How To Make Quick & Easy Sweet and Sour Chicken

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(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

If you’re anything like me, you’re unable to resist the siren call of sweet and sour chicken from a Chinese steam table restaurant at the mall or airport. With sweet-tart sauce covering crispy chicken and chunks of pineapple, what’s not to love?

While the deep-fried version is undeniably delicious, you can produce a lighter, easier version of this classic takeout favorite in your own kitchen, and you can pull it off in just about half an hour from start to finish. Here’s how to do it.

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(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

What Makes This the Best Sweet and Sour Chicken?

  1. The chicken is juicy. Boneless, skinless chicken thighs cook up nice and juicy and are hard to overcook, so they’re our cut of choice.
  2. It cooks up brown and crispy. Tossing the chicken in cornstarch first creates a gluten-free coating that fries up brown and a little crispy.
  3. It makes use of smart shortcuts. Canned pineapple is used here so that you don’t have to bother cutting down a fresh pineapple. Choose pineapple chunks in 100% pineapple juice so that it isn’t overly sweet, and use some of the juice to make the sweet and sour sauce.
  4. It’s adaptable. While red and green bell peppers make this stir-fry colorful, use your favorite varieties (I like red and yellow).

An Easier, Healthier Sweet and Sour Chicken

Instead of battering and deep-frying, you’ll pan-fry the cornstarch-coated chicken until browned on the outside. It won’t be as crispy as deep-fried chicken, but this method uses a lot less oil, there’s less scary spattering, and the chicken still cooks up flavorful and juicy. It’s important to use a nonstick pan so that the chicken browns evenly and doesn’t stick. And, as always, have everything chopped and ready to go before you even turn on the stove, as this stir-fry comes together quickly.

Make sure to have plenty of steamed rice on hand to soak up all the tasty sweet and sour sauce, although you can certainly toss it with cooked noodles instead!

237 Ratings

How to Make Sweet and Sour Chicken

Serves4

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 20 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 (8-ounce) can

    pineapple chunks in 100% pineapple juice

  • 1/4 cup

    ketchup

  • 2 tablespoons

    apple cider vinegar

  • 1 tablespoon

    packed light brown sugar

  • 1 tablespoon

    tamari or soy sauce

  • 3 tablespoons

    canola oil, divided

  • 1/2

    medium yellow onion, cut into 1-inch pieces

  • 2

    medium bell peppers, cut into 1-inch pieces

  • 1 pound

    boneless and skinless chicken thighs or breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces

  • 3 tablespoons

    cornstarch

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    kosher salt, divided

  • 2 cloves

    garlic, minced

  • 2 teaspoons

    peeled and minced ginger

  • Steamed rice, for serving (optional)

Equipment

  • Measuring cups and spoons

  • Knife

  • Cutting board

  • Large nonstick frying pan

  • Spatula

  • Plate

  • Mixing bowls

  • Whisk

Instructions

  1. Drain the pineapple. Pour off 1/4 cup of the juice from the can of pineapple and place in a small bowl. Drain the remaining pineapple, discard (or drink!) the remaining juice, and set the chunks aside.

  2. Make the sweet and sour sauce. Add the ketchup, vinegar, brown sugar, and tamari or soy sauce to the pineapple juice and whisk to combine.

  3. Stir-fry the vegetables. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onion and stir-fry for 1 minute. Add the bell peppers, season with 1/4 teaspoon of the salt, and stir-fry until charred in spots, 3 to 4 minutes. While the vegetables are cooking, coat the chicken.

  4. Coat the chicken in cornstarch. Place the chicken in a medium bowl and season with the remaining 1 teaspoon salt. Sprinkle the cornstarch over the chicken and toss until evenly coated.

  5. Stir-fry the ginger and garlic. Add the garlic and ginger to the vegetables and stir-fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a plate.

  6. Sear the chicken. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in the pan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the chicken and spread into an even layer. Cook undisturbed until browned on the bottom, 3 to 4 minutes. Flip and cook undisturbed until the chicken is browned on the second side and cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes more.

  7. Simmer with the sauce. Return the vegetables to the pan and add the pineapple chunks. Pour the sauce into the pan.

  8. Stir-fry until sauce thickens. Stir-fry until it thickens, is glossy, and coats the chicken and vegetables, 1 to 2 minutes. Serve over rice if desired.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

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