Why It Works
- Pineapple juice furnishes the sauce's fruity flavor, while ketchup boosts its sweetness and provides the signature red color.
- A slurry of cornstarch and water thickens the sauce to an appropriately viscous consistency.
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 decided 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, or as an accompaniment to some of our favorite DIY Chinese-takeout dishes. It brought me right back to those high school days.
Click Play to See This Sweet and Sour Sauce Come Together
This recipe was originally published as part of the column "Sauced."
1 tablespoon cornstarch (about 1/4 ounce; 7g)
1 tablespoon (15ml) water
2/3 cup (160ml) pineapple juice
1/3 cup (80ml) rice vinegar
1/3 cup (74g) light brown sugar
3 tablespoons (45ml) ketchup
1 tablespoon (15ml) soy sauce
In a small bowl, whisk together cornstarch and water. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan, combine pineapple juice, rice vinegar, brown sugar, ketchup, and soy sauce and bring to a boil over medium heat. Stir in cornstarch slurry and cook until thickened, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat and use immediately or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
Medium saucier or saucepan
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 0g||0%|
|Saturated Fat 0g||0%|
|Total Carbohydrate 14g||5%|
|Dietary Fiber 0g||0%|
|Total Sugars 12g|
|Vitamin C 9mg||47%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|