Sweet and Sour Chicken

Please welcome guest author Jaden Hair of Steamy Kitchen who brings us another great Chinese-American classic, Sweet and Sour Chicken. ~Elise

When Elise asked me to be a guest writer for Simply Recipes, we decided to take Chinese favorites and make them better, lighter and easier to cook at home. So, I grabbed a take-out menu from the local Chinese restaurant and I will be working my way around those recipes for you.

If there’s one thing that I detest, it’s greasy fried food covered in goopy Chinese take-out sauce. Okay, so sometimes I like that stuff, but it usually those cravings come at 3 o’clock a.m. during a certain time of the month.

But, I digress.

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 stirfry 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.

Ingredients

  • 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

Method

1 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 In the meantime, whisk together the pineapple juice, vinegar, ketchup, salt, and brown sugar.

3 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 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. 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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