My takeaway of choice has always been Indian, in the British Indian Restaurant style, or the good old-fashioned English Chippy food – fish and chips, chip muffins and curry, chips and rice. As a child, my introduction to Chinese food came from my mother who would order a chicken chow mein, or if it was payday, a King Prawn (shrimp) chow mein. These inevitably came with bean sprouts that I was once told were dried worms by some evil individual (mother…!) so I avoided Chinese food like the plague.
In Manchester there is a little corner of the city known as Chinatown and as young adult I was introduced to the real magic of Chinese cuisine by my good friend, Dan, who celebrated every special occasion there – like birthdays, anniversaries, Tuesdays and Thursdays. He first introduced me to crispy duck pancakes by miscalculating the amount we needed for four people and ordering two and a half full ducks for our appetizer… UPDATE: He denies this and claims it was only 2 half ducks but I know what I saw…
He also introduced me to the joys of dim sum, fried beef in black bean sauce, a fantastically delicious sizzling Cantonese style steak dish and the wonderful anglicized sweet and sour chicken that I’d like to share with you today.
This recipe is simple enough even though it looks like there are a lot of ingredients. The dish is put together in two separate methods; the chicken and then the sauce, before being combined for the baking part. The chicken is chopped into 1″ pieces, dredged in seasoned flour, dipped in an egg / soy sauce mixture, and then dredged through the flour again before frying.
The sweet and sour sauce is the magic that binds this dish together and it’s a very simple mixture to prepare; half a cup of ketchup, half a cup of apple cider vinegar, 3/4 cup of sugar, 1 Tablespoon of Soy sauce and half a teaspoon of garlic powder. Just whisk it all together and it’s ready to bake with the chicken.
Set up a chicken dredging station with a bowl of flour seasoned with salt and pepper, and 2 large eggs beaten with a tablespoon of Soy sauce. Put the chicken pieces in the flour, tap off the excess, dip in the egg / soy mix and hold for a second or two to again let any excess drip off. Finally dip in the flour again and it’s ready to fry. This chicken coating mix will give you crispy and golden brown chicken pieces that complement the sauce perfectly.
The chicken needs to be fried at a medium high heat for a very short time – 1 or 2 minutes. You can use a deep fat fryer or a skillet with half an inch of oil in there. The aim here is to crisp up the exterior but not fully cook the interior of the chicken – it will finish in the oven. Fry the pieces until they are a deep golden brown color and then set aside in your oiled up baking dish.
Perfectly crispy chicken! Time to prep the sauce…
Aside from the sauce ingredients I’ve mentioned, there are three more components to a perfect sweet and sour sauce: 1″ chopped onion pieces and a diced green bell pepper that are fast fried in a skillet for 1 or 2 minutes so they are slightly softened but still crispy for a good texture, and some raw pineapple chopped into 1/2″ pieces for a wonderful sweetness.
Mix together the ketchup, sugar, vinegar, Soy sauce and onion powder. It’s starting to smell like the Chinese restaurant now 🙂
Add in the onion, bell pepper and pineapple and the sauce is complete. It’s that easy!
The ratio of sweetness to sour is generally always 2 to 1. The ingredients you use can be widely varied though. Whilst this is my favorite sauce there are a few variations that I’ve tried before that have the same overall effect but turn this dish into a unique meal that you won’t forget:
Firstly, just feel free to add any of these ingredients that you love, they’ll all work: try fresh ginger, thinly sliced garlic, sesame oil, chili paste or fresh sliced red chilis.
Or try peaches!: Substitute the sugar and ketchup for apricot jam and a tin of peaches with the juice.
How about strawberry sweet and sour chicken: Again omit the sugar and ketchup and use strawberry jam and some fresh sliced strawberries. Use balsamic vinegar instead of the apple cider. Add some thinly sliced garlic too to cut through the sweetness of the balsamic.
One more: Omit the sugar and add marmalade and thin slices of fresh orange. This works perfectly with added ginger and red chili flakes.
Play around with it and find your perfect combination!
Pour your sauce over the chicken pieces in the baking dish. Look at that photo – it’s looking good now. Put the dish in your preheated oven and stir the mixture a few times over the next 40 minutes as it bakes to perfection. You’re looking to make sure that the chicken is fully coated in the sauce by the end of the cooking process.
The only way to serve this sweet and sour opulence is with the classic Chinese style egg fried rice. I have a full recipe for this here but this is a super simplified version that works really well with the sweetness of this chicken. All you need is some cooked and cooled plain rice, some oil to fry it, and two eggs beaten with a tablespoon of Soy sauce. Simple perfection! Add the egg / soy mixture to a medium hot skillet with oil and scramble for a minute or two. Then it’s ready for the rice.
Tip the rice into the pan and cook for 3 or 4 minutes until it’s heated throughout and turns a light brown color. Done!
And there you have it! Garnished with some chopped green onions and I would have added a sprinkling of sesame seeds if I had any… This is honestly the best sweet and sour sauce I’ve ever tasted. Please try it out and let me know how it goes. As always, your suggestions to improve this will be very welcome.