“But honey, you know I don’t like takeout…”
Said no one, ever.
This recipe is great for two major reasons: First of all, it is a much, much healthier take on a takeout dish I really love and crave frequently.
Second, there are so many variations possible on it that I decided to just teach the most basic one I know. You can make the flavors as simple or as complex as you like, depending on your preference or mood.
This version can be served to junk-food lovers and kiddies, as it pretty much tastes exactly like takeout sweet and sour chicken. But don’t let the simplicity fool you into thinking it can’t satisfy the refined palate of a real foodie – it can be tweaked to contain complexities and flavors that will knock any foodie’s socks off.
I decided to give the very basic recipe because I wanted to illustrate the basic principles to keep in mind while making this, so that you can later on go into your kitchen and apply what you learned to what you have in your fridge (or whatever flavor-profile suits your current craving).
At the end of the post I will include ideas and suggestions for variations which have already been tried and tested in my own home.
One last thing: I have yet to try this with tofu, and I am fairly certain it will work flavor-wise, but am not sure about the texture so… First one to let me know how it works with tofu, gets my eternal love and appreciation! (If you are in Israel, we can also talk food rewards. Make me an offer. Seriously).
Sweet & Sour Chicken (Template Recipe):
Estimated Time: 25 minute prep (much less if your chicken is pre-cut) + 45 minute bake .
Kosher Classification: Meat
Music That Compliments This Dish: Kids – MGMT
2 lbs chicken breast (or boneless thighs)
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup vinegar
2 Tbs. sugar
1 Tbs. salt
2 Tbs. oil
optional: 2 Tbs. sweet chili sauce OR 1/2 tsp red chili flakes
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius (350 Fahrenheit).
There are only two rules when making sweet and sour chicken. One has to do with the flavor, and the other with the texture.
As far as flavor goes, you simply need to know the Golden Ration of Sweet and Sour Chicken: 1 part sour to 2 parts sweet. That’s it.
As for texture, we are going to toss the chicken in cornstarch first. That will keep the chicken moist and melt-in-your-mouth tender. (I know, I don’t really want a chicken to melt in my mouth either, but that is the best way to describe the awesome tenderness that this method produces).
Start off by evenly sprinkling the cornstarch in an oven proof dish. Then, cut the chicken into small cubes (about two inches or so) and toss them into the dish.
Toss the chicken cubes in the cornstarch with your hands so that they are evenly coated. It doesn’t hurt to massage the chicken a bit as you are tossing, but don’t go out of your way to do that.
Next, mix all the other ingredients together, and then pour over the chicken. Use a wooden spoon or some other utensil to gently lift up the chicken in places that you suspect the sauce did not seep into (the cornstarch between the pieces of chicken can make it difficult for liquids to seep through).
Transfer to the hot oven for 40-45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes to make sure the chicken is evenly coated. The sauce will caramelize slightly and reduce to a delicious glaze. Cut a large piece through the middle to make sure the chicken is cooked through, but avoid overcooking as this will dry out the chicken.
Possible Variations, From the Mild to the Adventurous:
The amount of sauce used in this recipe will, as I wrote above, reduce to a glaze coating each piece. If you would like the finished result to have more sauce, just double the amount of sauce used.
More ingredients that are fun to play around with if you have them lying around or if me listing them makes you WANT it: try freshly grated ginger, thinly sliced garlic, sesame oil, chili paste, etc.
Millions of Peaches:
The Sweet: apricot jam, pieces of canned peaches as well as a bit of the juice they were kept in. Omit the sugar and ketchup.
The Sour: Same
The Sweet: strawberry jam and slices of fresh strawberries. Omit sugar and ketchup.
The Sour: Use balsamic vinegar instead of white vinegar. Add sliced garlic.
The Sweet: mandarin preserves, ketchup, and thin slices of fresh orange.
The Sour: Same. Add chili flakes and ground ginger.
- Preheat oven to 180 Celsius (350 Fahrenheit).
- Evenly sprinkle 1/2 cup cornstarch in an ovenproof dish.
- Cut 2 lbs chicken into small-ish cubes and put them in the dish.
- Toss the chicken with the cornstarch, massaging it slightly.
- Mix 1/2 cup ketchup, 1/4 cup vinegar, 2 Tbs. sugar, 1 Tbs. salt, and 2 Tbs. oil.
- Pour the mixture evenly on top of the chicken, and toss lightly.
- Bake in hot oven for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes.