Sweet and Sour Chicken
on Sep 06, 2019, Updated Jan 09, 2024
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This pretty, sweet, and gentle old-school Chinese-American favorite comes together in 20 minutes. So easy and delicious, it rivals any restaurant's sweet and sour chicken.
I am such a flat-out sucker for an old-school Chinese food recipe. I grew up in a time when there were still Pu-Pu Platters to be found at Chinese-American restaurants as a common occurrence. What happened to Pu-Pu platters? Was the name just too silly? Did the food just stop appealing or become linked with something old-fashioned and often mediocre? I would kill for someone to put down a big round plate of shellacked ribs, crab rangoon dumplings, and fried chicken wings in front of me. I may have to go on a little Pu-Pu platter vision quest.
So when I saw Sweet and Sour Chicken on a menu recently, I knew I had to decode a simple home version of this recipe. Because the chicken is stir-fried and not deep-fried, this recipe uses much less oil than some other recipes. Besides being on the healthy side, it comes together super fast…just 20 minutes, and you’re done!
If you want to match up some sides with Sweet and Sour Chicken, I suggest Stir-Fried Broccoli, Stir-Fried Vegetables, Vegetable Fried Rice, or Kimchi Fried Rice. And, of course, you can never go wrong serving this over a bit pile of hot and fluffy brown or white rice.
Table of Contents
Sweet and Sour Chicken: This pretty, sweet and gentle old-school Chinese-American favorite comes together in 20 minutes.Tweet This
Sweet and Sour Chicken Ingredients
As with other Chinese restaurant takeout favorites, many people wonder what sweet and sour chicken is actually made of. The main ingredients are chicken, pineapple, and bell peppers. The sauce is a combination of brown sugar, ketchup, vinegar, and ginger. Often, the chicken is deep fried, but here it is pan-fried, first coated in an egg white and cornstarch mixture so that it gets crispy in the hot pan.
- Chicken breasts – I prefer this dish with white meat chicken.
- Egg whites – Mixed with the cornstarch, this helps thicken the sauce.
- Cornstarch – Helps the sauce become glazey and thick.
- Pineapple – If you want to use fresh, awesome. If you choose canned, pick pineapple chunks canned in juice and not syrup, which would be too sweet and not nearly as healthy.
- Cider vinegar – Here is the sourness!
- Chicken broth – Preferably less sodium broth so you can control the salt.
- Ketchup – Adds sweet tanginess.
- Brown sugar – Adds the sweetness.
- Oil – Vegetable or canola oil or another neutral oil is preferred.
- Bell peppers – You can use any color bell peppers that you like, and mixing more than one hue makes this dish really pretty.
- Ginger – Adds a bit of warmth and spice.
How to Make Chinese Sweet and Sour Chicken
- Prep chicken: Toss the cubed chicken with the egg whites, cornstarch, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
- Make the sauce: In a medium bowl, whisk together the pineapple juice, vinegar, chicken broth, ketchup, and brown sugar. Set aside.
- Stir-fry the chicken: Quickly stir-fry the chicken in a large skillet or wok over high heat. I actually find a skillet as least as useful as a wok for stir-frying as there is more surface area for the outside of the food to be in contact with the pan. Remove with a slotted spoon. This is 3 minutes from start to finish.
- Sauté the veggies and pineapple: In the same skillet, sauté the peppers with some ginger for 2 minutes. Add the pineapple and the sauce.
- Stir-fry everything: Return the chicken to the pan, give it another few minutes to finish cooking, and you are done. Serve hot.
Sweet and Sour Chicken Cooking Tips
- You will want to put rice on the stove at least 10 minutes before you start the stir-fry, or your Sweet and Sour Chicken will be cooling before the rice is finished. It takes about 10 minutes from the point the chicken first hits the skillet.
- I like white rice with this — fully leaning into the old-schoolness of the dish. I am now officially an old lady, “Why, when I was a child, they never offered brown rice at a Chinese restaurant! That was unheard of!”
- I realized that I didn’t even use garlic in this dish — it’s just simple and sweet and very gentle. Add a teaspoon of garlic if you must.
General Tso’s chicken is usually spicier than sweet and sour chicken. Both are usually fried, though they can be sautéed, as in this sweet and sour chicken recipe. Sometimes, the sweet and sour sauce is served on the side of the chicken, especially when the chicken is fried.
While it does vary, in this recipe, the sauce is made from pineapple juice, vinegar, chicken broth, ketchup, and brown sugar. Sweet and sour sauce can be a very neon pinkish-orange color, but not when you make it at home!
Yes, the combination of sweetness and sourness is popular in China, especially in Cantonese cooking. The version many of us have had in restaurants in the U.S. or Europe is definitely Westernized, but the flavor combo is also common in China.
What to Serve With Sweet and Sour Chicken
More Stir-Fry Recipes
Some are older school than others.
- Shrimp and Broccoli Stir-Fry with Udon Noodles
- Chicken, Broccoli, and Sugar Snap Pea Stir-Fry
- Lemon and Scallion Chicken Stir-Fry
- Chicken and Cabbage Stir-Fry with Miso Sauce
- Spicy Stir-Fried Beef and Vegetables
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Sweet and Sour Chicken
- 2 large egg whites
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts (cut into 1-inch pieces)
- 1 (8-ounce can) pineapple chunks in juice (drained and juice reserved; or use 1 cup fresh pineapple cubes)
- ¼ cup cider vinegar
- ¼ cup low-sodium chicken broth
- 2 tablespoons ketchup
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil (divided)
- 1 red bell pepper (cut into 1-inch pieces)
- 1 green bell pepper (cut into 1-inch pieces)
- 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
- Kosher salt to taste
- In a large bowl, combine the egg whites, cornstarch, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Add the chicken and toss to coat well.
- Whisk together the reserved pineapple juice, vinegar, chicken broth, ketchup, and brown sugar.
- Heat a very large skillet or a wok over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil, turn to coat the bottom of the pan, then add the chicken, allowing any excess egg white to drip back into the bowl. Stir-fry for 3 minutes so that the chicken pieces brown slightly on all sides. Remove the chicken with a slotted spoon to a plate and set aside.
- Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the pan, then the bell peppers and the ginger, and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Add the sauce and the pineapple chunks. Bring the sauce to a simmer, lightly season with salt to taste, then return the chicken to the pot with any juices that have accumulated and allow it to simmer for another few minutes until the chicken is cooked through. Serve hot.
- Because the chicken is stir-fried and not deep-fried, this recipe uses much less oil than some other recipes.
- Choose pineapple chunks canned in juice and not syrup.