High school was all about strip mall Chinese and large plates of sweet and sour chicken. I was so fond of the stuff, I scoured used book stores for any cookbook with a good looking sweet and sour sauce recipe. I wish I could find the one I finally settled on—it documents all my adjustments to the original recipe. But years later, I've settled on one that isn't too far off.
While sweet and sour can be found in diverse forms in China, the American version builds upon the simple mixture of sugar, vinegar, and spices with the addition of fruit juice—most commonly pineapple—and ketchup, giving the sauce both its red hue and uniquely Western flavor.
Unlike my duck sauce, which felt like an improvement on the take-out version, this recipe is more or less what you'd expect from anything labeled "sweet and sour."
It has the fruity base with rice vinegar providing the sour, and brown sugar adding the sweet. It's thickened with a cornstarch slurry that brings the whole thing to the thick, gelatinous consistency that's a requirement in my mind.
Quick and easy to make, it's great tossed on standard fried chicken to create one of the best plates of sweet and sour chicken you'll eat. It brought me right back to those high school days.