Easy Sweet and Sour Chicken that you can make at home. No need to order Chinese take-away anymore!
Recently, my son’s kindergarten teacher asked me if I cooked sweet and sour chicken at home. At first blush, I thought she was asking me (you know, the only Asian mother at a very traditional Swiss school) for a recipe. But it transpired that the cook had prepared sweet and sour chicken for the childrens’ lunch earlier that day, and my son was the only child who happily ate his meal, plus an extra portion. I am most proud of my son when I hear that he has eaten well!
As a young child, he went through a fussy eating period like nearly all of his peers, where he miraculously sustained himself on a diet of sausages, bread, and bananas. We persisted in offering him the same food we would eat at each meal, and which had the beneficial side-effect of making us eat a healthy and varied diet each day as well. Until one day, we discovered that, somewhere along the way, our fussy little boy started to eat exactly what we were eating. Moreover, he had turned into a little foodie! He now absolutely loves vegetables and frequently asks me to cook broccoli or spinach; he loves eating raw carrots (and peeling them himself) for snack time; he eats red capsicums (bell peppers) like apples. Today, he ate kohlrabi for the first time and said it was his new favourite vegetable!
I strongly believe that it is important to offer children a varied diet; varied not just in terms of getting the right amount of fruit, vegetables and protein each day, but also varied in terms of cuisine. I think offering children a truly varied diet will make them more curious about food and also more accepting of different flavours and textures. And then there are the interesting discussions about the countries where the meals themselves originate!
But to answer the teacher’s question, I do in fact make sweet and sour chicken at home. A lot. I know it might not be the healthiest of meals, but it is one of the tastiest ways I know of eating a lot of vegetables.
This is actually a recipe I turn to often when I have odd bits of vegetables leftover in the fridge which need using up. If I am not making my favourite Thai curry or Japanese curry with those vegetables, a sweet and sour sauce is something I can always whip up quickly using ingredients already in the fridge and pantry.
While I love the Chinese restaurant version of sweet and sour chicken where the chicken is first deep-fried in a crispy batter, I find this to be a bit time-consuming at home, especially on a busy weeknight. A quicker – and healthier – alternative is to simply sauté the chicken pieces.
And although this is a recipe for sweet and sour chicken, you could most certainly substitute the chicken for pork or fish, or leave it out entirely for a vegetarian meal. I happen to love it with thick slices of firm tofu cooked in the sauce.
It goes without saying that you can also use whatever vegetables you like. Crunchy vegetables work best in this recipe, like capsicums (bell peppers), green beans, courgettes (zucchini), carrots, and celery. But as this is a recipe I frequently use to empty the vegetable drawers in the fridge, it also tastes great with broccoli, cauliflower, cucumber, and bean sprouts. I sometimes also add frozen peas if I think the dish needs a bit of colour. But what I always, always, try to add is pineapple; fresh is always better, but I admit to keeping small tins of diced pineapple in the pantry just for this recipe.
We love to serve sweet and sour chicken with steamed Jasmine rice, which means making a lot of sauce to drizzle over the rice. But, as always, you can customise the dish to your liking and make less sauce.
There’s no need to order Chinese takeaway anymore!
Easy Sweet and Sour Chicken
- Prep Time: 10 mins
- Cook Time: 30 mins
- Total Time: 40 minutes
- Yield: Serves 3-4
- 1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 4 small chicken breast fillets, cut into large cubes
- 1 brown onion, cut into large cubes
- 1 large carrot, peeled and sliced thickly on the diagonal
- 1/2 cup (125 ml) white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 4 tablespoons sugar
- 4 tablespoons ketchup (tomato sauce)
- 2 cups (500 ml) vegetable or chicken stock
- 1 red capsicum (bell pepper), cut into large cubes
- 1 green capsicum (bell pepper), cut into large cubes
- 8 oz (230 g) pineapple (fresh or tinned), cut into large chunks
- 2-3 tablespoons cornflour mixed in a little water (or pineapple juice if you are using tinned pineapple)
- coriander (cilantro), finely chopped
- Heat the oil in the saucepan over a medium-hight heat.
- Sauté the chicken until they have browned well allover. You may need to do this in batches. Remove the chicken to a plate and set aside.
- Cook the onion and carrots until the onions start to soften.
- Add the vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, ketchup, and stock. Bring to a gentle simmer.
- Return the chicken to the pan, together with the capsicums (bell peppers), and pineapple. Simmer gently for about 5-10 minutes, or until the vegetables have softened slightly. I like to have the vegetables still somewhat crisp.
- Taste for seasoning. You might want to add more sugar to sweeten the sauce, or perhaps more vinegar to make it more sour.
- Quickly mix in a bit of the cornflour mixture until the sauce has thickened to your liking. You may not need to add all of it.
- Garnish with chopped coriander (cilantro) and serve with steamed Jasmine rice.
- You can substitute the chicken for thinly sliced pork in this recipe.
- For a vegetarian version, simply omit the chicken and use vegetable stock. This dish is also delicious with thick slices of tofu stirred through the sauce.
- Crunchy vegetables work best in this recipe, but you can use whatever you like. Some suggestions include:
- green beans
- courgettes (zucchini)
- bean sprouts
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