Chinese Sweet and Sour Chicken

Note: I wrote this blog a year ago, which means it’s no longer the Year of the Dragon. This year, 2013, we are celebrating the Year of the Snake… and Jaden Hair has a brand new cookbook out! Be sure to check out Healthy Asian Favorites from Steamy Kitchen.

Gong Xi Fa Ca! That’s Mandarin for “wishing you prosperity.” The Chinese New Year holiday is based on a lunisolar calendar, which calculates both lunar and solar activity. Each Chinese year is associated with one of twelve symbolic zodiac animals: Dragon, Rooster, Dog, Pig, Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Snake, Horse, and Ram (or Goat). In 2012, the Chinese will welcome the Year of the Dragon. The holiday is celebrated with 15 days of fireworks and feasting, leading up to a traditional Lantern Festival on the first full moon of the Chinese year.

When I heard that Chinese New Year starts this week, I wanted to cook something tasty to celebrate. Admittedly, I don’t know much about Chinese food. I enjoy eating it, but when it comes to cooking it I’m sort of a novice. I’ve experimented here and there with recreating Chinese dishes from restaurants, but for the Chinese New Year I thought it best to seek help from an expert. I immediately thought of one of my favorite food bloggers (and people!), Jaden Hair from Jaden was born in Hong Kong and grew up in America. She learned traditional Chinese cooking from her mom via cell phone. After moving to a small town in Florida with her husband and discovering a lack of authentic Chinese markets or restaurants there, she sought cooking advice from her Chinese mother in California. Jaden racked up close to $450 in cell phone minutes– which, as she puts it, “is way cheaper than three years at a fancy culinary institute.” Around that time, she started her famous blog Steamy Kitchen, which eventually turned into one of the most popular food sites on the internet!

Jaden and I met last summer at the BlogHer conference in San Diego and became fast friends. I went out and bought her first book, The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook, which is filled with easy Asian-inspired recipes that you can easily recreate at home. I love the simplicity of these recipes… most of them are so quick, you can take them from stove to table in 30 minutes or less. Can’t beat that!

A heads up for my kosher readers– The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook is not kosher. Chinese cuisine is all about pork, shellfish, and copious amounts of oyster sauce. But the book does have some yummy recipes that will work for a kosher diet, including the one I’m sharing with you today– Sweet and Sour Chicken. If you don’t keep kosher and you like Asian-inspired food, this cookbook is definitely worth a look!

Of this Sweet and Sour Chicken recipe, Jaden writes:

“This dish is for my husband, Scott, who totally digs the standard Chinese take-out… after 2 years of living in Florida, Scott started showing an interest in shopping and offered to take me to the mall several times… And then it hit me. He wanted to take me to the mall because he was craving Panda Express, a Chinese fast food chain located in malls and airports. I’d be in the dressing room, shimmying into some fancy jeans and Scott would sneak off, order Sweet and Sour Chicken or Orange Chicken and scoff it down. Ahhh… my American husband was craving the Chinese-American classics…”

I love Chinese takeout, and the recipe didn’t require any unfamiliar ingredients, so I thought this would be fun to try for the Chinese New Year. I found the dish to be pretty tasty as written. The only change I made was adding a couple pinches of cayenne pepper for heat. Add the cayenne with care if you’re sensitive to spice. I also found that letting the dish rest for 10 minutes after preparation allowed the sauce to thicken, which made the chicken saucier and more delish. You can easily make this gluten free by using a certified GF cornstarch, vinegar, and ketchup. You’ll love how easy the dish is, and you may have the ingredients on hand already– it won’t require a special trip to an Asian market. It takes less than 30 minutes to make (including prep time). It’s also much lighter than the batter-fried Sweet and Sour Chicken served by many Chinese restaurants. Who needs all that fried fatty coating when you have so much flavor in the sauce?

This recipe is healthy, affordable, fast, and a fun way to celebrate the Chinese New Year. Serving it over jasmine rice stretches the dish to 4 servings. Give it a try! And be sure to stop by Jaden’s blog to say hello, I’m sure you’ll love it (and her!) as much as I do. :)

P.S. I was born during the Year of the Ram (some say the Year of the Goat– I think Ram sounds cooler though). What’s your Chinese zodiac animal?

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Steamy Kitchen Sweet and Sour Chicken


  • 1 egg white
  • 2 tsp cornstarch
  • 1/2 tsp salt, divided
  • 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1 can (8 to 10 oz) pineapple chunks in juice (reserve the juice)
  • 1 tsp fresh grated ginger
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 2-3 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1-2 pinches cayenne pepper (or more to taste-- spicy!)
  • 2 tbsp high heat cooking oil, divded (ex. grapeseed, peanut oil)
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1/2 tbsp sliced green scallions for garnish (optional)

You will also need

  • Wok or saute pan, medium bowl
Prep Time: 20 Minutes
Cook Time: 10 Minutes
Total Time: 30 Minutes
Servings: 4 (as part of a multicourse meal)
Kosher Key: Meat
  • In a bowl, whisk together the egg white, cornstarch, and 1/4 tsp of the salt. Add the chicken pieces and stir to coat evenly. Let sit for 15 minutes at room temperature or up to overnight in the refrigerator.
  • Meanwhile, whisk together 1/4 cup of the reserved pineapple juice, ginger, vinegar, ketchup, brown sugar, remaining 1/4 tsp of salt, and 1-2 pinches cayenne pepper (or more to taste--optional).
  • Set a wok or large saute pan over high heat. When a bead of water instantly sizzles and evaporates, pour in 1 tbsp of the oil and swirl to coat. Add the red and yellow bell pepper chunks and cook for 2 minutes. Remove from the wok onto a plate. Wipe the wok or pan dry.
  • Return the wok to the stove on high heat. When a bead of water instantly sizzles and evaporates, pour in the remaining 1 tbsp of oil and swirl to coat (be sure to fully coat the pan so the meat won't stick). Add the chicken to the pan, spreading it out in one layer.
  • Let the chicken fry, untouched, for 1 minute, until the bottoms are browned. Flip and fry the other side the same for 1 minute. The chicken will still be pinkish in the middle.
  • Add the cooked bell peppers, pineapple chunks, and pineapple juice mixture to the pan. Let simmer for about 2 minutes until the chicken is cooked through. Remove from heat. Let the chicken rest for a few minutes till the sauce thickens.
  • Garnish with sliced scallions, if desired. Serve warm as part of a multicourse meal, or over jasmine rice for a complete entree.

Comments (46)Post a Comment

  1. The colors in this dish are absolutely lovely! I am going to make this, and serve it with steamed rice. Only, I’ll be using orange and red bell pepper as that’s what I have on hand. :)

  2. Oh my I am swooning. Two of my faves in one place today. Be still my heart. You know I adore you Tori. I also adore and worship Jaden. When I first started blogging, and didn’t know how to behave, I sent Jaden an email about giving her an award. She actually very sweetly wrote me back. She even visited my blog a few times. I look back on that and laugh at my bold and silly self. Now if I met Jaden I would probably pass out or mumble like a school girl. This recipe is so fresh and beautiful. Jaden’s book is on my list of cookbooks to buy. Cannot wait till I can purchase it.

  3. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    One of my favorite Chinese dishes! This looks delicious! I love the Chinese New Year, I work with two Chinese men and they always bring in some delicious goodies afterward! :)

  4. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    This is probably my most favorite take out dish, but I do need to start making this at home. You did a wonderful job bringing this together and the picture is stunning. Definitely the first sweet and sour recipe I am going to make! Enjoy the day!

  5. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    Looks fantastic, and I love how colorful this is! :) I miss Chinese food (spent last summer in China) and a always looking for good ways to recreate the flavors at home.

  6. Hi Tori,
    Your recipe reminded me that I had this dish made with Tofu instead of chicken (I’m a vegetarian). Do you have any hints/ideas for adapting this to substituting tofu for the chicken? Thanks much.

    1. Hi Alice– I’m very sensitive to soy, it affects my hormones, so I don’t eat or cook tofu very often (which is a bummer, because I like it a lot!). I think that you should use a firm tofu, and you can probably cook it the same way that you would with chicken– but since I haven’t tried it myself, I can’t promise anything.

  7. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    I made it earlier this past week. It came out delicious, I let the chicken soak in the corn starch/egg white mixture and was cooked perfectly. Is there any advantage to having it sit in the fridge overnight?

    1. Hi Mark, happy you liked the dish! I don’t think there are any advantages to letting it sit in the fridge; if there are, Jaden didn’t mention it in her cookbook. She did mention that leaving it in the fridge overnight is an option, but I’m guessing that’s a tip for busy parents who don’t want to sit waiting for the mixture to soak before starting to cook. If you try it both ways and notice a difference, I’d love to hear about your results!

  8. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    Wow !!! This looks like a great recipe, no comparison to take out ! I can use organic peppers & free range chicken for my husband (& tofu for me). Can’t wait to try it. Thank you so much. This is my year, the year of the dragon….Woo hoo !

  9. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    Hi Tori,
    The chicken looks great.
    Question – I would like to make it for this upcoming Shabbat but no one in my family will eat the pineapple chunks (and its pressence might “contaminate” the whole dish for some of my kids..). Ommiting them won’t do considering I would still need to open a can for the juice. Is there a substitute for the pineapple juice in the reciepe? White wine and sugar? a different fruity juice?

  10. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    Thanks for this wonderful recipe to get me out of my cooking rut! My goal is to make one new recipe a week- and this was it. It is super yummy and equally pretty to eat. My husband and two toddlers devoured it as well. I can’t wait to try more of your recipes. I LOVE that you post pictures of what the food is supposed to look like while you are preparing it– it is super helpful. :)

  11. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    I finally made this tonight- and it was so yummy and DELICIOUS!!!! Even my finicky 15 month old ate it. I don’t own a wok, so I used a skillet and it was still very easy. The rice took longer to cook! Also, I couldn’t find fresh ginger at our grocery, so I used 1/4 tsp. of dried and threw in a minced garlic clove in with the liquid mixture. Thank you for this post. This will absolutely be made again and again! I’m really enjoying your blog and I look forward to joining you on your culinary adventures.

  12. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    Another win! Thank you so very much Tori for this recipe. I have made several of yours now and each one turns out wonderful and as you describe. This was no exception. My husband and I enjoyed the Sweet & Sour Chicken immensely :-)

    1. I’m so happy you enjoyed it Susan! I work hard to make sure all of the recipes on my site are tested for quality and flavor. If I don’t enjoy eating it, I won’t put it on the site. This one is from my friend Jaden, she’s a terrific chef and a very nice person, too!

      Please help spread the word and let your friends know about the recipes you’ve tried so we can grow our cooking community. :)

  13. Hello, my 19 year son who never cooks, made this dish after watching it on TV(?),for himself and his GF. By the time I got back from the store it was gone…..Thanks-it smelled awesome-BTW thanks for making him eat peppers-never in the 19 years–:)

    1. Odd as it sounds, you could find Sweet and Sour Chicken here in Malaysia, and you could only find it in Chinese restaurant. So, maybe it is not authentically from China, but it is authentic Chinese food. And do remember that Chinese food is very versatile, you could substitute any pork dish with chicken, or even fish. [Not joking, but in Malaysia, we have Sweet and Sour Fish, served only in Chinese restaurant too!]

  14. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    Hi Tori,
    I’ve made this recipe a few times now, which my husband and I both love! For some reason our sauce doesn’t thicken much when it sits at the end — still delicious mind you, especially with rice. Any suggestions? Perhaps a little cornstarch in the pineapple/ketchup mixture? Thanks for all your great recipes!

    1. Hi Molly! I would mix 1-2 tsp cornstarch with the same amount of cold water till smooth, then stir it into the sauce during that last 2 minute simmer. So happy you like the recipe!

  15. Not battered and deep fried like my old/standby recipe, ( most restaurants’. Hooray. Thank you, thank you.
    I’ve missed sweet and sour chicken SO much.

  16. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    I love this recipe! I’ve made it quite a few times and the last two times, I used 1.75 lbs of chicken, doubled the sauce recipe, went strong on the ginger and cayenne, used a green, yellow and orange pepper, and added a can of water chestnuts (I chopped them up) for crunch when I put the sauce in; served it over brown rice; topped it with the scallions and crushed, toasted cashews. Delicious!

  17. Hi, as a Chinese, I have to admit that many of the Chinese dishes are non-Kosher. However, you could try “Three-Cup-Chicken”. It is simple and absolutely Kosher!

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