If you want to cook proper Chinese takeout style sweet and sour chicken, this is THE recipe. I included a tutorial video and step-by-step pictures, so you can easily follow the process of cooking with a wok.
Like many American takeout dishes, you won’t find sweet and sour chicken on the menu of most restaurants in China. But we do have a sweet and sour pork dish (糖醋里脊) and it’s wildly popular.
Sweet and sour sauce
Authentic sweet and sour sauce uses ketchup as a main ingredient. But each restaurant uses its own secret ingredients to add flavor and make the sauce more interesting. I’d say there are thousands of ways to create this sauce. For example, you can find three other different versions of sweet and sour sauce on my blog:
Each recipe uses a different combination of ingredients to create a pungent and rich sauce. They are all very delicious.
For the sweet and sour sauce in today’s recipe, I used a lighter sauce that is closer to the American takeout style. We seldom use processed sauces at home (except mayonnaise!). So I used tomato paste (or you can use tomato sauce) to replace katchup. In addition, I used rice vinegar and orange juice to make the sauce fruitier.
The cooking process
I know that many of you do not like frying food at home because it requires a lot of oil and it makes your stovetop and counter messy. But it is the only way, if you want a real-deal takeout style dish.
You can cook this dish in a wok or a flat skillet. I chose to use a wok because the smaller bottom means it requires less oil to fry the chicken. Instead of deep frying, we use just enough oil to cover the chicken halfway. By using high heat, it crisps up the surface nicely, just as good as deep frying. After frying the chicken, you’ll remove the extra oil. So the total oil consumption of the dish is only 2 to 3 tablespoons.
If you have been following my blog, you know that I’ve been teaching stir fried dishes using a nonstick skillet. It is an easier way for beginners and you don’t need to buy extra cookware. However I’ve had quite a few reader request recipes that using a wok. So today I’m sharing the wok cooking process with you.
I personally always use a cast iron wok, just like my mom does. The average gas range in the home kitchen is way less powerful than the one at a Chinese restaurant. A cast iron wok holds heat very well once heated up properly. It makes a nice sear on the food within seconds. This way, the vegetables will turn out crisp and colorful, and the meat tender and juicy.
It requires a bit of getting used to, if you have been cooking stir fry with a skillet, so I created a short video for you, just to demonstrate the whole process.
On the other hand, you can cook this dish with a skillet, too, but you’ll need to do one thing differently. After cooking the peppers and onion, you’ll need to transfer them onto a plate. Then add a bit of oil and the sauce. Cook a few seconds to reduce the sauce before adding the chicken and vegetables back in. The sauce will be reduced properly this way, and the vegetables will remain crunchy and the chicken crispy.
If you give this recipe a try, let us know! Leave a comment, rate it (once you’ve tried it), and take a picture and tag it #omnivorescookbook on Instagram! I’d love to see what you come up with. Cheers, friends!
- 2 boneless skinless chicken thighs (or breasts), about 280 grams / 10 ounces
- 1 egg white
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon minced ginger
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste (*see footnote 1)
- 1/4 cup chicken stock
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 2 tablespoons orange juice
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1.5 tablespoons brown sugar (*see footnote 2)
- 2/3 cup high-smoke-point vegetable oil (peanut oil, avocado oil etc.)
- 1/2 small white onion, chopped
- 1 bell pepper, chopped (I used a mix of colors in this recipe)
- 2 teaspoons minced ginger
- Cut chicken into 3-cm (1.5-inch) chunks.
- Combine chicken, egg white, salt, and minced ginger in a bowl. Mix well and let marinate for 15 minutes.
- Combine all the sauce ingredients in a bowl. Stir to mix well.
- Add oil into wok. Swirl to coat the bottom. Heat over medium high heat until hot.
- Add 1/4 cup cornstarch to the chicken and mix a few times. You don’t have to coat the chicken evenly, and it will yield better results if there is extra cornstarch on the chicken.
- Carefully add chicken pieces one by one into the oil. Let chicken cook without moving, until the bottom turns golden. Flip to cook the other side until golden brown. Turn to lowest heat. Transfer chicken to a plate.
- Use a ladle to remove extra oil until there is only a tablespoon oil left in the wok.
- Turn to medium high heat. Add onion and pepper. Add ginger. Cook and stir a few times, to lightly cook the vegetables. (*see footnote 3)
- Swirl in the sauce along the edge of the wok, so the sauce will be heat up before it touches the ingredients. Immediately return the chicken to the wok. Stir a few times to cover the chicken evenly with sauce. Transfer everything to a plate.
- Serve warm over steamed rice.
2. This is not an overly sweet dish and tastes just right to the Chinese palate. If you have a sweet tooth or want it a bit more like American takeout style, double the sugar.
3. If you’re using a skillet instead of a wok, you should transfer the pepper and onion to a separate plate. Reduce the sauce by following the next step, then add everything back into the skillet
The nutrition facts are calculated based on 1 of the 2 servings generated by this recipe.