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My Sweet and Sour Chicken is the nostalgic kind from my childhood. Its not an authentic Chinese dish, or even like the one from the local Cantonese takeaway. Instead its the homemade version of the kind that came in a jar from the supermarket. Full on tasty nostalgia! Sorry Uncle Ben but we don’t need you anymore!
I think we’ve all eaten a version of Sweet & Sour Chicken at some point. It might be the deep fried battered chunks of chicken served with a gloopy and bright orange sauce (why is there always one solitary lump of pineapple in there?)
Or you might prefer your sweet and sour to be served “Hong Kong Style” which involves smaller pieces of coated and deep fried chicken stirred into the same gloopy and bright orange sauce as before but with added peppers and under cooked onions. (This is my favourite kind from the takeaway).
And then there is the version beloved of the British middle classes back in the day. I’m talking about a jar of Uncle Bens sauce. Just add chicken breast and boil-in-the-bag rice for a super exotic weeknight meal. Along with Chicken Tonight (sorry, I know you’re singing the advert now), these jars opened up a world of exotic home-cooking which I still enjoy.
And whilst jars of ready made sauce still have a time and a place in most of our lives, many of us know that it actually only take a minute more and some basic store cupboard ingredients to replicate these sauces from scratch. This way we avoid the ubiquitous additives and preservatives which are inevitable in many processed foods.
Inspiration and Credit
This recipe stems from the one served to my friends and I by Sandra Page when we were teenagers. Usually with a side of Kia Royale at a impromptu Friday night sleepover. Those were the days. Thanks Sandra!
The Secret to Homemade Sweet & Sour Sauce
There are two real secrets to recreating this kind of dish from scratch.
The first is cornflour. This is the best way to get the required gloop on the sauce. Cornflour is actually a pretty authentic ingredient in Chinese cuisine. It is used a lot both for thickening sauces, coating things that are going to be deep fried and making dumpling skins.
The second is tomato ketchup. Preferably the cheap kind with a good amount of sugar and lack of actual tomato. This provides the colour and adds to the tang, body and sweetness of the sauce. You could substitute a little tomato puree for a more grown up affair.
Please don’t be alarmed that my recipe is not bright orange! Its a little darker due to the soy sauce in the sauce but still tastes both sweet and sour!
I would always serve this with plain white boiled rice. Egg fried rice would be my second choice followed by egg noodles.
The boil in the bag kind would be the most (or least) authentic followed by the microwaveable bags. For a more modern twist, I would use my Sticky Rice recipe. Mostly I use microwave bags of rice for convenience.
I also like to garnish the rice and dish with some finely shredded spring onion and lightly toasted sesame seeds.
Make Sweet & Sour Chicken into a Feast
I truly believe that you can make any dish into a proper feast! Whether thats a feast for one after work on a Tuesday, a casual feast for four on a Friday evening or a feast for 12 for a special occasion!
This Sweet and Sour Chicken works perfectly when served with other Asian Inspired Dishes. You could easily swap it for one of the main course dishes in my Big Asian Feast or even just add it as an extra dish.
Ingredients for Sweet & Sour Chicken
You can use any colour but I would probably avoid just using green. Red will always be my preference, for colour and flavour. You know that all peppers start green and then ripen right? So green peppers are just unripe red/yellow/orange peppers.
I have used breasts in this recipe as that is the classic but it would be lovely to use thigh meat instead. Thigh will take a little longer to cook so I would cut it a little smaller or make sure to cook it a little longer.
A 227g tin of pineapple chunks in juice yields roughly 6 tbsp of pineapple juice. If you prefer to leave out the pineapple itself, just substitute in 6 tbsp of drinking pineapple juice.
Never add dry cornflour directly to a sauce. Always mix it with a little water to form a smooth paste first. This is called a slurry and its how you get a lovely thick sauce instead of a thin one with lots of lumps of cornflour floating in it!
There are a multitude of ways in which you could adapt this recipe.
The first major change would be to swap out the chicken breast. I have already talked about using thigh meat instead but you could equally switch out the chicken for turkey breast, pork loin/shoulder/leg, duck breast or king prawns.
The second major change would be to vary the vegetables. I think it would be churlish to not use bell peppers and onions (unless for taste or allergy reasons) but you could also use mushrooms, bamboo shoots, sugar snap peas/mangetout, beansprouts or carrot.
Changing the sauce ingredients too much will result in it being too sweet or too sour but you can be flexible with the type of sugar and type of vinegar you use. A sweetener substitute would work and almost any vinegar except balsamic would do. I do sometimes use orange juice instead of the pineapple.
Make it Vegetarian or Vegan
Sweet and Sour Tofu anyone? I would make sure to coat my tofu and give it a good fry before adding to the sauce in the last 5 minutes just like with my Teriyaki Tofu. Quorn ‘chicken’ pieces would also work great as would any of the vegan meat substitutes available nowadays like seitan. Adding extra vegetables instead of fake meat would also be a great option.
Also use a vegetable stock concentrate instead of the chicken one and this dish is instantly suitable for veggies or vegans (depending on which protein substitute you make obviously).
Vegans should also ensure that the ketchup being used is suitable for their diet.
Make it Allergy Friendly
This recipe is free from egg, dairy and nuts.
You should however ensure that the stock concentrate and tomato ketchup don’t contain any of the relevant allergens which you are trying to avoid.
Gluten Free: Ensure that the soy sauce being used is suitable for a gluten free diet and this dish is naturally gluten free. (Do make sure to serve with rice or rice noodles rather than egg/wheat noodles!)
Please note that this recipe may contain other allergens not referred to above. For more information regarding any dietary information provided on this website, please refer to my Nutritional Disclaimer.
Equipment Notes for Sweet & Sour Chicken
It has taken me years to find the right wok. It turns out that the best ones are the cheap ones. Carbon steel woks with bamboo handles are what are used all over China. They are thin, conduct the heat fast and easy to maintain.
They don’t have a nonstick coating but treat it right and one will build up nicely as you use it. This dude can tell you how much better than I can!
A comprehensive list of the equipment used to make this recipe is included in the main recipe card below. Click on any item to see an example. There are no hard and fast rules so many items can be sensibly substituted to achieve the same results.
This is a great dish to make ahead of time. You can make the whole thing and freeze it. Leave it in the fridge for a few days or just make it up a few hours before its needed and reheat when you want to eat.
As the cornflour in the sauce can thicken even further during the reheating process, you may wish to add some additional water to obtain the original sauce consistency. Or get ahead of the game and make the sauce thinner before freezing or popping it in the fridge.
Leftover Sweet & Sour Chicken
I almost always make double the quantity I need in order to freeze a few portions for later. It makes a great lunch to take to the office and reheat in the microwave.
Do make sure to read my tips above re adding extra water to the dish if it is to be reheated.
I’m dying to know what your favourite version of Sweet and Sour is – Balls, Hong Kong Style or Uncle Bens? Or did I miss a version? Let me know!
Don’t forget to let me know in the comments if you try making this recipe – I want to know what you think and if you made any substitutions, how did it turn out?
Still Have Questions?
Simple! Just contact me and I will do my best to help as quickly as I am able. Head over to my Contact Me page, any of my social media channels or post a comment at the bottom of this page and I’ll see what I can do.
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Sweet & Sour Chicken
- 200 g Bell Pepper – 1 pepper roughly = 100g
- 180 g White Onions
- 150 g Courgette (Zucchini)
- 2 tbsp Vegetable Oil
- 450 g Chicken Breast
- 200 ml Water
- 2 tbsp Chicken Stock Concentrate
- 4 tbsp Light Brown Sugar
- 3 tbsp White Wine/Cyder/Rice Wine Vinegar
- 3 tbsp Tomato Ketchup
- 1 tbsp Garlic Paste
- 2 tsp Light Soy Sauce
- 227 g Tinned Pineapple in Juice – 1 x small UK tin = 227g
- 3 tbsp Cornflour (Cornstarch)
- Chop 200g Bell Pepper, 180g White Onion and 150g Courgette into roughly 1cm chunks.
- Add to a large based pan with 2 tbsp Vegetable Oil and fry on a medium heat for 10 minutes or so, until the veg has softened a little.
- Meanwhile, chop 450g Chicken Breast into similar sized chunks.
- Add the chicken to the pan and continue cooking for about 10 more minutes until the chicken has cooked though. Keep stirring every now and again.
- Whilst the chicken is cooking, mix 200ml Water, 2 tbsp Chicken Stock Concentrate, 4 tbsp Light Brown Sugar, 3 tbsp White Wine/Cyder/Rice Wine Vinegar, 3 tbsp Tomato Ketchup, 1 tbsp Garlic Paste and 2 tsp Light Soy Sauce in a jug.
- Open 227g Tinned Pineapple in Juice and tip the juice into the jug.
- Chop the pineapple into chunks if they are not already chunks.
- Once the chicken is cooked though, add the sauce and pineapple chunks. Simmer for 5 minutes.
- Mix 3 tbsp Cornflour with a little cold water to make a slurry and add to the sauce.
- Stir over the heat until the sauce is thickened. A little gloopy is the desired texture.
- Serve with plain boiled rice and garnish with spring onion and sesame seeds (optional)