Chris Cooks

Sweet and Sour Chicken – Your Chinese Restaurant’s Favorite American Dish

May 1, 2013  —  Written by Chris 

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Sweet and sour chicken – a dish about as Asian as I am, but available at nearly every Chinese restaurant in America. I often wonder how certain dishes become labeled as part of a cuisine. Another example is pizza. Nobody really knows if it originated in Italy, but it’s branded Italian, so let it be written.

Honestly, I don’t really care about the origin of a food – I just want it to taste good. And in some ways, it’s better if a dish has a hazy background, because then you can make your own version and nobody can say “boo” for it not being authentic. That’s how I am with my sweet and sour chicken. Does it taste like the stuff you get from a Chinese restaurant? No. But it’s sweet, a little sour, and really quite good. Therefore, I’m gonna call it sweet and sour chicken, and not feel bad about it. Check it.

Just so everyone is aware, we don’t buy plain white rice. We either buy brown rice, Jasmine rice, or Basmati for sushi. Jasmine rice has so much more flavor than plain white rice, and it’s incredible when you add a dash of ground cardamom to the water before closing your rice cooker. There’s a little tip for you. Ditch the white rice.

The chicken part of sweet and sour chicken is fairly subjective. It’s usually battered in tempura and deep fried, but I do mine a bit differently. I shallow pan fry in a mix of light olive oil and coconut oil, and I dredge it in a mix of corn starch and all purpose flour. Of course the AP flour we use is a gluten free mix made of potato flour and coconut flour, but it’s just as good with regular white flour. I wouldn’t use whole wheat.

Quick run down on how to make the chicken. In a gallon-size ziplock bag, add 1/4 cup cornstarch, and 1 cup gluten free flour. If you’re using regular flour, you’ll probably want to do 2 Tbsp cornstarch instead of 1/4 cup. Add maybe 1 tbsp salt, 1 tbsp garlic powder, and a few grinds of black pepper. Close bag, toss around to mix it up, then add your chicken cut into 1-inch cube-ish pieces (about 1/2 chicken breast for each person you’re serving, depending on age). Toss to coat, and let it sit in the bag until you’re ready to fry. Add 1/4 cup light olive oil and 1/4 cup coconut oil (or just use 1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil – doesn’t matter) to a pan on medium/medium-low heat. Once the oil is heated up, add your chicken pieces to the pan, keeping them spread out. If you put too many in the pan, then they end up just steaming instead of frying and they won’t get crispy. It’ll be a mess. Behold:

Cook in small batches, take your time. Or you can opt to deep fry. Whatever you wanna do, Lou.

Add more oil as needed. Also, you’ll make the chicken last so it’s nice and hot when you serve. Just fyi.

The sauce is what makes this dish sweet and sour. The great thing is, you can make the sauce ahead of time and just have it on hand. It has more than 5 ingredients, but don’t let that fool you. It’s really quite simple.

2 cups chicken stock (or broth)
1 cup soy sauce (gluten free for us)
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup sherry vinegar
1/2 cup corn syrup
2 tbsp Sriracha (Asian hot sauce with the rooster on the bottle)
2 tbsp ketchup
1 large garlic clove
1 tsp grated fresh ginger (you could chop up pickled ginger as well, if that’s all you have)

1/4 cup cool water
2 tbsp cornstarch

Mix everything together in your sauce pan on medium low heat, except the water and cornstarch. Mix those together in a separate cup. When the sauce starts to simmer, add your slurry (that’s what you call a mixture of water and cornstarch – it’s a thickener that only works after a liquid has started to boil) and whisk it in thoroughly. Let the sauce bubble, stirring frequently to prevent clumping. Taste it. If it’s too sour, add water and sugar. If it’s too sweet, add water and a little more vinegar. If you want more spice, add some Sriracha etc etc.. You get the point.

Plate with rice, chicken, and add the sauce. I don’t like my chicken drenched in sauce, so I just spoon it on top and let it seep into the rice a little. But you could coat it completely by putting the chicken in a bowl, adding some sauce and tossing it around. Add some chopped green onion and cilantro leaves, and you’re good to go. Like so:

I hope you get the chance to try this one out. Sweet and sour chicken is such a crowd-pleaser, and this version is no exception. If you get a chance to try it, be sure to drop back by and tell us how it went. Or if you have any questions, let me know – I’m more than happy to help!

What do you think?

  1. I am loving this blog!! As a coeliac it’s really nice to see a proper foodie blog that caters for gluten freebies. Thanks Chris!

    • Thanks Kiara! I don’t officially call myself a “gluten-free” cook, but it just works out that way most of the time. But like my wife often says, “gluten-free is the easiest food restriction to live with.” And I agree! There are so many gluten-free options in markets now. I’m glad you’re enjoying the recipes and feel free to share some of your own. :)

  2. goosefairy says:

    I’m pinning this one. I’m not the cook in my family, my husband is, but this looks like something I’d like to try!

  3. Oh my goodness! That looks absolutely amazing! Yum!

  4. Rydog says:

    Looks amazing! I want to try that this week, I will post a pic to show you how it turns out.

  5. That looks and sounds amazing!! Can’t wait to try it :)

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