The BEST Sweet and Sour Chicken – takeout OR homemade – I have ever had in my entire life!
This Sweet and Sour Chicken is baked with pineapple, carrots, onions and bell peppers so its a complete meal-in-one with no need to stir fry extra veggies! So if you were looking an easy Sweet and Sour Chicken recipe with the BEST sticky, sweet and sour sauce, you’ve found it!
Easy Baked Sweet and Sour Chicken Recipe
Please trust me when I say this is the best Baked Sweet and Sour Chicken I have ever had in my entire life! Better than any homemade version, better than any take-out version, better than Trader Joe’s/Whole Foods/anything version… even better than any fried version! (I can’t even guess how much healthier this must be than fried/takeout version, but it’s got to be monumental without sacrificing any taste!)
It is also fabulous for company because after your prep is done, it simply bakes away, no last minute finishing touches or stress!
I was first introduced to a variation of this Sweet and Sour Chicken Recipe from my older (and only) sister, Kimberly, who is an incredible cook!
Kimberly is the same sister who gave me a basket busting with 30 of her most favorite things for my 30th birthday (which became my favorite things!) and the same sister who gave me her kidney last October, which is also now one of my favorite things!!! I have always looked up to my sister in every way possible and now feel so honored to always have a piece of her awesomeness with me – literally :)! (You can read more about her in my Easter Soul Food)
Kim is not only responsible for my current well being, she is also almost single handedly responsible for my love of cooking – and for this Sweet and Sour Chicken recipe.
I always liked to cook but when she gifted me a recipe binder at the beginning of my marriage for Christmas comprised of all of her tried and true recipes, it lit a fire within me. After I cooked every recipe in the binder (and because they were all her favorites, they were all delicious and turned out great!), I wanted to cook more, much more. So I started cooking new recipes almost every single night of the week and pretty soon, I started creating my own recipes almost every single night of the week.
Her Baked Sweet and Sour Chicken recipe was always my favorite recipes from her binder. I have played with it over the years, increasing the sauce, simmering the sauce, adding spices as well as pineapple, carrots and bell peppers so it has become a baked sweet and sour “stir fry” all in one baking dish!
Ingredients in Baked Sweet and Sour Chicken
The breading for this Sweet and Sour Chicken is a three step process. First the eggs, then the flour, then the cornstarch. While it might seem counter intuitive to dip the chicken in the eggs first, trust me, you are doing it right! The cornstarch is the last step and the secret to a lighter coating.
For the Chicken Breading:
- Eggs: a crucial part of the breading process.
- Flour: I used regular all-purpose flour. Gluten-free may work!
- Cornstarch: makes for ultra crispy sweet and sour chicken.
- Spices: We season the cornstarch to ensure our chicken is also seasoned – a step many other Sweet and Sour Chicken recipes skip, but is SO important. Every aspect of your recipe should be well seasoned.
For the homemade sweet and sour sauce:
- Pineapple juice: from a 20 oz. pineapple tidbits can listed below.
- Red wine vinegar: adds the fruity tang which works with the pineapple juice to create the “sour” effect. Please do not substitute the red wine vinegar with a different vinegar.
- Sugar: granulated (plain white sugar) sugar provides the balancing “sweet” to the sour. Please do not use brown sugar as it adds a molasses flavor whereas granulated sugar lets the pure citrus flavors shine.
- Ketchup: sounds odd, but it works perfectly in this recipe! Adds a sweet tomato flavor.
- Onion: the onion will simmer in the sweet and sour sauce so you won’t get any raw onion flavor! The onion is important to cut through the sweetness of the sauce, so like the bell peppers, please don’t skip!
- Soy sauce: use low sodium soy sauce so we can control the salt.
- Garlic: 4 whole cloves flavor the sauce.
- Spices: salt, red pepper flakes, and ground ginger add flavor.
As written, the sweet and sour sauce is a perfect balance of sweet and sour. Many people, however, have asked if they can reduce the amount of sugar. If you want to reduce amount of sugar, you will have to proportionately reduce the amount of red wine vinegar and ketchup because the sugar balances out their tangingess. If you reduce the sugar without reducing the other ingredients, you will be left with more sour sauce.
For the rest of the recipe:
In addition to the chicken, you will need:
- Pineapple tidbits in juice: you are welcome to use fresh pineapple or frozen, thawed pineapple as well. Just be aware you will also need to buy pineapple juice then because we use both the pineapple and the pineapple juice in this Sweet and Sour Chicken recipe.
- 1 green and 1 red bell pepper: you’ll want to chop your bell peppers into about 1″ chunks. The bell peppers are important part of balancing the flavor of Sweet and Sour Chicken, so please don’t skip!
- Sliced carrots: slice your carrots as THINLY as possible because they take the longest amount of time to bake.
How to Make Sweet and Sour Chicken
- Sweet and Sour Sauce: The sweet and sour sauce is first simmered with onions and ginger and pineapple juice, to awaken and meld the flavors. You let it simmer while you prepare your chicken and dice the vegetables.
- Coat Chicken: The chicken is dredged in eggs, then flour then breaded in spiced cornstarch which tenderizes and seasons the chicken as it cooks. I like to use the freezer bag method instead of individual dredging bowls for easy and to prevent ooey gooey gummy fingers. In my method, you add your chicken to a freezer bag of flour, shake, then remove excess flour then add your cornstarch to the bag and shake. Easy peasy!
- Brown Chicken: We first brown our chicken in a hot skillet in order to toast the coating. This helps it stay intact while baking and to gives you the characteristic Chinese Chicken texture.
- Bake Sweet and Sour Chicken: Add the chicken, sweet and sour sauce, pineapple, carrots and bell peppers and bakes for 50 minutes. This might seem like a long time to cook chicken pieces, but in this magical 50 minutes, the sauce permeates the chicken and “stir fry” veggies and pineapple so each pillow of breaded juicy chicken and each and every pineapple, carrot and bell pepper piece seep with sweet and sour goodness – the perfect balance of of sweet and sour goodness, I might add. After what seems like an impossible task of self control, the Baked Sweet and Sour Chicken with Pineapple, Carrots, and Bell Peppers is ready to be devoured when it has soaked up every last drop of the sweet and sour sauce.
Tips for Making Chinese Sweet and Sour Chicken
- Don’t chop chicken to small. The chicken should be chopped 1” thick, erroring on the side of larger so that it doesn’t overcook and dry out.
- Thoroughly bread chicken. If you notice any of the chicken pieces aren’t fully coated in the breading, give them another toss or use your hands to press the breading into the chicken.
- Remove excess egg/marinade. It is important to remove excess egg so the flour breading bag doesn’t become a goopy mess. To do this, I plop the chicken on a wad of paper towels before adding to the flour mixture.
- Remove excess flour. Even if you shake the chicken as you remove it from the breading, a lot of flour can end up in the pan or on the baking sheet. To remedy this, I like to place the chicken in a strainer after dredging to help shake off any excess.
Can I Prep easy sweet and sour chicken in Advance?
Even though this homemade Sweet and Sour Chicken is easy to make, you can still prepare it in stages if that works better for you.
- Sweet and Sour Sauce: Whisk the sauce ingredients together but do not simmer/thicken. Store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
- Breading: Whisk the flour breading ingredients together in a Ziploc freezer bag. You can store the breading for weeks or proceed to dredge chicken then refrigerate.
- Veggies: Chop the vegetables and store in the fridge for up to 2 days.
- For baking: Prepare chicken through dredging but instead of placing on a baking sheet, place on a greased cooking rack placed on a baking sheet. The elevated cooking rack will help crisp up the chicken when it’s time to bake since we are eliminating the step of heating the baking rack before adding the chicken. Cover the chicken tightly with foil or plastic wrap. Let sit at room temperature for 20 minutes before cooking.
HOW TO STORE CHINESE SWEET AND SOUR CHICKEN
This Chinese Sweet and Sour Chicken recipe is best served fresh because it is at peak crispiness, sauciness and the chicken is the juiciest. You will find leftover chicken is not crispy but is still delicious.
- How to store: Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
How to Reheat Baked Sweet and Sour Chicken
- How to reheat on the stove: Leftovers are best reheated on the stove, even if they are small portions. To reheat, heat a drizzle of vegetable, canola or peanut oil over medium heat. Once hot, add the chicken, stirring occasionally until warmed through.
- Reheating in microwave: Microwaving leftovers is not advised as the chicken can become rubbery and the breading will definitely not be crispy, so just take not to overcook the chicken.
Can I Freeze Sweet and Sour Chicken?
If you are making Sweet and Sour Chicken specifically to freeze, then I recommend freezing the chicken and sauce separately and omitting the bell peppers so the chicken and peppers don’t become soggy.
TO FREEZE CHICKEN WITHOUT SAUCE:
- Cook chicken according to preferred directions then let cool to room temperature.
- Space chicken apart on a baking sheet then transfer baking sheet to the freezer.
- Let freeze for 1-2 hours or until the chicken is solid. This prevents the chicken from clumping together.
- Add chicken to a freezer size bag, squeeze out excess air and label.
- Add homemade sweet and sour sauce to a separate airtight container.
- When ready to use, defrost chicken and sauce in the refrigerator overnight and chop stir fry ingredients.
TO FREEZE CHICKEN IN SWEET AND SOUR SAUCE:
If freezing leftovers, I recommend removing the bell peppers before freezing because they will become mushy when thawed.
- Let Sweet and Sour Chicken cool completely.
- Transfer chicken to either a large freezer size bag or divide into smaller size bags. Alternatively, transfer to airtight container(s).
- Press air out of the freezer bag, seal, label and freeze for up to 3 months.
- When ready to eat, defrost in the refrigerator.
- Heat on the stove until warmed through, adding fresh bell peppers the last 3 minutes or so.
Final Thoughts about Sweet and Sour Chicken
When I make this easy Sweet and Sour Chicken, I always think of my sister, Kimberly, and how she is such a generous, courageous, selfless person (did I mention she is also the perfect, patient mother to 5 children?).
When I eat this healthier Sweet and Sour chicken, I hope to become more like her, in more ways than just sharing matching kidneys.
So in honor of my sister Kimberly, I give you Baked Sweet and Sour Chicken with Pineapple, Carrots, and Bell Peppers — so you too can take part of her awesomeness with you.
More Easy Chinese Recipes:
If you love Chinese fakeout takeout, be sure to check out my:
- Honey Lemon Chicken
- Beef and Broccoli
- Mongolian Chicken
- Mongolian Beef
- Cashew Chicken
- Kung Pao Shrimp
- Pineapple Ginger Chicken
- Coconut Cashew Chicken
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©Carlsbad Cravings by CarlsbadCravings.com
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Baked Sweet and Sour Chicken, Pineapple and Peppers
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Sweet and Sour Sauce
- 1 20 oz. can pineapple tidbits in juice
- 1 green bell pepper, chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped
- 1 cup carrots sliced as THINLY as possible (2-3 carrots)
- Add “Sweet and Sour Sauce” ingredients to a medium/large saucepan, stir and bring to a boil then reduce to a gentle simmer. Allow to simmer while you prepare the chicken and dice the vegetables, stirring occasionally (turn off if longer than 20 minutes). Note, the sauce will not thicken, simmering is to soften the onions and blend flavors.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 9×13 baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.
- Whisk eggs together in a large bowl or freezer bag, set aside. Add ½ cup flour to a large freezer bag; set aside next to eggs. Whisk cornstarch, garlic powder, salt, pepper, ginger powder and onion powder to a separate freezer bag; set aside next to flour.
- Add chicken to eggs and coat, then remove, allowing excess to drip off (I plop the chicken on paper towels), then add to freezer bag with the flour. Toss until evenly coated then discard any extra flour. Add chicken to cornstarch/spices bag and shake until evenly coated. Transfer chicken to a colander to shake off excess coating.
- Over high heat, heat enough oil (any kind) to generously cover the bottom of a large skillet until hot and rippling. Working in batches (change oil in between), add chicken and cook 1-2 minutes per side, or until browned but not cooked through. Transfer chicken to prepared 9×13 baking dish.
- Add carrots pineapple and peppers to the sweet and sauce and mix until well combined. Pour sauce over chicken and stir until sauce/chicken/vegetables are evenly combined. Cook, uncovered for 50 minutes or until sauce thickens, stirring occasionally.
- Serve over rice. Enjoy!
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Carlsbad Cravings Original inspired by Kim’s Sweet and Sour Chicken