A little sweet, a little tangy, and an all-around delight, Sweet and Sour Chicken is the kind of dinner company you want at your table.
(Don’t you hope people say that about you too? I do!)
Sweet and sour chicken is a homemade riff on the Chinese-American take-out favorite.
- Like its takeout cousins Healthy Orange Chicken and General Tso Chicken, sweet and sour chicken is made of pieces of crispy chicken thighs or breasts, tossed in a sticky, sweet sauce.
- The sauce has both more vinegar (the sour) and more sugar (the sweet) than either orange chicken or General Tso, and it features the addition of pineapples, bell peppers, and onion.
With the right ingredients, stir fry recipes make stellar all-in-one meals, because they provide servings of protein and vegetables (and here even fruit!) in a single large skillet.
The hang-up is that many takeout-style stir fries (like most other recipes for Bourbon Chicken) are high in sugar.
- Many “from scratch” versions of sweet and sour chicken I saw called for ketchup (which contains a good amount of sugar) and brown sugar in the sauce.
- When I’m cooking for myself, I prefer to keep the ingredients simple and nutritious…all without losing the pleasure and spirit that is a yummy bowl of sweet and sour chicken, of course!
That’s where this healthy sweet and sour chicken with pineapple comes in.
It’s still sweet and sticky but uses better-for-you ingredients where possible (like my Sesame Chicken).
How to Make Sweet and Sour Chicken
This easy, from-scratch sweet and sour sauce is made with rice vinegar, soy sauce, honey, and a little tomato paste (my trick to making it without ketchup), plus garlic and ginger to give it plenty of fresh flavor.
You can stick to the traditional sweet and sour vegetables (bell pepper, onion, and pineapple), or mix it up by adding any vegetables that are in season or that you have on hand. (Is it summer? Try Zucchini Stir Fry.)
- Chicken. Whether you choose to make sweet and sour chicken breasts or thighs, the meat will be deliciously tender and coated in the flavorful sauce. Chicken is a wonderful lean protein to use for recipes like this. No need to deep fry this one!
- Sweet and Sour Chicken Marinade. Rice vinegar, soy sauce, salt, and pepper help flavor and tenderize the chicken. Cornstarch creates a crispy sweet and sour chicken crust that mimics your favorite takeout fried sweet and sour chicken.
- Pineapple. One of the sweet components in the dish. Be sure to look for canned pineapple in 100% juice (we’ll be using both the juice and the chunks).
- Rice Vinegar. Rice vinegar is the sour component in the dish. It has a slight sweetness that makes it a good choice for this recipe. You can not use apple cider vinegar in this recipe.
- Honey. Sweet and sour chicken is healthy when you use lightened-up swaps like honey in moderation.
- Tomato Paste. Gives the sauce body without the need for ketchup.
- Soy Sauce. For that must-have umami goodness.
- Sambal Oelek. Also known as garlic chili paste, this ingredient adds spice and a touch of acidity.
- Cornstarch. Helps thicken the sauce so it’s luscious and delicious.
- Allspice. Although Chinese 5 spice powder is more traditional for sweet and sour chicken, it’s not an ingredient many in the U.S. regularly stock. Allspice is a decent five spice substitution. If you have five spice powder on hand, absolutely feel free to use it here.
- Veggies. Bell peppers and onion are scrumptious vegetables to use in this dish. They add color, nutrition, and crunch.
- Garnishes. Green onions are my go-to garnish. You could also try some red pepper flakes and sesame seeds.
- Whisk the marinade ingredients together.
- Add the chicken and let marinate for at least 15 minutes.
- Stir the sauce ingredients together. Prep the veggies and pineapple.
- Stir fry the chicken in oil (use something like canola or grapeseed oil, not vegetable oil. Remove it to a plate.
- Cook the vegetables and pineapple. Return the chicken to the pan, pouring the sauce over the top. Stir and let simmer until the sauce has thickened. Serve over brown or cauliflower rice with a generous amount of the sauce and garnish with green onion. ENJOY!
- To Store. Refrigerate chicken in an airtight container for up to 4 days.
- To Reheat. Rewarm leftovers in a skillet on the stovetop over medium-low heat or in the microwave.
- To Freeze. Freeze chicken in an airtight, freezer-safe storage container for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.
Meal Prep Tip
Up to 1 day in advance, cut the chicken into pieces and add them to the marinade mixture. Refrigerate the mixture until you’re ready to finish the recipe. Chop the veggies and refrigerate them as well.
Take inspiration from my Asian Lettuce Wraps, and tuck leftovers into lettuce leaves for a light and healthy meal.
Recommended Tools to Make this Recipe
- Non-Stick Skillet. Perfect for making this chicken recipe.
- Small Whisk. This small whisk keeps me from splashing sauce all over the counter.
- Measuring Spoons. I adore these because they’re double-sided and magnetic.
Whether you’re feeling sweet or sour when dinner rolls around, this easy, healthy sweet and sour chicken is a mood booster, guaranteed!
Frequently Asked Questions
While I don’t recommend making this specific recipe in a slow cooker, you can follow my Crockpot Sweet and Sour Chicken recipe instead.
Certainly! I would suggest pork tenderloin if you’d like sweet and sour pork (Pork fans, don’t miss my Pork Fried Rice with egg too.)
No, sweet and sour chicken is not the same as orange chicken. While the two dishes share some similar ingredients and flavors, orange chicken usually ends up tasting sweeter, because it does not have the acidic component that sweet and sour chicken does.
If you’d like to try an orange chicken recipe instead, don’t miss my Crockpot Orange Chicken and Orange Chicken Marinade.
Sweet and Sour Chicken
FOR THE CHICKEN AND MARINADE:
- 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts cut into bite-sized pieces
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon low sodium soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
FOR THE SWEET AND SOUR SAUCE:
- Juice from 1 (15-ounce) can pineapple in 100% pure juice about 1/2 cup, use the pineapple chunks for the stir fry
- 1/4 cup rice vinegar
- 3 tablespoons honey
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon low sodium soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic about 3 cloves
- 1/2 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
- 2 teaspoons sambal oelek (garlic chili paste) plus additional to taste
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice or 1/4 teaspoon Chinese 5 spice powder
FOR STIR FRYING & SERVING:
- 1 red bell pepper
- 1 orange or yellow bell pepper
- 1 small yellow onion
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- Pineapple chunks from 1 (15-ounce) can pineapple use the juice for the sauce
- 1 tablespoon canola oil or grapeseed oil divided, or another neutral, high smoke point cooking oil
- Cooked brown rice for serving
- Chopped green onion optional for serving
- Prepare the chicken and marinade: In a medium bowl, whisk together the rice vinegar, soy sauce, cornstarch, salt, and pepper.
- Add the chicken and stir to evenly combine. Let marinate for at least 15 minutes while you prep the rest of the recipe or (in an ideal world where time allows) refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight. Let come to room temperature prior to proceeding with the recipe.
- While the chicken marinades, prepare the sweet and sour sauce: In a large bowl, combine the pineapple juice, rice vinegar, honey, tomato paste, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, sambal oelek, cornstarch, and allspice. Stir until evenly combined.
- Prep the veggies: core the bell peppers and cut into 1-inch chunks. Cut the yellow onion into 1-inch chunks. Drain any extra juice away from the canned pineapple chunks.
- When ready to stir fry, heat 1 tablespoon canola oil in a large, sturdy nonstick skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Scatter on the chicken pieces in a single layer (discard any excess marinade). Stir fry until the chicken is cooked through, about 4 to 6 minutes. Remove to a plate.
- Add the remaining 1 tablespoon canola oil and increase the heat to high. Once the oil is very hot and shimmering, add the bell peppers, onion, and pineapple. Stir fry until the vegetables are crisp-tender and lightly charred in a few places, about 7 minutes. Sure periodically, but don’t disturb the vegetables too much so that they brown.
- Reduce the heat to medium high. Return the chicken to the skillet along with any juices that have collected. Pour the sauce over the top, then stir to coat the vegetables and chicken. Let cook until the sauce is thickened and glossy and everything looks saucy and delicious. Serve over brown rice with a generous amount of the sauce and sprinkled with green onion.
- TO STORE: Refrigerate chicken in an airtight storage container for up to 4 days.
- TO REHEAT: Rewarm leftovers in a skillet on the stovetop over medium-low heat or in the microwave.
- TO FREEZE: Freeze chicken in an airtight, freezer-safe storage container for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.
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