Sweet and Sour Chicken

Update 6/2012: Easily the most popular recipe on my blog, this sweet and sour chicken is a miracle of a dish. My husband, Brian, requests it for his birthday, Father’s Day and any other day he has the craving (which seriously would be every day if I was willing to make it that often). Invented on a college budget more than ten years ago, it is absolutely divine and remains one of our family favorites. A million percent better than any takeout, the chicken bakes up tender with a beautiful crust and is coated perfectly with the sweet and tangy flavors of the sauce. Over the years, I’ve barely changed the recipe – but thanks to your comments, I have added a few tidbits to help make the whole coating-and-cooking chicken thing a bit less messy. Make this! You’ll love it, I promise.

Sweet and Sour Chicken

Sweet and Sour FAQ: Here are a few commonly asked questions about this recipe (so you don’t have to read through all 660+ comments to find the answer you are looking for!
Question: Can I cut down the sugar?
Answer: Many people have commented that they have reduced the sugar to 1/2 cup and I’ve done the same (if not more) over the years, too.

Question: The vinegar smell is really overpowering when I bake this. Is that normal?
Answer: Yes. Vinegar, while baking, gives off a strong aroma, but the strong aroma/taste bakes off during the recommended time in the recipe leaving a delicious sweet and sour taste.

Question: Can I cut down on the amount of vinegar because of the aforementioned question?
Answer: That’s up to you. Many people in the comments have adapted the recipe ingredients; however, other than sometimes reducing the sugar to 1/2 cup and using a different type of vinegar (see the question below), I make the recipe as written and can’t vouch for results for other adaptations. I have made this recipe at least 50 times (probably more) and even though the vinegar seems overpowering, the recipe works. Promise. If you are determined to adapt the vinegar, several others have used half vinegar and half pineapple juice for a milder taste (but you’ll lose a bit of the sweet and sour punch).

Question: I don’t have apple cider vinegar OR I hate apple cider vinegar OR {insert a reason you don’t want to use apple cider vinegar}, can I substitute another type of vinegar?
Answer: Why yes! I often substitute rice vinegar which has a slightly milder/sweeter taste and many others in the comments have substituted the same or even used white vinegar. Feel free to experiment.

Question: Surely there is a misprint in baking time. An hour for small chicken pieces? What’s the deal?
Answer: I encourage you to make the recipe as written. Like I said above, I’ve made this recipe many times and the hour baking time is not a typo. Keep in mind that you don’t want to cook the chicken through while browning it. That step should be a quick flash in the pan in hot oil in order to give the chicken a crispy outer layer, but the pieces should still be raw in the center. Many have commented that they have cut the baking time down to 30 minutes. You can try that; the sauce won’t thicken as much as if baking for the full hour.

Question: Are you sure I’m supposed to put the chicken in the cornstarch mixture before the egg? That just seems wrong.
Answer: I’m not often right, but in the case of cornstarch and egg, I am. The chicken is coated with cornstarch and then dipped in egg.

Question: Can I add pineapple or other veggies to this while baking?
Answer: I don’t see why not! Many commenters have tried that with good results.

Question: Can I prep this ahead of time? Can it be made into a freezer meal?
Answer: I have not tried either but feel free to experiment! Someone commented in the 500’s about freezing it if you want to look up specifics.

Question: What kind of ketchup do you use?
Answer: I always try and use the Heinz Natural brand (without HCFS) but when I can’t find it, I go with regular Heinz.

What To ServeBaked Brown Rice
Steamed Broccoli
Creamy 5-Cup Fruit Salad or fresh, seasonal fruit

Sweet and Sour Chicken

Yield: Serves 4-6

Sweet and Sour Chicken

Note: if you like extra sauce, double the sauce ingredients – pour half over the chicken and follow the recipe instructions; pour the other half in a small saucepan and cook the sauce on the stovetop at a simmer for 8-10 minutes until it reduces and thickens. Serve it on the side of the chicken.

Ingredients

    Chicken:
  • 3-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 2 pounds)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 cup cornstarch
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 cup canola, vegetable or coconut oil
  • Sauce:
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup granulated sugar (depending on how sweet you want the sauce)
  • 4 tablespoons ketchup
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon garlic salt

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. Cut the chicken breasts into 1-inch pieces. Season with salt and pepper. Place the cornstarch in a gallon-sized ziploc bag. Put the chicken into the bag with the cornstarch and seal, tossing to coat the chicken.
  3. Whisk the eggs together in a shallow pie plate. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat until very hot and rippling. Dip the cornstarch-coated chicken pieces in the egg and place them carefully in a single layer in the hot skillet.
  4. Cook for 20-30 seconds on each side until the crust is golden but the chicken is not all the way cooked through (this is where it's really important to have a hot skillet/oil). Place the chicken pieces in a single layer in a 9X13-inch baking dish and repeat with the remaining chicken pieces.
  5. Mix the sauce ingredients together in a medium bowl and pour over the chicken. Bake for one hour, turning the chicken once or twice while cooking to coat evenly with sauce. Serve over hot, steamed rice.
http://www.melskitchencafe.com/sweet-and-sour-chicken-updated/

Recipe Source: Mel’s Kitchen Cafe original recipe

836 Responses to Sweet and Sour Chicken

  1. Nkechi says:

    I made this last night for my son, but with a few changes, since I was trying to make orange chicken for him. He proclaimed it the best ever. I used thighs. I did half of the vinegar and added 1/4c OJ concentrate. And since that is sweet, I took out 1/4c of the sugar. I don’t know what it was supposed to taste like, but what I made was fantastic. I’d make more sauce next time. The frying was a pain but doable. Now I see how they get it fluffy like that, it was tempura like. It really soaks up the sauce well. I am going to try the sauce with different things like meatballs (crockpot) and even on plain sauteed chicken (adding some cornstarch to the sauce of course). I need to be able to make something “like” this faster – a weeknight version.

  2. Sarah says:

    its in the oven!! :) let me just say, a little tricky to prepare with two small children. the egg and oil part. my hands were a mess and not a lot i could do to tend to my kids while making this. might have to put it in the cue for another season of life. sure smells good!

  3. Suzanne Moore says:

    I made this dish tonight for my husband and I, oh my it was super easy and absolutely delicious The only change I made was to reduce sugar to 1/2 cup

    Thank you so much for sharing

  4. Kate says:

    Wow!! This recipe is amazing!!!! My picky kids loved it. My husband loved it, and ate 3 plates! They all want it for dinner tomorrow too, lol. Simple to make, and tastes amazing. I doubled the sauce, and it came out perfect. Thank you for a great recipe!!!! Yum!!!

  5. Katie says:

    This is a favorite in our house. Just curious – has anyone ever made it with pork? I happen to have a pack of boneless pork chops in the fridge and am wondering if this would work with them…

  6. stac says:

    Wow, my three kids are picky eaters and finding a meal that they all enjoy is pretty impossible. This one was a huge hit and they all cleaned their plates with rave reviews!!

  7. Vanessa says:

    I used 1 pd of chicken but kept the sauce amount the same. I didn’t see the note about doubling the sauce until after I dumped it in. I was just wondering if my mistake effected the crispness of the chicken. Although delicious, mine was a bit soggy.

  8. Jennifer says:

    Hi Mel,
    Do you double the sauce? Does that mean you use over a cup of sugar for this meal? Thanks!!!

  9. Jennifer says:

    Hi Mel,
    Do you double the sauce? Is that over a cup of sugar for one meal?
    Thanks!

  10. Laura says:

    This is delicious! And yes, bake it for the hour in the oven! Though not as gooey sweet as the stuff you get in restaurants, it was a little too sweet for my husband (it was fine for me). I am making it again tonight and will cut back on the sugar to a 1/2 cup. Very yummy and tender. Was not chewy or tough as you sometimes get in take out. Does anyone know how well it might freeze? I am thinking yes?

  11. Yurie says:

    This was delicious! I didn’t really want to wait for them to bake, so I just pan fried the chicken. I then separately cooked the sauce in a pan so that the vinegar would evaporate. I added a few pinches of starch to help the sauce thicken, and after the sauce tasted just right I took it off the heat and ate it with the chicken. Best sweet and sour chicken I’ve made!

  12. Barb says:

    Enjoyed the dish totally, used brown sugar instead and wonder if that is why I didn’t end up with crispy in the end.

  13. Julie says:

    What to you recommend as a sub for the eggs? I have a kiddo with an egg allergy.

    • Mel says:

      I don’t have a recommendation, Julie – sorry! I’ve never made it without the eggs. You might try googling to see if there’s a good sub out there.

    • Janet says:

      I have a kiddo with an egg allergy as well. I dipped it in rice milk (my kiddo also has a dairy allergy) and it worked great!

  14. Kelly Wilhite says:

    This was a bit time-intensive…for someone slow like me it took over two hours to make. However, it was hands-down the best recipe for chicken I have ever made. The kids absolutely LOVED it. I was like the hero mom for the day!!

  15. Andrea says:

    This was darn delicious! I am wondering what would happen if I stirred in a tablespoon or so of jalapeño jelly (which I made last summer from a recipe on your site). I think that it would only be good things!

  16. Eileen says:

    I made this awhile ago. I made a huge mess. I shouldn’t be allowed near corn starch. Fast forward a couple of years and a 3,000 mile move to Seattle aka the land of no cheap chinese take out, and I needed it again. I also needed it to not destroy my kitchen, so I volunteered my engineer husband to do the frying part. It was the best thing ever. I absolutely loved it and ate all of the leftovers before he got to them. That was last week. I couldn’t stop thinking about it…so it’s in the oven for take two. I was wondering if you thought it could be made in the instant pot. I’m not sure how….but you’re an instant pot recipe loving lady!

  17. Lori says:

    Do you cover this dish while baking?

  18. Marti says:

    This was a hit tonight. i did have to substitute the cornstarch for flour cause i started making it and realized i didn’t have any and it still turned out great. It did take time to prepare and cook but it was worth it because all 4 kids loved it!

  19. Leah says:

    I just wanted to share the substitutions I used due to my son’s food sensitivities. Instead of cornstarch I used tapioca starch, instead of egg I used VeganEgg and instead of soy sauce I used coconut aminos. It was so delicious! Was gobbled up by my hungry boys when they got home from basketball practice. Thank you for making me look like a rockstar!

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