Looking for an easy recipe for classic Sweet and Sour Chicken with tons of flavor, made in just 30 minutes with a handful of pantry staple ingredients? You got it.
You’ll love this new take on sweet and sour chicken. You know how most restaurants deep-fry their chicken in a thick batter? Turns out you can still get tons of flavor without the heavy oil-laden breading.
The chicken is lightly coated in corn starch which is probably my favorite trick for making takeout dishes at home. Just a very thin coating delivers a crispy exterior when sautéed in a tablespoon or two of oil. Plus, you can whip up the whole recipe in just 30 minutes!
How to Make Sweet and Sour Chicken
Boneless skinless chicken breasts – Any chicken brand you prefer is fine.
Corn starch – This ingredient is integral both to the coating of the chicken and for making a slurry for the sauce.
Oil – I use vegetable oil but you can use whatever you have on hand.
Red and green bell peppers – Find them in the produce aisle – pick out good ones or buy them pre-chopped.
White or yellow onion – Either kind of onion works great in this sweet and sour chicken recipe.
Sugar – White sugar is key to a good sweet and sour chicken sauce.
Apple cider vinegar – A surprisingly integral part to the sweet and sour chicken sauce too. Use regular white vinegar if you don’t have apple cider.
Soy sauce – For that salty depth of flavor, any soy brand you like is fine. I tend to use low-sodium soy sauce which has plenty of salt for my taste.
Garlic powder and onion salt – any well-known brand of these spices is perfect in this sauce recipe.
Ketchup – Another ingredient you may never have suspected. Don’t skip the ketchup, you need it in this sweet and sour sauce recipe.
Water – Be sure to use cold water to dissolve your corn starch.
Step by Step Directions
Prepare the Sauce
- First prepare the sauce by combining sugar, vinegar, soy sauce, garlic powder, onion salt, and ketchup into a medium saucepan.
- Stir the ingredients together in a medium sauce pan over medium-high heat and bring it all to a boil.
- Next, in a small bowl whisk together 1 tablespoon of corn starch and cold water until dissolved.
- Add the corn starch slurry you just created to the saucepan and stir until the sauce thickens, then remove from heat.
Prepare the Chicken and Vegetables
- Now, add the chicken pieces and corn starch to a large Ziplock bag.
- Seal the bag and then shake the chicken all around to coat it.
- Drizzle a large pan or skillet with oil and pour in the coated chicken from the bag. Sauté the chicken pieces over medium heat for about 5 minutes til golden on the outside.
- Add the peppers and the onions to the pan. Continue to sauté the chicken and veggies all together over medium heat until the chicken is browned and cooked through.
- Finally, add the sauce to the chicken and peppers, stirring to coat it all well. Serve the sweet and sour chicken warm over cooked rice if desired.
Why This Recipe Works
So quick – Make the sauce, coat the chicken, put it together with chopped vegetables, that’s it! Done in 30 minutes or less. Delish!
Better than takeout – Make this once and I think you’ll agree this sweet and sour recipe is better than the takeout version that’s cooked in tons of oil. You can get your takeout fix and not feel as guilty about it.
Great leftovers – That is a big “if” you have any leftovers! There aren’t in my house. But I know this would heat up great the next day and the day after that! This Chinese sweet and sour recipe would be a great as a meal prep for the week for those busy days you need to eat your lunch at your desk too.
So versatile – I like to serve this sweet and sour chicken over white or brown rice, but it would also be good over wide egg noodles, ramen, or soba. Add a bag of your favorite steamed veggies on the side and top with extra sauce if you have it. (I always go for broccoli myself.)
- Add a veggie. This Chinese dish is a great one to serve in one bowl. Might as well round it out by adding some veggies to the mix. In addition to the peppers and onions, my favorites to add include broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, sugar snap peas or snow peas, water chestnuts, and shaved Brussels sprouts.
- Make it spicy by adding red pepper flakes to the sauce (a teaspoon or two will do). Or top the dish with Sriracha or another of your favorite hot sauces.
- Sub chicken thighs. I know lots of people that prefer the dark meat of chicken to the white meat for its depth of flavor. If you count yourself among those people, then by all means, cut chicken thighs into bite-size pieces, and follow the recipe as directed.
- For a lower-sugar option, cut the white sugar back to half a cup and the ketchup to just a couple tablespoons. Or, sub Agave or another sugar substitute. (Note: the sauce may not thicken as much with these substitutions, but it will still be tasty!)
What is Chinese Sweet and Sour Chicken Made Of?
This dish is generally made of deep-fried chicken that’s been battered in corn flour, then coated in a sweet and sour sauce that’s made from a combination of ketchup, plum sauce, sugar, lemon juice, chili sauce, and salt.
My version is a bit healthier but still just as tasty!
Are Sweet and Sour and Orange Chicken the Same?
Sweet and sour chicken is not the same as orange chicken, although both are Chinese recipes that are delicious! Here are more details on the differences:
Sweet and sour chicken is more balanced in flavor (hence the sweet AND sour tastes). But orange chicken is sweet and tangy (not sour), with a bit of spice and, of course, orange flavoring that comes from the use of both orange juice and oftentimes orange zest as well.
Both of these recipes though do start with bite-size chicken pieces that are breaded and fried and then coated in their specific sauces. Both can be served over grains or noodles and with or without vegetables.
Is Ketchup Used in Chinese Cooking?
Although ketchup might seem like a strange ingredient to include in my sweet and sour chicken sauce recipe, it turns out that the Chinese actually invented ketchup so it’s not that strange at all!
Although to be fair, the ketchup version that originated in China was really more closely related to fish sauce. Then, you know, European traders got their hands on it and toyed and tweaked with it until we reached the version we have today.
Not sure on how it got back to China as the tomatoey version of ketchup that was since created. But the good news is fish sauce and ketchup are both now firmly ensconced in Chinese and other Asian recipes.
- If you don’t have onion salt, use garlic salt instead of garlic powder, and use onion powder instead of garlic salt.
- Feeling saucy? If you looooove lots of sauce like I do, double the sauce recipe. It helps to have extra sauce too if you want to make sure you have enough to spoon over rice, noodles, or the addition of veggies.
- Don’t over-crowd the pan. Be sure to use a large skillet, or if needed, work in batches to brown your chicken so the chicken pieces don’t get stuck together.
Other Recipes You’ll Love
Love this better-than-takeout Healthy Sweet and Sour Chicken? Try The Best Fried Rice, Honey Sriracha Chicken, Sticky Chinese Lemon Chicken, and Kung Pao Noodles.