, season the chicken pieces with black pepper, salt, and garlic powder. Set aside.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the cornstarch, flour, chicken broth, vegetable oil, egg, vinegar, and baking powder. If the batter is too thick (it should have the consistency of a thin pancake batter), add a tablespoon of chicken broth at a time until it reaches the right thickness.
- Over medium-high heat, preheat a large skillet with tall sides or a Dutch oven filled with 3 inches of vegetable oil to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Toss the chicken in the batter, then remove one piece at a time, allowing any excess batter to drip off. Carefully fry the chicken in several batches. Fry for about 5-6 minutes until the chicken is crispy but still pale. Remove the chicken from the oil and place them on a baking rack with a sheet pan underneath to catch the excess oil. Repeat until all of the chicken has been fried.
- Reheat the frying oil (adding more to the pan if necessary). Fry the chicken a second time in 2-3 batches until golden brown and cooked through. Remove the chicken to the baking rack and set aside.
- Heat a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a large wok or skillet set over medium-high heat. Add the onion and bell peppers, and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes until they start to soften.
- Mix together the sweet and sour sauce – Combine the soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, ketchup, lemon juice, sugar, and white vinegar in a small bowl. Pour into the pan with the vegetables and stir-fry for another 2 minutes then add the pineapple.
- Meanwhile, whisk together the water and cornstarch to make the cornstarch slurry. Slowly pour it into the pan with the sauce and vegetables. Allow it to cook for 1-2 minutes or until the sauce thickens.
- Finally, add the fried chicken to the pan and stir-fry for 2 minutes to coat the chicken evenly with the sauce.
- Serve hot over rice, garnished with green onions if desired.
(Nutrition information provided is an estimate and will vary based on cooking methods and specific brands of ingredients used.)