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.

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Sweet and Sour Chicken Recipe

  • Yield: Serves 4.

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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Photo of Sweet and Sour Chicken by Jaden Hair.

69 Comments

  1. Missy

    Wow I just surfed this site an hour ago, and now there’s a new entry! In my country, Singapore, we use pork pieces too – local favourite at coffeeshops. I love sweet and sour pork/chicken dishes, so I will definitely try this recipe. :)

  2. Peter Albertson

    Sounds very good–except I do not at all like the taste of cooked green/red/yellow peppers Except for hot peppers). They seem to overwhelm all other flavors (I like ‘em fine raw.)What about cauliflower florets, or can you suggest another vegetable (perhaps bok choy)?

    • April

      I use a bag of stir fry frozen veggies instead of the peppers. Hubby and I love this dish and I make it often

  3. Liz

    This sounds awesome – except the bell peppers (which I just can’t seem to make myself like)… any suggestions for alternatives? I know I’ve seen carrots in some sweet & sour dishes – would they be okay in this dish?
    Of course! Just slice the carrots very thinly so that they can cook fast in the stirfry. ~jaden

  4. Anne Moore

    This looks like a keeper. I tried the black beans and rice recipe the other day and the Chili Beans recipe using your mom’s suggestion to substitue a jar of salsa. I enjoyed both recipes and very fast and easy and fresh. Thank you. Love this blog and your guests.

  5. Julie

    Thank you for such a great sounding recipe! I am always on the lookout for tasty and easy recipes, and this one looks like it can also be increased to feed a multitude!

  6. EAT!

    I agree that the deep fried, gloppy sauce covered so-called sweet and sour chicken at Chinese take out restaurants is not something I want my family to eat. One time I even saw a strange bright red sauce coating the chicken. I felt my blood sugar level and cholesterol shooting up as I stood there staring at the nuclear looking dish.

  7. Nate

    If you are using a non-stick pan, would you still cook with it on very high heat?

    You can still get the pan hot enough to sizzle a bead of water – just don’t let it get to a smoking point. ~jaden

  8. Zoe

    What a great quick and economical recipe. I have a book on asian cooking but all the recipes look so intimidating, the ingredient lists are so long! But this looks great and I’ll be trying it soon. I’m so exited to be seeing chinese food recipes here. Jaden, can you do fortune cookies next? Or maybe Mu Shu pork, or orange chicken, or Mongolian beef?…mmmm.

  9. Jennifer Jonas

    I am so happy that I have subscribed to Simply Recipes. I have bookshelves of cookery books but this is great as it gives me ideas each day when I am at my computer. I look forward to trying the Sweet and Sour Chicken. Do you have a quick reference for using egg yolks when a recipe calls for egg whites, and vice versa. I find it wonderful that we have comments and ideas from all over the world.

  10. beth

    I made it tonight. I added vidalia onion chunks with the peppers. Delish. Beth

  11. Amy

    I made this tonight and we loved it!! Well, my husband and I loved it. My 1 1/2 year old and 3 1/2 year old ate the chicken and rice, but managed to push the peppers and pineapple chunks aside. I apparently didn’t get my wok hot enough when I cooked the chicken. I did the test with the water and it sizzled and evaporated to a tiny ball, but not completely. My coating got stuck to the pan and it was a mess! But it still tasted wonderful. Thanks!

    Thanks for trying recipe Amy! A hot pan is so critical to frying meats. Watch the bead of water – it should “dance” across the surface of the wok as it’s sizzling. Also, you can hold your hand 6″ above the surface of the pan and when you feel it’s hot and you can’t hold it there any longer, then it’s ready. ~jaden

  12. Tres Amie

    This looks light and amazing! I can’t wait to try it :) Oh, and I would love a reliable recipe for Chinese Almond Cookies (which probably aren’t Chinese at all, but they sure are good!)

    They are indeed Chinese! ~jaden

  13. Frank

    I love your Recipes. I have tried several of them and have always been happy with everything I’ve tried. Now I have a three ring binder that I use to save all of your recipes. I love to cook and find that the recipes on this site are easy to fix and always have a nice flavor. without the same spices used in everyone. Many of the sites I’ve gone to, the recipes are prepared by the same cook and because of this the same spices end up being used over and over. The food ends up all tasting the same after a while when the same spices are repeated. This makes the stroganoff seem to have the same flavor as the spaghetti. :O) I notice that once in a while you go without changing to a new recipe on a daily basis. I would rather have quality over quantity though. Keep up the good work.

  14. John

    This is the perfect recipe for the beginning cook like me. Except for the ginger, all the ingredients were already in my cupboard, and I appreciated that the instructions were easy to follow.

    This is a fantastic dish! It was flavorful and aromatic and looked really pretty on my serving plate. From start to finish it took me maybe 30 minutes to put together.

  15. Scott at Realepicurean

    Hey look, it’s Jaden!

    This sure beats my stir fried vegetables with a few sesame seeds thrown in for good measure :(

  16. Ramona

    Hi John,
    You can always have fresh ginger on hand if you keep a piece in a ziploc bag in the freezer
    Just peel as much as you need and grate straight into your favourite dish. Return remaining ginger to freezer.

    Great idea – I do the same! ~jaden

  17. Mrs Ergül

    Hi Jaden, how many would this feed? I’ve company tonight and I wanna make this :)

    This should feed 4 as part of a multicourse meal. ~jaden

  18. Katie

    I just made this. We liked it a lot. I liked knowing exactly what was in it and didn’t miss the radioactive pink color it often is from take out places. I would have liked more sauce though–I think mine reduced too much as a result of too large chicken chunks.

    You can increase the sauce by 50% if you like more sauce! My kids like spooning the sauce over their rice. ~jaden

  19. Gwen

    I made this tonight and it was excellent! I doubled the recipe so we’d have some leftovers, and it went very well. I also added bok choy. Oh my it was GOOOD! The sauce was perfect and the coating was light and crispy. Very good and one we’ll be making again.

  20. PatriciaW

    I made this over the weekend for the family. Two youngest (3 and 5) weren’t too happy with the peppers and pineapple. I guess it was a bit sophisticated for their cheeseburger-and-fries palates. But Hubby and Oldest Son, who are big Chinese take-out eaters, enjoyed it.

    Easy to prepare although felt like a lot of prep work. I had to add some cornstarch, about a tablespoon or so, mixed first with the liquid from the pan and added back, to thicken the sauce a bit more. For myself, I’d eat it without the extra cornstarch since I’m trying o lose weight and definitely better than a deep-fried version. Overall, taste was very good and I’ll be making it again.

  21. Bruce & Vesta Schindler

    Bruce and I made this and it was fantastic. It was simple to make but has great flavor. We doubled the amount of sauce, put in the whole 20 oz. can of pineapple chunks and added a squirt of Sriracha Sauce for a little fire. To make it stretch for more servings you could just serve it over rice. We plan on making this one of our regulars.

    Thanks guys! ~jaden

  22. Cameron Westland

    I just made this and for some reason even with a SUPER hot wok the chicken stuck to it pretty badly, it ended up without the nice crispy outside, but it was still tasty. I wonder where I went wrong?

    Is your wok seasoned? Was your chicken at room temp? Did you use enough cooking oil?

    Lots of questions to diagnose! ;-) jaden

  23. Jenny

    I made this last night with brown rice and it is simple and Delicious! I would make more of the sweet and sour sauce because it was so yummy.

  24. Ash

    I just made this and it was so yummy! I forgot to buy eggs so I used canola oil. I also forgot that I don’t have a can opener (recently moved overseas), but my Japanese chefs’ knife made quick work of that can! I followed the directions exactly and it turned out just beautifully. I would definitely make this again!

  25. sandra

    Jaden, when using fresh pineapple, what do you use as a replacement for the pineapple juice from the can? Maybe chicken stock?

    You’ll want something sweet/sour, like orange juice ~jaden

  26. magda

    I made it tonight and it really is fantstic. I used some potato starch dissolved in water and poured it into the sauce while cooking to make it a bit thicker. Yummy!

  27. Gail

    I made this the other night and it was excellent! Next time I would double the sauce as it is so delicious. This was even better the next day. I also made your saffron basmati rice with the sweet and sour chicken, that was also very good. Tonight I am going to try your Shrimp and Pork Potstickers. Love your website.

  28. Andy

    I made this chicken the other day, with minor alterations. I used 2 oz. tomato paste instead of the ketchup, and I used rice vinegar instead of white vinegar. I also added some Szechuan peppercorn and some soy sauce to the sauce, and used half of a fresh pineapple instead of canned. It came out fantastic, and I highly encourage people to use this recipe.

  29. Karen

    Made this tonight. Chicken was very tender. This is great one for beginners like me.

  30. cindi

    Yum! Another great dish from jaden! It’s so quick, easy, and delicious. The best part? The dish really does look as beautiful as her picture!

  31. Sarah

    I don’t eat meat except for seafood- would you recommend trying this sauce/cooking method with shrimp? Thanks!

    Absolutely! Would work great with shrimp. ~jaden

  32. Kristy C

    Our dinner plans fell through last minute, so I had to come up with the answer to my most dreaded question…”What’s for dinner?” Thankfully I had just read this recipe and flagged it. I looked it up and had everything but the bell peppers and ginger. So instead I used some frozen vegetable stirfry. This was a hit, and I will definitely make it again. Asian cooking has always intimidated me a bit, so this was a great introduction, and next time I’ll actually plan ahead and get all the ingredients.

  33. Kris

    I finally got around to trying out this recipe, and it was amazing! Thank you for such a great blog; you never disappoint!

  34. Carly

    I seared meat for the first time while trying out this recipe, and I must say – great tips, great results! It’s quick and the chicken stays much more moist than if you simply stirfry it, awesome awesome awesome.

  35. babylee

    I made this for dinner tonight and it was delicious, although I had to add a fair bit extra sugar to balance the vinegar, I think I will use less vinegar next time. Hubby absolutely loved it!

  36. Emily

    Thanks for this, I made it last night and it was amazing. The chicken needed considerably longer cooking time than the recipe stated , (ten minutes at least to simmer), next time I’ll double the sauce recipe so that when it reduces there’s still a good amount. Any chance you could add nutritional info?

  37. Dragana

    I now this is going to be my favorite recipe soon, but please tell me can I use apple vinegar or wine vinegar instead of white one?

    Yes, of course you can! ~jaden

  38. Barika

    I made this recipe last night for my boyfriend and we loved it! The chicken does take longer than the recipe calls for and I used more brown sugar and pineapple juice. The sauce tasted a bit too much like ketchup before adding the extra sugar and juice. I was really impressed. Easy and delicious!

  39. Jim

    Wow! Just made this the first time for my girlfriend last night and we both loved it! I have never made a sweet and sour sauce in my life and I forgot the proportions of each ingredient to boot, but not to worry… we just kept balancing sweet tastes (orange juice, pineapple juice, and brown sugar) to the sour and savory (vinegar, soy and ketchup) and let it simmer for a while on low heat until it reduced by about a quarter…. It was perfect for us on a cold winter night and now she thinks I’m a better cook than I am – could I be happier? I guess if there was any food left!
    Thanks again!
    Jim

  40. Cori

    Is there an alternative to using ketchup?
    you can use more white vinegar + sugar, but taste won’t be the same. ~jaden

  41. Madeline

    I made this the other night and it was delicious! Just like your other recipes Jaden, so simple, yet so good. I doubled the sauce because I like a lot of sauce. I couldn’t believe how tender the chicken was. Great leftovers for lunch too :)

  42. Beth

    LOVED it!!! Used carrots instead of yellow pepper. Didn’t do the cornstarch/water paste…not sure I get the point of it? Seemed good without.

  43. Michelle

    Oh WOW! Wow! Wow! I always order sweet and sour chicken balls whenever we have Chinese food. I was very skeptical of the success of this recipe (despite sourcing it here, should have known – I’ll never doubt again). Homemade sweet and sour and chicken, and healthy to boot? Can’t happen. Well good golly miss molly. This topped any sweet and sour chicken I’ve ever ordered. I have been liberated from Chinese Take-out! Now I can’t wait to try your other recipes Jaden. And please, pretty please, hurry on those green onion cakes!

  44. Sherry

    Ok, this was a GREAT recipe! I am a horrible cook, yet it turned out soooo yummy! My husband absolutely loved it, as did I. I did double the sauce recipe though, and adjusted the ingredients a bit and I also added onions and carrots to the dish. I’ll be back to this site soon to try another recipe! Thanks!

  45. sherry

    Jaden, Do you think I could freeze this recipe? I am looking for a great, easy meal to prepare for a meal swap coming up and I’d love to make this for them but wasn’t sure if it’d work if I froze it? Thanks!
    Yes, you can freeze it. Don’t cook chicken all the way through – so that when you reheat – the chicken will cook perfectly. ~jaden

  46. Gina

    Hello All, This is my second time preparing this dish and I love it! Their was a good reason I went looking for a better recipe, I tried a few dishes from a local place and they were not tasty:( So when all fails go to Google! I did make a few changes due to the items I had in my pantry. I left out the vinager and ginger, and added onions. I feel that it turns out just as well and even better than resturant foods. Thank you so much for posting this recipe!

  47. indian wife

    Hi..thanks for the wonderful resipi..somehow mine became too ketchupy..i sued as per the instruction …1/4 cup ketchup….i used the malay brand ketchup..any mistake?

    Hmm…I haven’t used Malaysian ketchup before…I know the recipe works, it’s been tested several times. ~jaden

  48. John

    Jaden,
    I first came across your egg roll recipe (‘http://steamykitchen.com/blog/2007/04/05/my-mothers-famous-chinese-egg-rolls’), and I am excited to try it. I would consider my self and pretty good cook, but have difficulties cooking Asian dishes. The egg roll dish look to be the most authentic recipe I have came across, and you make it look easy. Here in western NY, it is hard to find good traditional Asian cuisine.

    I get a craving for sweet and sour chicken every now and then. I am unfortunately on a student budget. I find 3 dollars a bottle for sweet and sour sauce is a bit excessive at our local food giant (Wegman’s). Your recipes give me some inspiration to try cooking traditional Chinese dishes again.

    Thanks for the recipe, will write back to let ya know how it turned out.

    John

    Great John! Can’t wait to hear back from you… ~jaden

  49. John

    Here is how the sauce turned out:
    what I used: 1 20oz can of pineapple chunks. Juice drained and used for base. Reduced recommended vinegar and used white. Substituted ketchup for tomato paste. Substituted kosher salt for crushed sea salt. Used pre ground ginger (store bought). Used recommended brown sugar. Add corn starch to build thickness in sauce> It gave it a thick consistency like the take out place or jar stuff.

    Results: I really love your recipe. The sauce turned out really good. Better than anticipated, based on previous attempts. It will become one of permanent recipes. Thanks for your blog. Others should try her recipe, it is delicious.

    Thanks
    John

    Thanks John! ~jaden

  50. Merry

    Jaden, I’ve just tried the recipe and it’s beautiful! Not too mention that I don’t feel guilty eating them!

    I used crushed garlic instead of grated ginger (because I didn’t have any ginger), and it’s still turned out yummy. I also added onions. Yumm!!

  51. Destanee Smith

    This is a very good recipe. I personally love it. My mom’s boyfriend makes it. My whole family loves it also.

  52. MissAmyQ

    I’m in college at UC Davis, and I make this for my housemates. They LOVE it and of course, I can’t get enough of it either. Thank you for sharing this amazing recipe. Its very easy to prepare and makes the kitchen smells amazing. And great as leftovers. :) Its really important to get the pan really hot for the chicken to get that crust, it adds a nice texture to the dish.

  53. caroline morris

    I made this for my very picky eater father and he loved it! It is great- made it twice already.

  54. Alberta

    I followed this recipe exactly as written… absolutely delicious. You get the same flavors of Sweet-n-Sour chicken from the Chinese restaurant without all of the fat. This dish is very light, healthy and tasty. Thanks Jaden!

  55. Davion Leslie

    A great recipe! I have used it so often, I am now an expert at modifying it – yet adding a bit of lemon juice to the sauce! Great with shrimp as well!

  56. cindy

    I tried this for the first time tonight; it was delicious and easy and I’ll recommend it to anyone! My husband enjoyed it, which is always a complement, since he’s Chinese!
    I improvised based on what I had on hand: using crushed pineapple instead of chunks (adding them straight into the sauce), and throwing in some frozen peas at the end, plus some carrots. I also added a little spice to the sauce with crushed pepper.

  57. Amy B

    This was delicious– thank you! I didn’t have any pineapple, but I cut up apple and shredded carrots and soaked them in pineapple juice and they worked as a nice sub, along with the green bell pepper.

  58. BabyMama410

    Wow! SO light and delicious. I made it for dinner on Monday and got 3 days worth of lunches from the leftovers. The pineapple chunks are soooo good…the sauce is very light. I’ve been eating mine with frozen Jasmine rice from Trader Joe’s (2 1/2 minutes in the microwave and it’s done to perfection) for a VERY tasty meal!

  59. Becky

    I made this dish just as specified and it was amazing. Much better then Chinese take out or store bought sauce. Also nice to eat food that’s MSG and high fructose corn syrup free.

  60. QL7

    I learned how to make s/s chicken in a chinese cooking class years ago using the batter dipped deep fried method. This is the same sauce recipe and it is really good! Also, may I suggest adding some chunked onions and par-boiled carrots along with the peppers? You’ll love it!

  61. Miss Fig

    Excellent! Really enjoyed the sauce too. I used pineapple slices in juice, next time will use the chunks in heavy syrup. My chicken stuck to the bottom of a very hot all clad pan with a generous glug of oil. The cornstarch was left behind, luckily it came up when the sauce was added. I used 1/2 rice wine vinegar and 1/2 cider vinegar and only 2.5 TB of ketchup. Will definitely make again.

  62. Alix

    This recipe is our new family favorite. Its just my husband and I so we double this dish and have plenty of yummy leftovers for the rest of the week. You’ve captured the deliciousness of sweet and sour take out but in a healthy homemade way. I’m newly married and very new to cooking and this recipe pushed me enough out of my comfort zone (in the way you cook the chicken) that I’ve felt more comfortable to try other recipes. The sauce is TO DIE FOR! My picky husband asks me to make the sauce for many rice based foods. Thank you thank you thank you!!

  63. Colleen

    Absolutely delish! I loved this recipe. I did add some onion just b/c I like it and used some chopped scallion as a garnish…trying to be fancy :) Ha ha!!! This was so good, though. Easy to make and everyone in the family enjoyed it. Thank you for posting this recipe. Will definitely making again.

  64. rose

    Love this. The sauce had great flavor but was lighter and not as “glue like” as most restaurant s/s sauces. I added onions to the mix and might add garlic next time.
    Thanks again Jaden and Elise – another hit!

  65. Fadi baakdah

    It was just Perfect!
    The right recipe at the right time!
    Simple, easy, tasty & healthy!
    Thank You Jaden!
    Have a good one!

  66. Jessica

    This was to die for! My Hubby loves Chinese food, but I hate going out to get it as its always covered in grease, deep fried, and more often than not, cooked with MSG. Even if he feels like crap after, he says it’s worth it. Homemade, good tasting Chinese… good thinking!

  67. Cindy

    Thank you! After Christmas ham and turkey and leftovers for a couple days we needed something different. This is the absolute best recipe for Sweet & Sour anything I’ve ever eaten. I used shrimp as well as chicken – perfect!

  68. lyn

    I tried this recipe once, and I have served this same recipe many times over, shared it with everyone I know and will again be making this for dinner this week. Thanks for sharing…

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