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If you’re looking for the ultimate Friday night treat to make instead of ordering in, look no further than my recipe for Sweet and Sour Chicken. Much healthier than the version you’d order from the Chinese it is also ready in just 40 minutes – the time it would take for you to order and wait for delivery! With a rich sticky sauce that is full of flavour without the neon colour we’ve all (somehow?) become used to I’ve also packed in plenty of chunks of fresh juicy pineapple – my favourite part when we order in!
I’ve also updated this post since I first published it in 2020 to include air fryer instructions if you can’t be fussed with shallow frying at home – and if you want to make it even healthier!
As some of you might have noticed from Instagram, in July we bought a house (I would not quite put the date we moved out of London as July too, because that unintentionally happened just before lockdown in March) in Kent where I grew up.
Moving from the city to the countryside, because of working from home and social distancing was not actually as big a change as you’d have thought. When eventually there are offices to return to, thanks to the train station in the village and the high speed train, commutes are pretty much the same. There is a drinking pub in the village and another with a reasonable public footpath to with excellent food, and I still have an off licence where I can pick up last minute ingredients (though, I grant you it’s not the East Dulwich M&S Simply Food) for recipes.
However, of course, moving to a rural village we can no longer get Deliveroo. Now, not being able to get practically any takeaway of excellent quality you can think of delivered right to our door from our phones anymore is not as big a wrench than you’d think, if anything it is going to make getting a takeaway as more of a treat, rather than a ‘I just can’t be bothered’ option. And besides, there is an Indian in the village that is pretty decent (and knocks money off your bill if you walk to collect it and pay in cash) and the fish and chip shop smells amazing. That excellent food pub I mentioned does call and collect stone baked pizza, burgers and hot dogs, and you’ll bet I’ll use trips to Canterbury as an excuse to pick up some of the delicious, make to order sushi from Happy Samurai to take home with me for dinner.
A couple of Saturday’s ago we fancied a Chinese. Googling we took ourselves off to a town about 10 minutes drive away to get some dinner. It started well – the Chinese seemed busy, we got a socially distanced pint in the pub garden next door while we waited for our food and it smelt amazing in the car on the way home – but that was pretty much it. Except for the sweet and sour chicken balls and the crispy (kale) seaweed it had to be the worst Chinese takeaway either of us had ever eaten. In the end we gave up and had Magnum ice creams from the freezer for dinner. It had right out put us off eating anything savoury.
On reflection I don’t think the worst bit was the dry prawn toasts that tasted like cardboard, or my dry duck (which was supposed to come in orange sauce but it was instead pineapple, which is never a good sign…). It was the sweet and sour chicken, J’s usual go-to order. As well as the chicken being old and dry, and the sauce being just plain bad (and bizarrely different from the one which came with our chicken balls which was pretty good) it had chunks of raw cucumber mixed into it. I kid you not.
The next night we shelved our planned roast chicken to Monday night and I made a Chinese instead, to remind ourselves that Chinese food – done properly either at home or in the Great British Chinese Takeaway – is bloody delicious. I made an Orange Sesame Prawn Stir Fry I’ve been working on but this reminded me that I’d not yet shared my own recipe for sweet and sour chicken I perfected back in our London flat, before lockdown.
Now, sweet and sour chicken was J’s thing, not mine. I find it always tastes a bit too artificial from the takeaway, but when I found this recipe for sweet and sour chicken that does not require any deep frying (I’m more of an air fryer type) I gave it a go. It turns out, when you make sweet and sour chicken yourself at home, what you’re left with is a wonderfully balanced and addictive sauce that even I love.
Now, I’ve had a play with the original recipe a fair bit to scale down the recipe to make it halve-able if you’re cooking for less people (trust me – this neither re-heats or tastes good cold), and to make it suit a British kitchen. Oh, and to add in some pineapple, because who doesn’t like (fresh!) pineapple in their sweet and sour chicken??
And, as I mentioned at the top of this post, dropping in out of the sky in our new, 2023 post lockdown world to update this post I’ve now adapted this recipe so you can do the chicken in said air fryer without the need for shallow frying at all, just see the recipe card notes for instructions.
A homemade, better than takeaway version of the British Chinese takeaway classic Sweet and Sour Chicken – without any deep frying (and the option to use your air fryer to cut out the shallow frying, too!)
For the Sweet & Sour Chicken
4 skinless boneless chicken thighs
1 tbsp light oil, plus extra for shallow frying
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
85g (3 oz) cornflour (cornstarch)
1 brown onion
1 small red pepper
1 small yellow pepper
150g (5 oz) fresh pineapple, cubed
1 large spring onion, chopped (optional, for garnish)
For the Sweet & Sour Sauce
3 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp tomato ketchup
2 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp cold water
1/2 tbsp cornflour (cornstarch)
Cube the chicken into bite sized pieces and in a large bowl combine it with 1 tbsp oil and the sea salt. Set aside.
Peel and roughly chop the onion. Deseed the peppers, before chopping them also into bite sized chunks. Make the sweet and sour sauce by whisking all the ingredients together in a small bowl, and set aside.
Heat a large frying pan or wok over a high heat, in it just enough oil to just cover the base. While the pan is heating up, stir the beaten egg into the chicken, followed by the cornflour, in two batches, until the flour coats the chicken.
Once the oil is shimmering, fry the chicken pieces, in batches, for a few minutes on each side until golden, setting the cooked pieces aside to drain on a plate lined with kitchen paper. Add the pieces to the plan clockwise, so you always know which pieces have been in the pan longer than others.
Carefully drain any remaining oil from the pan and wipe it clean with kitchen paper, or simply switch pans. Return the pan to the heat and add the peppers and the onions, cooking for a minute or two until they’re only just starting to soften.
Add the sweet and sour sauce, and cook for another minute or so until it is starting to bubble and get sticky. Return the chicken to the pan, and stir until the sauce clings to the chicken, and it is heated through.
Serve immediately, with sliced spring onions if liked, over a fluffy bowl of jasmine rice.
Air Fryer Method
To cut out the need to shallow fry, spritz or brush the basket of your air fryer with olive oil (don’t use non-stick cooking sprays, some brands of these can damage the non-stick coating in some brands of air fryer) and, working in batches, place the coated chicken pieces in a single layer and cook them for 10 minutes at 200C. In my 3.2 litre/5½ pint basket air fryer I do this in 3 batches. Then, simply proceed with the recipe cooking the veggies in a clean plan with just a tiny splash of oil.
Keywords: sweet and sour, sweet and sour chicken, chicken, chinese chicken, chinese food, takeaway, takeout
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