Happy Wednesday, and welcome to one of our favorite quick-fix dinners, the source of many happy lunches of leftovers! I’ve made this Sweet and Sour Chicken several times, and each time we have happily enjoyed the satisfying, tangy-sweet-savory dinner followed by a few lunches that leave coworkers hungry and envious (mwahaha….).
The irony is, I actually never order Sweet and Sour Chicken when I’m in a Chinese restaurant. I find the scary/squishy breading and thick, ketchupy sauce a little alarming and… surreal. You know the Michael Pollan mantra — eat food, not too much, mostly plants? Most restaurant versions of Sweet and Sour Chicken don’t really fit that rule. Especially if it comes off a cafeteria-style assembly line of different Chinese dishes that all look suspiciously similar… you know what I’m talking about.
But just because many versions of Sweet and Sour Chicken are unhealthy and weird, doesn’t mean that the basic flavor profile — ketchup, vinegar, ginger, pineapples — is fundamentally flawed. There is a reason why people flock to the mall to eat this stuff — we all like the sweet and sour flavor combo, we just can’t find a version that doesn’t contain all our saturated fat content we need for the first three months of the year.
This Sweet and Sour Chicken has that familiar flavor profile, and even retains a satisfying coating on the chicken, without the scariness of deep-frying. The recipe comes from a guest post on Simply Recipes by Jaden Hair, who also writes a wonderfully amusing food blog of her own. As I said, I’ve made this recipe several times and have adjusted it below to reflect our favorite proportions. We love a lot of ginger and don’t use as much sugar as the original recipe recommends — the ingredient list below reflect those preferences — but really, the exact proportions are up to you and your tastes!
This is a very quick fix — I mix all the sauce ingredients in one 4-cup measuring cup while the chicken is marinating. The sauce will thicken as it cooks, and again as it cools (another reason why this makes such great leftovers!). If you like a thicker sauce, add a teaspoon or two of cornstarch to the sauce — this is meant to be a healthier Sweet and Sour Chicken, and I suspect that’s why it doesn’t use cornstarch in the sauce like so many other stir fry recipes do.
- 1 ¼ lb. boneless and skinless chicken thighs or breasts, cut into 1″ chunks
- 2 egg whites
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 3 teaspoons cornstarch
- 1 20-ounce can pineapple chunks (keep the juice!)
- ½ cup juice from the canned pineapple
- ½ cup white vinegar
- ½ cup ketchup
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt (1/4 teaspoon table salt)
- 3 tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons neutral cooking oil
- 1 red bell pepper, cut into 1 inch chunks
- 1 yellow bell pepper, cut into 1 inch chunks
- 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
In a bowl, whisk together the egg whites, salt and cornstarch. Add the chicken and stir to coat the chicken. Let sit for 15 minutes at room temperature or up to overnight in the refrigerator.
To make the sauce, whisk together the pineapple juice, vinegar, ketchup, salt, and brown sugar – make this easier by measuring all sauce ingredients into the same 4-cup measuring cup, in the order in which they are listed above.
Heat a large frying pan or wok over high heat (Jaden explains that you’ll know it’s hot enough when you flick a drop of water onto the pan, and it sizzles and evaporates). Add 1 tablespoon of cooking oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add the chicken and spread it evenly so that it browns in one layer. Leave the chicken untouched for 1 minute, or until the bottoms are browned. Flip and brown the other side for around 1 minute. Don’t let the chicken cook through – it should still be pink in the middle. Dish out the chicken onto a clean plate and set aside.
Turn the heat down to medium and add the remaining 1 tablespoon of cooking oil. Let the oil heat up and then add the bell pepper chunks and ginger. Fry for 1 minute. Add the pineapple chunks and the sweet and sour sauce. Stir well to combine. Turn the heat to high and let the sauce come to a simmer. Then add the chicken back in and stir to combine. Let the whole thing simmer for 1-2 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through.
You’ll know the chicken is done when you cut into a piece and it’s not pink in the middle, and at this point the dish is ready to eat. However, you may want to let the Sweet and Sour Chicken simmer for a few more minutes, to let the flavors combine and the sauce thicken. Serve with hot rice.