This Sweet and Sour Chicken recipe will become your next family favorite. It will give you a flavor explosion in every bite. Chicken strips that are crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside are tossed in a 4-ingredient sweet and sour sauce. You won’t believe it can be made in under 30 minutes and is also healthier than the traditional takeout version.

Certainly, sweet and sour chicken is a fan favorite.

There is so much flavor and texture all packed into one dish. Sweet and sour is what we always call “the most appetizing” flavor combination in Chinese cuisine.

But, most people think that it’s too complicated to make at home. Contrarily, I am here to tell you that it’s super simple and easy to prepare.

Instead of deep frying, I double-sear the chicken to get the outside crispy and keep the inside juicy and moist.

What is the difference between sweet and sour chicken and Hong Kong style?

The sweet and sour dish most of us are familiar with originates from a Shanghainese recipe that utilizes black vinegar. However, over time, the modernization of the dish created a variety of versions.

One of these versions added ketchup to the dish, which changed the color of the sauce entirely.

This became a part of what we now understand to be the Hong Kong style. This sweet and sour sauce recipe grew to be more popular in Westernized versions.

Additionally, Hong Kong-style differs in the way the chicken is prepared.

As opposed to the original thick batter chicken balls, the chicken in Hong Kong style is typically deep fried in a thin layer of batter before cooking.

Most Chinese food in the western world are mostly made in Chinese immigrants from Guang Dong and Hong Kong area. So that’s why most of the “Chinese food” we get here are originated from this part of Asia.

Yes, I know right? Who would have thought there is a lot of history behind a simple dish like this?

Is sweet and sour chicken the same as orange chicken?

Orange chicken and sweet and sour chicken may look similar, but they are different!

Similarly, they are both made using chicken breast or thighs and are typically battered or deep-fried.

However, the main differences are in the sauces’ ingredients.

Typical Orange chicken sauce ingredients

Orange juice

Sugar

Vinegar

Soy sauce

Spices: ginger, garlic, red chili flakes, and extra orange zest for flavor

Typical Sweet and sour sauce Ingredients

Ketchup

Lemon juice

Sugar

Pineapple

Soy sauce

Apple cider vinegar

Salt and garlic

Ginger

The sweet and sour sauce is more balanced with the sugary ingredients cutting the acidity of the vinegar.

Orange chicken, on the other hand, is more citrusy.

Ingredients in Sweet and Sour Chicken

This recipe is fairly simple and full of yummy ingredients:

Chicken Marinade

Chicken thighs or chicken breast: Because of the starch breading in this recipe, both chicken breast and chicken thighs will come out juicy and moist on the inside. So take your pick!

Liao jiu/Shao xing wine (cooking wine): This is an optional ingredient if you have it handy. It is a prevalent ingredient in China used to marinate meat to reduce “fishiness” and elevate their freshness.

Salt

Cornstarch or arrowroot starch: This recipe has been updated since my original recipe with eggs in the batter. You can simply bread the chicken strips in starch. This will save you a lot of time in the prep work.

Sweet and sour sauce

Ketchup: I love primal kitchen no sugar added ketchup.

Rice vinegar: The true co-star of the sauce. The original recipe is called “Sugar and Vinegar Chicken” in Chinese.

Cane sugar: The sweet half of the co-star for the sauce.

Cornstarch or arrowroot starch

How to Make Sweet and Sour Chicken

Firstly, cut the chicken into small pieces.

Then, in a bowl marinate with Shaoxing wine or cooking wine, and salt for 10 – 15 minutes.

Now the chicken is coated, let’s give it a nice crispy sear.

While the chicken is cooking, let’s whip up the simple sweet and sour sauce.

Time to combine it all together.

Garnish with sesame seeds and you’re done!

Enjoy!

Additional Ingredients To Spice It Up

You can also add some vegetables in this stir fry to make it more complete one pan recipe. Here are a few veggies that I love mixing in:

Red bell pepper

Green pepper

Yellow onion

Pineapple

If you choose to use these optional vegetable ingredients, you can cook them after pan frying the chicken. While the chicken are resting on a piece of paper towel, you can add in the vegetables in the pot and cook until tender.

Once they are cooked, add the chicken back in then mix in the sweet and sour sauce.

Tips for making sweet and sour chicken

I’ve experimented with this recipe and found the following tips make for the best-tasting dish:

  • Make sure to add veggies – they add texture, freshness, and balance the sweet and sour flavors
  • Use ripe pineapple – I LOVE their sweet contrast to the vinegar
  • You want your chicken crispy – that way it doesn’t absorb all the sauce
  • Add brown sugar instead of white for a deeper flavor
  • Steam some veggies on the side for a balanced meal

What goes with Sweet and Sour chicken?

Sweet and sour chicken is a great entrée to your sides.

Traditionally, it tastes amazing with some rice and veggies, but feel free to customize to your liking.

If you’re looking for a light, grain-free option, I recommend my Cauliflower Rice.

It also think it would go well with my Chinese Tomato Egg Stir Fry or my Air Fryer Crab Rangoon.

How to store sweet and sour chicken

This dish stores well in an airtight container in the fridge for 2 days.

However, sweet and sour chicken does not reheat as well. It’s best served straight off the pan. That’s when it’s most delicious!

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Get the recipe:Sweet and Sour Chicken {6 Ingredients}

An authentic and delicious sweet and sour chicken made easy and light. The chicken is breaded in a thin layer of starch and lightly pan fried to golden crispy. Definitely better than any takeout you would get!
4.67 stars (3 reviews)

Ingredients

  • 1.2 – 1.5 lb chicken, cut into cubes
  • 1.5 tsp salt, or to taste
  • 2 tbsp Shaoxing Wine, optional
  • 1 cup starch

Sweet and Sour Sauce

  • 1/3 cup ketchup
  • 3 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup cane sugar, or brown/coconut sugar
  • 1 tsp cornstarch or arrowroot starch

Instructions 

  • Cut the chicken into cubes.
  • In a big bowl, season with salt and shaoxing wine (if using any). Let it marinate for at least 20 minutes.
  • In a big ziploc bag, add in the starch. Then remove the chicken from the marinade (disgard any remaining liquid). Add the chicken into the ziploc bag and shake them to combine until the chicken cubes are fully coated in the starch.
  • Heat a layer of oil in a non-stick wok. Once shimmering, add the coated chicken cubes to pan, fry over medium heat (one layer at a time, don't overcrowd them)
  • Fry them for about 4 – 5 minutes each side or until golden crispy on the outside and internal temperature has reached 165F. Cooking time may vary depending on the size of the chicken.
  • Remove the cooked crispy chicken from the pot and place onto a plate with a piece of paper towel.
  • Repeat these steps until all the chicken cubes are "fried".

Add the Sweet and Sour Sauce

  • Add all the cooked chicken pieces back in the pot.
  • Mix together all the ingreidents for sweet and sour sauce, then pour in the pot with the chicken.
  • Toss togther until well combined. The sauce will thicken as you continue to stir.
  • Garnish with sesame seeds and green onion. Enjoy!

Notes

*This is an optional ingredient if it is available to you. You can use Mirin if the Shaoxing wine is unavailable to you. I’ve also tried a dark liquor like whisky for marinating and it works well.
** In the most recent update 05/10/2024, I have simplified this recipe by removing the egg altogether. And you will still get a crispy golden layer on the outside of the chicken. I did leave the egg in as an optional ingredient (if you have made it with egg and prefer it that way).
***You may need to add more oil if double frying, otherwise, the chicken could be a bit tough on the outside. Allow the oil to heat back up to temperature before adding another batch.
Serving: 1g, Calories: 482kcal, Carbohydrates: 25g, Protein: 30g, Fat: 17g, Saturated Fat: 5g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 12g, Cholesterol: 176mg, Sodium: 386mg, Fiber: 1g, Sugar: 14g

The Nutrition Facts above are specific to the ingredients I chose to use for this recipe, which may vary.