how to make authentic sweet and sour chicken stir fry

Sweet and sour chicken stir fry is a popular Chinese dish that has been enjoyed for centuries. It's made with white wine, soy sauce, sugar, rice vinegar, ketchup, pineapple juice, brown sugar, cornstarch and ginger.

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How to make authentic sweet and sour chicken stir fry

Sweet and Sour Chicken is made by batter-frying chicken and then tossing it in a quick and easy sweet and sour sauce. If you love Chinese food but don’t live in China, chances are you’ve tried this dish before. Meaning, it’s actually more Western than Chinese!

But really, who doesn’t love crispy fried chicken with that classic sweet and sour combo?

Reading: how to make authentic sweet and sour chicken stir fry

Restaurant Secrets

As with most of the dishes on the blog, I learned how to make this one from my father, who worked as a professional chef in many restaurants for over 25 years.

There are plenty of chef secrets to share with you to make sure you get restaurant-quality Sweet and Sour Chicken every time. Here are my pro tips:

  • Whether you use dark (thigh) or white (breast) meat is a matter of personal preference. I like chicken thighs, because they stay moist and have extra flavor.
  • Regardless of which cut of meat you use for your sweet and sour chicken, the marinating process is very important to setting your dish apart from others—adding water keeps the chicken moist throughout the frying process and helps ensure a super crisp coating that stays in place! This will be incredibly important when you introduce that delicious sweet and sour sauce.
  • When frying the chicken, lower your battered chicken pieces one at a time. Lower them slowly into the oil halfway, so the batter has a couple of seconds to cook. Then release the chicken into the oil. This technique prevents the chicken pieces from sticking to the pot and to each other. Also pick a spot in the oil away from the other pieces already frying.
  • Any leftover oil you can filter through a fine-mesh strainer to use for future stir-fry dishes. Chinese restaurants use this oil and it not only reduces waste, it adds flavor! Store in the refrigerator and use it within 2 weeks.
  • Start cooking your sweet and sour sauce immediately after you’ve finished frying the chicken to ensure maximum crispiness. If you want to prepare your chicken in advance, ideally you’d re-fry the chicken briefly to crisp it just before finishing the dish. Better yet, try to make this dish in one go from start to finish. If you’re cooking this for a family meal with multiple dishes, you can prepare the components in advance, and then pull it together quickly right before mealtime!
  • Wash your wok immediately after finishing the dish, as the acid in the vinegar can damage the patina of a well-seasoned wok. For more information, see our post on Seasoning and Caring for your Wok.

I think that’s enough talking. It’s time to get to cooking (and eating!) this classic Sweet and Sour Chicken. Read on for all the steps that will give you the power to produce restaurant-quality Sweet and Sour Chicken at home! Toss your takeout menus now!

Sweet & Sour Chicken Recipe Instructions

Start by preparing the sauce:

Set aside ½ cup of pineapple juice from your can of pineapple, and reserve ⅔ cup of the pineapple chunks (if using). Set aside. The pineapple juice and pineapple chunks in the recipe are optional. You’ll see them in the ingredients here, but you don’t have to add them to the final dish if you don’t like it too sweet!

Combine the hot water, salt, sugar, and ketchup. Stir until the salt and sugar are dissolved, and then add the vinegar and pineapple juice. Set aside.

Marinate the Chicken:

Experts are recommending that it’s not necessary to wash your chicken before cutting and cooking it (thanks to Judy, one of our readers for pointing this out). If you decide to wash the chicken like I do sometimes (depends on the state of the chicken), be very careful about splashing water and contaminating surfaces with unwanted bacteria. If you do rinse your chicken, don’t worry about patting it dry, as you need water in the marinade—if your chicken is relatively dry / drained, add 1 tablespoon of water.

Cut your chicken into uniform 1 inch chunks (for even cooking) and place into a bowl. Add the garlic and onion powders, sesame oil, white pepper and salt. Mix until all pieces are uniformly coated, and let it sit for 5 minutes. Any excess water should be fully absorbed by the chicken. If not, mix the chicken again and let it sit for another 5 minutes. This process of marinating and hydrating your chicken makes it moist and juicy!

Make the Batter:

Read more: how to make stir fry in a wok with meat

Mix together the all-purpose flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and baking soda in a bowl, and add 2/3 cup of ice water. Use a fork to mix until a batter is formed, and stir in 1 tablespoon of oil. Set aside.

In case you’re curious, the leavening agents and oil make the batter light and crispy. This is what my father explained to me when he first showed me how to make this dish in a restaurant kitchen.

Fry the Chicken:

The amount of oil you need depends on the size of the pot you will use. Using a larger pot uses more oil, but allows you to cook the chicken in fewer batches. Using a smaller pot uses less oil, but you’ll have to fry more batches of chicken. We usually go for a smaller pot, so we have less leftover oil.

Heat the oil in a small pot until it reaches 335 degrees F. It’s really worth it to use a candy thermometer for deep frying. Place 5 to 6 pieces of marinated chicken into the batter. Use a chopstick, fork, or your fingers to coat the chicken in the batter and place each piece slowly into the oil. How much batter you put on the chicken is also a personal preference. I like to coat it with just enough batter that you can’t see the chicken after it’s fried.

Frying chicken in wok,

Use a slotted spoon to carefully turn the chicken pieces and fry them evenly. Fry for about 2 minutes, or until the batter is a light golden brown and crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon and let any excess oil drain off before placing onto a rack or paper towel lined plate.

Batter fried chicken pieces in wok,

Assemble in the Wok:

Heat 1 tablespoon canola oil in a wok over medium high heat, and add the red onion and peppers. Stir-fry for 30 seconds.

Next, add the sweet and sour sauce you prepared earlier and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat so the sauce is simmering.

Adding sweet and sour sauce to onions and peppers,

Read more: how to make stir fry beef first | Family Cuisine

Stir up your cornstarch slurry until it is uniform. While stirring the sweet and sour sauce, drizzle the slurry into the sauce. The sauce should be thick enough to coat a spoon. Turn down the heat and give the sauce a quick taste-now is the time to add more salt, vinegar or sugar if desired.

Thickening sweet and sour sauce with cornstarch,

At this point, add the pineapple chunks (if using) and stir until warmed through. We decided not to add them this time, as our family doesn’t like this dish as much on the sweet side.

Now is the time to refry the chicken to make them nice and crispy. Heat the oil up to 335 degrees F and fry the chicken in two batches for about 45 seconds each time and they will crisp right up again.

Then add the chicken pieces, and gently toss with your wok spatula to coat in sauce.

Adding fried chicken,

Serve your sweet and sour chicken immediately!

Plating sweet and sour chicken,

Sweet and Sour Chicken,

Sweet and Sour Chicken,

Read more: how to make simple fried noodles | Family Cuisine

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