Make homemade sweet and sour chicken in 30 minutes or less. No need for Chinese takeout menus anymore! Also included in this post are tips and tricks to make sure your sauce is consistently thick and saucy every time.

Sweet and sour chicken served with white rice.

When I am pressed for time, I always turn to sweet and sour dishes for quick, easy dinners. I learned this technique from my mom who continues to make sweet and sour dishes to this day. The first dish she taught me to make was sweet and sour fish using salmon. I thought it was the perfect way to cook salmon in a whole new way, and as a bonus, it was quick to make! So I thought it would be cool to apply this technique to chicken and make sweet and sour chicken.

sweet and sour chicken on a plate

What are the origins of sweet and sour chicken?

Most people are familiar with sweet and sour chicken because it is a very popular Americanized Chinese dish on takeout menus. Nearly every single Chinese takeout place has this stir fry dish on their menu. Like all Chinese American takeout dishes, sweet and sour chicken was created to accommodate the Western palette which prefers sweet over salty flavors. The Chinese palette prefers salty over sweet flavors.

Sweet and sour chicken is characterized by chicken pieces battered and fried then served with an assortment of vegetables in a sweet and sour sauce. There are a lot of variations of this dish. Most of the variation comes with the vegetables it is served with. Some recipes may include pineapple, peppers, and onions while others may omit pineapple entirely. I wanted to keep my recipe as simple and accessible as possible, so I only included onion and bell peppers in my stir fry.

What is the sweet and sour sauce made of?

The sweet and sour sauce is essentially made up of a “sweet” ingredient and a “sour” ingredient to make it taste sweet and sour. This is my mom’s recipe, and she uses sugar as her sweet ingredient and vinegar as her sour ingredient. She uses various types of vinegar depending on what she has at the moment. Vinegars she’s used are white distilled vinegar, rice wine vinegar (my personal favorite), or apple cider vinegar. You can use any of these vinegars to make your sweet and sour sauce. In terms of sugars, she usually uses white granulated sugar. You can use natural sweeteners like honey and agave sweetener, but I would recommend tasting the dish as you cook so you can adjust the sweetness to your liking.

My mom also adds oyster sauce to her sweet and sour sauce to add umami flavor, which is a signature flavor of Chinese sauces. If you are vegetarian, I would recommend using vegan oyster sauce which is made with mushrooms. The last component of the sauce is a thickener in the form of corn starch. Corn starch is mixed with water to create a slurry, and it is added to the sauce. You can also use tapioca starch as a substitute.

Ingredients, Substitutions & Adjustments

Fried Chicken Ingredients

  • Chicken thighs – I used chicken thighs because it is my favorite cut of chicken to use. It is the most juicy and flavorful in my opinion. You can use any cut of chicken you want. Chicken breast works well for this recipe.
  • Sesame oil – This gives the chicken flavor and helps the coating to stick to the chicken. Any type of neutral oil or even a whisked egg would work as substitutes.
  • Shaoxing wine – This helps take away some of the game-y flavor of the chicken, and overall makes it taste better. I made this optional because the dish tastes good without it, but I highly recommend it because it definitely makes the chicken taste better.
  • All purpose flour and corn starch – My mom uses a combination of all purpose flour and corn starch because it provides the perfect balance between crunchiness and lightness to the coating. You can also use only all purpose flour or only corn starch.
  • Baking powder – Makes the coating airy.
  • Salt and pepper for seasoning
  • Chicken bouillon powder (optional) – This powder is the powder you use to make instant chicken stock. Just an optional ingredient that adds more flavor to the chicken. In testing, I did substitute with dashi powder, and I loved the results.

Stir Fry Ingredients

  • Yellow onion – Adds sweetness to the dish. A good substitute is white onion.
  • Red and green bell peppers – Adds color and different textures to the dish. You can use any color of bell pepper you want.
  • Garlic – Adds more flavor to the dish. If you don’t have garlic, you can leave it out.
  • Oyster sauce – Adds umami flavor to the dish. A substitute for oyster sauce is vegan oyster sauce which is made of mushrooms and is gluten free. Other good substitutes include soy sauce or tamari (gluten free).
  • Rice wine vinegar – This is the “sour” flavor of the dish. I used rice wine vinegar, but you can also use apple cider vinegar or distilled white vinegar.
  • Granulated sugar – This is the “sweet” flavor of the dish. You can also use brown sugar.
  • Corn starch and water – Combining these two ingredients make a corn starch slurry which helps thicken the sauce and makes it sticky. Corn starch can be substituted with tapioca starch.

How to make sweet and sour chicken

First, fry the chicken. Add 1 lb of chicken thighs to a bowl. Drizzle the sesame oil over it. Mix all the ingredients from flour through chicken stock powder together. Coat the chicken in the flour mixture. Heat oil over medium heat for 5 minutes. Make sure the oil comes 1/2 inch up the sides of the pan. Fry the chicken pieces until they are brown on all sides. See picture above for reference. Once done, empty onto a plate and set aside.

Next, it’s time to make the stir fry! Heat 2 tablespoons of oil over high heat. Add the onion and saute for 1-2 minutes until it becomes shiny. Add the green bell pepper, red bell pepper, and minced garlic. Saute until soft (3-5 minutes). Add the oyster sauce and sauté for 1-2 minutes. Mix the corn starch with the water to make a corn starch slurry. Add the vinegar, sugar, and corn starch slurry to the pan. Cook for another 1-2 minutes until the sauce thickens. Pour the cooked vegetables over the fried chicken from step 3 and mix until the chicken is coated in the sauce. Garnish with green onions (optional) and enjoy!\

sweet and sour chicken served with white rice

Tips on how to make the perfect sweet and sour chicken

Use high heat for the stir fry

Like kung pao chicken, this dish is essentially a stir fry, so you have to use high heat when making it. The high heat ensures all ingredients are cooked and the sauce doesn’t become too watery. Cooking on a lower heat will cause the water to come out of the chicken and vegetables, causing them to become mushy and the sauce to be watery.

What can I serve sweet and sour chicken with?

White rice! That’s the best option because it’s very neutral in flavor. You can also serve it with brown rice or quinoa.

How do you store sweet and sour chicken?

Sweet and sour chicken should be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.

How do you reheat sweet and sour chicken?

Sweet and sour chicken can be reheated in the microwave for 2-3 minutes. If you really want to maintain the crispiness of the chicken, you can toast the chicken pieces separately for 5-10 minutes and microwave the rest of the ingredients.

Sweet and sour chicken served with white rice.

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sweet and sour chicken on a plate

Get the Recipe:
30-Minute Sweet and Sour Chicken

Make sweet and sour chicken at home in 30 minutes or less. No need for takeout menus anymore! Chicken is battered and fried to perfection and then served in a sweet and sour sauce.
5 from 5 ratings

Ingredients
 
 

Fried Chicken

Stir Fry

Equipment

Instructions
 

  • Add 1 lb of chicken thighs to a bowl. Drizzle the sesame oil and shaoxing wine over the chicken.
  • Mix all the ingredients from flour through chicken stock powder together. Coat the chicken in the flour mixture.
    coating chicken thighs in batter
  • Heat oil over medium heat for 5 minutes. Make sure the oil comes 1/2 inch up the sides of the pan. Fry the chicken pieces until they are brown on all sides. See picture above for reference. Once done, empty onto a plate and set aside.
    fried chicken thighs
  • Heat 2 tablespoons of oil over high heat. Add the onion and saute for 1-2 minutes until it becomes shiny.
  • Add the green bell pepper, red bell pepper, and minced garlic. Saute until soft (3-5 minutes).
    sauteed onions and bell peppers
  • Add the oyster sauce and sauté for 1-2 minutes.
  • Mix the corn starch with the water to make a corn starch slurry. Add the vinegar, sugar, and corn starch slurry to the pan. Cook for another 1-2 minutes until the sauce thickens.
  • Pour the cooked vegetables over the fried chicken from step 3 and mix until the chicken is coated in the sauce.
  • Garnish with green onions (optional) and enjoy!

Notes

  1. Chicken substitutes. You can use any cut of chicken you want. Chicken breast works well for this recipe.
  2. Corn starch substitute. Corn starch can be substituted with tapioca starch.
  3. Chicken bouillon substitute. In testing, I used dashi powder and loved the results.
  4. Yellow onion substitute. A good substitute for yellow onion is white onion.
  5. Oyster sauce substitute. A very good substitute for oyster sauce is vegan oyster sauce which is made with mushrooms and gluten free.
  6. Rice wine vinegar substitute. Substitute with apple cider vinegar or white distilled vinegar.
  7. Use high heat for the stir fry – This dish is essentially a stir fry, so you have to use high heat when making it. The high heat ensures all ingredients are cooked and the sauce doesn’t become too watery. Cooking on a lower heat will cause the water to come out of the fish and vegetables, causing them to become mushy and the sauce to be watery.
  8. What can I serve sweet and sour fish with? – White rice! That’s the best option because it’s very neutral in flavor. You can also serve it with brown rice or quinoa.
Serving: 2cups, Calories: 374kcal, Carbohydrates: 25g, Protein: 20g, Fat: 21g, Saturated Fat: 5g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 5g, Monounsaturated Fat: 9g, Trans Fat: 0.1g, Cholesterol: 111mg, Sodium: 1092mg, Potassium: 395mg, Fiber: 2g, Sugar: 6g, Vitamin A: 1133IU, Vitamin C: 64mg, Calcium: 58mg, Iron: 2mg
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